Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK SMASHES THE PUNY PARADIGMS OF FILM CRITICISM WITH HULK-SIZED SEMIOTICAL ESSAYS ON STORYTELLING, CINEMATIC PRINCIPLES, AND MEDIA THEORY! HULK EVEN MAKE PRACTICAL HOW-TO GUIDES! See More...

Film Crit Hulk Smash: WHY GIRLS IS REMARKABLE

Hulk applauds the art of inversion in GIRLS.

Film Crit Hulk Smash: WHY GIRLS IS REMARKABLE

1. ON THE PURPOSE OF CRITICISM

THREE WEEKS AGO THE NEW YORKER'S EMILY NUSSBAUM POSTED A STELLAR REVIEW OF WHAT WAS AT THE TIME THE LATEST EPISODE OF GIRLS. LATER THAT DAY SHE VOICED SOME CONCERN ON TWITTER THAT SO MUCH OF HER PIECE, AS WELL AS THE GENERAL DIALOGUE AROUND THE SHOW AT LARGE, DEALT WITH ADDRESSING THE UGLY CRITICISMS AIMED AT THE SHOW AND NOT ITS RELATIVE MERIT. WHICH IN TURN MADE HULK REALIZE THAT HULK HAD LARGELY BEEN DOING JUST THAT AND ENGAGING THE CRITICISM MORE THAN THE REASONS HULK LOVED IT. PERHAPS IT CAN'T BE HELPED, HULK THOUGHT. AFTER ALL, THE NATIONAL DIALOGUE AROUND THE SHOW IS SO PROBLEMATIC THAT IT PRACTICALLY BREEDS SPEAKING OUTWARD INSTEAD OF AN INWARD APPROACH, EVEN GOING ALL THE WAY BACK TO HULK'S REACTION TO THE REACTION TO THE FIRST EPISODE.

THE REASON FOR THIS KIND OF CRITICISM-OF-THE-CRITICISM RESPONSE IS TWO-FOLD: 1) THE DIALOGUE AROUND THE SHOW IS SO PRONOUNCED, SO HARSH, SO MALE-CENTRIC, SO VENOMOUS-WITHOUT-REALIZING-IT'S-VENOMOUS, AND SO POORLY APPLIED THAT FANS OF THE SHOW CAN'T REALLY EXPERIENCE THE SHOW IN A VACUUM. THIS ISN'T SOME REFLEXIVE THING EITHER. CRITICS OF THE SHOW OFTEN FEEL THE NEED TO BE WEIRDLY INVASIVE AND VOCAL ABOUT IT, THUS CREATING A SITUATION WHERE MANY PEOPLE ARE CONSTANTLY PUT ON THE DEFENSIVE IN EVEN TRYING TO TALK ABOUT IT CASUALLY. AND 2) OFTEN BY ADDRESSING THOSE CRITICISMS HEAD ON, A CRITIC CAN TAP DIRECTLY INTO MANY OF THE THINGS THAT SHOW DOES WELL.

BUT THEN LAST WEEK, JUST AFTER GIRLS UNLEASHED WHAT HULK WOULD ARGUE ARE THE TWO BEST EPISODES OF THE SHOW'S ENTIRE RUN (2.4'S "IT'S A SHAME ABOUT RAY" AND 2.5'S "ONE MAN'S TRASH."), HULK CASUALLY TOOK IN THE DAY'S GENERIC INTERNET CHATTER AND ENDED UP FACE-TO-FACE WITH... WELL... WHAT HULK WOULD CALL PLETHORA OF UGLY CRITICISM. MOST NOTICEABLY, THIS UGLY-AS-HELL SLATE PIECE. FORGIVE HULK FOR MATCHING THE KIND OF CRASSNESS ON DISPLAY WITHIN THE PIECE, BUT QUITE FRANKLY IT'S THE KIND OF THING WITH A LOT OF FAUX-INTELLECTUAL PONTIFICATION UNDER THE GUISE OF ANALYSIS, BUT DOESN'T EVEN GET THE BASICS OF THE QUESTIONS IT POSES. LIKE WHERE THEY BEMOAN THE CONTEXTUAL POINTLESSNESS OF THE "SEXIT" CONVERSATION, EVEN WHEN IT'S AN OBVIOUS SETUP TO WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THE EPISODE. BUT MUCH WORSE THAN ANY LOGICAL FALLACY IS THE TONE OF THE CONVERSATION. IT'S SO READILY OFFENSIVE AND GUTLESS THAT THE AUTHORS COULDN'T POSSIBLY REALIZE HOW OFFENSIVE AND GUTLESS IT REALLY IS. SORRY... HULK GETS THAT THIS SEEMS HARSH, BUT SOMETIMES YOU CAN'T THROW UP YOUR HANDS AND SAY "HEY! WE ALL HAVE OUR OPINIONS!" SOME THINGS CROSS LINES. AND THIS PIECE REALLY DOES NOT UNDERSTAND HOW UGLY AND INSULTING IT COMES OFF. BUT AS MUCH AS HULK WOULD LIKE TO WITH THIS SPECIFIC CASE, HULK'S NOT HERE TO ADMONISH AND CHASTISE ANYONE ANY FURTHER. WHAT THIS EVENT SIMPLY AMOUNTED TO WAS HOW HULK WAS HIT WITH THE SAME EXACT FEELING THAT EMILY NUSSBAUM WAS HIT WITH JUST THREE WEEKS AGO. HULK WAS SUDDENLY DAMN TIRED AT THE PROSPECT OF GEARING THE CRITICISM AROUND THE COMPLAINT. HULK DESPERATELY WANTS TO DO BETTER THAN THAT.

THE CONCEPT HS ACTUALLY BEEN RUMBLING AROUND HULK'S BRAIN A LOT LATELY. EVER SINCE HULK READ STEVEN SODERBERGH'S INTERVIEW OVER AT VULTURE, WHEREIN HE DISHES OUT SOME TRULY GREAT INSIGHTS INTO NOT JUST FILMMAKING, BUT ALSO THE ARENA OF FILM CRITICISM ON THE WHOLE. BUT IN ORDER TO BRING THIS UP, HULK NEEDS A QUICK ASIDE FIRST IF THAT'S OKAY: HULK HAS A POLICY ABOUT NEVER WRITING ABOUT ANYONE THAT HULK HAS EVER WORKED WITH OR FOR, NOR ANY MOVIE/TV SHOW HULK HAS EVER WORKED ON. MEANING THERE'S A REASON HULK'S NEVER TALKED ABOUT SODERBERGH HERE ON BADASS. IT WOULD BREAK THE RULE. BUT THE UPCOMING QUOTE GETS SO MUCH TO THE HEART OF ALL THESE ISSUES THAT HULK JUST HAS TO USE IT. SO THAT MEANS HULK HAD TO BE UPFRONT ABOUT HULK'S WHOLLY UN-TRUSTABLE OPINION REGARDING THE MAN (CHIEFLY, THAT YES HE IS A GENIUS). BUT LUCKILY FOR US, HE IS ALSO THE KIND OF GENIUS THAT CHALLENGES YOU.

FOR INSTANCE, A LOT OF CRITICS NOTED (WHAT SEEMED LIKE) THE EXTREME PARTS OF SODERBERGH'S COMMENTS ON CRITICISM, PARTICULARLY THAT IT WAS "AIR GUITAR" (HE WAS QUOTING SOMEONE ELSE THOUGH AND HIS VERSION OF THAT STATEMENT WAS FAR MORE RESERVED), OR THAT NOT ENOUGH CRITICS UNDERSTAND THE CRAFT AND IT'S REALLY EASY TO SPOT, OR ABOUT HOW HE DIDN'T FIND CRITICISM TO BE HELPFUL PAST A CERTAIN POINT OF HIS CAREER (EVEN THOUGH HE SAID IT WAS WONDERFUL FOR LEARNING WHEN HE WAS YOUNGER). BUT THEN HE GOT TO AN INTERESTING POINT ON PAULINE KAEL THAT REALLY RESONATED WITH HULK:

[REGARDING FILM CRAFT] No. I think her reading of that stuff was pretty superficial as well. She had a great gift for setting movies in cultural context, but what set her apart from most critics—and especially a lot of critics today—was that she was at her absolute best when she loved something. And that was exciting to read. Nowadays, I find critics to be very facile when they don’t like a film, but when they do like something they get tongue-tied.

IT'S THE KIND OF CLEAR, CONCISE STATEMENT THAT ALWAYS HITS HULK LIKE A TON OF BRICKS. WHILE THERE MAY BE A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO FIND IT TO BE OVERSTATING THE PROBLEM, IT IS STILL ACCURATELY DESCRIBING OUR CORE PROBLEM AS A COMMUNITY. BETTER YET, IT LOOKS TO THE VERY PURPOSE OF CRITICISM IN THE FIRST PLACE, WHICH IS OUR STRIVING FOR CONCEPTUAL UNDERSTANDING, NOT ETHEREAL APPRAISAL. AND SINCE HULK CARES DEEPLY ABOUT THE NATIONAL LEVEL OF DISCOURSE WHEN IT COMES TO THIS STUFF, HULK EMBRACES THAT CHALLENGE. IN SOME WAYS, IT CONVEYS SO MUCH OF WHAT HULK HAS TRIED TO DO IN THE HULK MISSION STATEMENT. IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT EVALUATING SOMETHING AS GOOD OR BAD AS IF WE ARE THE ARBITERS OF TASTE. "NEVER HATING A MOVIE" LARGELY MEANS ONE CAN'T IGNORE THE COMPLEXITIES IN SERVICE OF DISMISSAL. IT EQUALLY MEANS WE CANNOT EMBRACE WITH SIMPLE FERVOR, BUT REAL INSIGHT. IT MAY HAVE SOUNDED HARSH, BUT DON'T THINK WE SHOULD READ SODERBERGH'S STATEMENT AS ADMONISHMENT. IT'S A CHALLENGE THAT GETS TO THE VERY HEART OF WHAT WE DO.

HULK MENTIONS ALL OF THIS BECAUSE IT WAS THIS PAST WEEK HULK REALIZED THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE GETTING TONGUE-TIED IN CONVERSATION WHEN THEY WERE TRYING TO EXPLAIN NOT ONLY WHAT MAKES GIRLS SO GOOD, BUT HOW THE SHOW EVEN "WORKS" IN THE FIRST PLACE. SO HULK DECIDED IT WAS TIME TO JUMP BACK INTO THE FRAY AND TRY TO DO HULK'S BEST TO EXPLAIN JUST WHAT HULK SEES IN THIS ODD LITTLE SHOW AND WHY IT SEEMS TO REALLY STRIKE PEOPLE IN A COMBATIVE WAY.

FIRST OFF, THE NUMBER ONE ARGUMENT PEOPLE USE FOR WHY THEY LIKE GIRLS IS THAT IT MAKES THEM LAUGH. WHICH IS A GREAT THING. IT ALSO GETS TO AN ESSENTIAL TRUTH ABOUT TAKING IN MEDIA, WHICH IS WE DON'T NECESSARILY NEED A REASON TO LIKE SOMETHING WHEN IT OBVIOUSLY SPURS A POSITIVE VISCERAL IMPACT IN OUR BONES, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO HAVING A DIALOGUE THERE IS PERHAPS NO ARGUMENT MORE REFLEXIVE THAN GETTING INTO WHAT IS ESSENTIALLY A MATTER OF DRUTHERS. TO BOOT, THERE ARE PLENTY OF UNSEEMLY THINGS ONE COULD GET INTO WHEN VISCERALLY LIKING A PARTICULARLY INDULGENT OR PROBLEMATIC PIECE OF ART OR PORNOGRAPHY (WITHOUT HAVING THE LARGER AWARENESS AS TO WHY).

SO EITHER WAY THIS CONVERSATION REQUIRES THAT WE GET INTO THE NUANCE OF HOW THE SHOW FUNCTIONS AND WHAT IT'S TRYING TO SAY. WHAT IS TO FOLLOW MAY SEEM COMPLICATED OR ETHEREAL, BUT HULK SWEARS IT'S ALL THERE.

IN SHORT, GIRLS IS REMARKABLE.

2. ON GIRLS AND "ART FILMS"

YOU KNOW HOW OFTEN HULK RANTS AND RAVES ABOUT THE VALUE OF CONVENTIONAL NARRATIVE? AND HOW SO MANY BLOCKBUSTERS HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW TO USE STORY PROPULSION? AND WHY IT'S BAD THAT WE STARTED VALUING STORY LOGIC OVER DRAMATIC FUNCTION? ALL THAT STUFF?

WELL, GIRLS IS NOT A TRADITIONAL NARRATIVE. NOR IS IT EVEN TRYING TO BE. SURE, THERE ARE LOOSE ARCS OF PLOT AND THINGS THAT SEEM FAMILIAR, BUT IT IS NOT TRYING TO CONVEY MEANING THROUGH THOSE CONVENTIONAL STORY ARCS, NOR INTERESTED IN PROPELLING YOU INTO A NEW SCENE IN A CLEAR WAY, NOR INTERESTED IN MAKING EPISODIC TV, NOR IS IT EVEN REALLY TRYING TO HIT ACCUSTOMED "CHARACTER BEATS" AS WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH THEM, NOR DOES IT INDULGENTLY REWARD THE VIEWER, EVEN IF IT SOMETIMES INDULGES US FAR PAST WHERE WE'D EVER IMAGINE IT WOULD GO AND INTO THE REALM OF THE SURREAL. IN SHORT, THE SHOW CONSTANTLY DEFIES BOTH RHYTHM AND STORY EXPECTATION TO ITS OWN CREATIVE PURPOSE. BUT PLEASE DO NOT MISTAKE THAT PURPOSE AS SOME SORT OF ATTEMPT AT FLIPPANCY OR A PROVERBIAL "FUCK YOU" TO THE AUDIENCE. WHAT MAY FEEL LIKE TANGENTIAL HAPPENSTANCE ACTUALLY HAS A LOT MORE BEHIND IT. CHIEFLY, IT IS THE SHOW'S MAIN TACTIC FOR TRYING TO GET YOU TO EMBRACE OTHER KINDS OF IDEAS OR CHARACTERIZATION. IN FACT, BY PROVOKING THAT HARD-WIRED PART OF OUR "INHERENT STORY BRAINS" WITH AN UNCOMMON STORY BEAT, THE SHOW ACTUALLY FORCES US TO REACT TO THE MOMENT. AND WHILE MANY CONVENTIONAL REACTIONS WOULD BE "I DON'T LIKE THAT FOR SOME REASON" IT IS ACTUALLY THE EXACT SAME TRIGGER THAT DRAWS CEREBRAL ATTENTION AND REQUIRES US TO ASK: "WHY IS THAT HAPPENING?"

WHICH MEANS WE ARE ESSENTIALLY TALKING ABOUT HOW "NARRATIVE ART" WORKS, SPECIFICALLY THROUGH THE ART OF INVERSION. AND THIS CONVERSATION MATTERS BECAUSE INVERSION IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL TOOLS THAT AN ARTIST HAS AT THEIR DISPOSAL. LET'S THINK ABOUT IT ON THE MOST RUDIMENTARY LEVEL OF AN EXAMPLE: CABIN IN THE WOODS DIRECTLY ENGAGES STORY INVERSION AT EVERY STEP OF THE WAY, OFTEN LITERALIZING THE CONCEPT AND HAVING THE CHARACTERS CONFRONT THE CONVENTIONAL HORROR STORY CONVENTIONS HEAD-ON. THE VERY PURPOSE OF WHICH IS TO GET YOU TO QUESTION THE MEANINGS BEHIND THOSE STORY DECISIONS. "WHY DO WE ALWAYS DO THIS? WHY DO WE ALWAYS DRAMATIZE THAT?" AND IN THIS WAY, THEY ARE MAKING THE ART OF INVERSION A TANGIBLE STORY DEVICE THAT WE CAN EASILY GRASP.

BUT OFTEN TIMES LANGUAGE OF CINEMATIC INVERSION IS MORE.... SUBTLE. WELL MAYBE NOT SUBTLE, BUT IT'S CERTAINLY LESS LITERAL AND MORE OBLIQUE.

FOR EXAMPLE, LOOK TO THE INCREDIBLE WORK OF STANLEY KUBRICK, WHO MAKES FILMS WITH DETACHED AESTHETIC AND DIRECTLY REFRAINS FROM MAKING YOU EMPATHIZE WITH THE CHARACTERS. THE GOAL OF WHICH IS NOT TO MAKE YOU PASSIVELY EMOTE WITH WHAT IS HAPPENING ON SCREEN, BUT INSTEAD TO GET YOU TO THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE SEEING. OF COURSE, HULK REALIZES THAT WHAT HULK IS DESCRIBING MIGHT SOUND BORING. OR POSSIBLY LIKE ONE OF THOSE JOKE ART FILMS KIDS MAKE IN HIGH SCHOOL BEFORE THEY UNDERSTAND ART FILMS (IT'S THE KIND WHERE A GUY CRIES IN BLACK IN WHITE ON A UNICYCLE WITH SOCK PUPPETS AND CATS OR WHATEVER-THEY-ASSUME-IS-GOING-ON-THE-SURFACE-OF-A-BERGMAN-FILM-OR-WHATEVER), BUT THE KIND OF THING HULK IS TALKING ABOUT HERE IS FAR FROM A COLD EXERCISE IN LITERAL SYMBOLOGY.

INSTEAD MOST FILMMAKERS ENGAGING IN "NARRATIVE ART" UNDERSTAND THAT CINEMA HAS TO BE  VISCERAL, HUMAN AND COMPELLING BY ITS VERY NATURE. AND THAT'S WHY KUBRICK WAS A MASTER. HE CONTINUALLY PROVOKES AND ENGAGES YOU WITH DEEPLY VISCERAL MOMENTS (WHETHER HORRIFYING OR BEAUTIFUL), BUT THE DISTANCE AND SYMBOLOGY OF THE IMAGERY, ALONG WITH THE INVERSION OF NARRATIVE PROPULSION, ALSO IMPLORE YOU TO GET THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE SEEING. THE KUBRICK MODEL ESSENTIALLY SHOWS YOU HOW TO BEST BREED A LANGUAGE OF SEMIOTICS ON FILM.  THINK ABOUT THE WAY HIS MOVIES GOT US TO TRY AND SUSS OUT HIS MEANINGS OF INTENTION. THINK ABOUT HOW MANY IDEAS HE'S CRAMMING IN ALL AT ONCE. THINK ABOUT THE EFFECT THAT 2001 AND A CLOCKWORK ORANGE HAVE ON YOU. NOT JUST WITH HIS STUNNING, LAYERED PRODUCTION DESIGN, BUT EVEN THROUGH THE INTERESTING AND OBLIQUE PERFORMANCES FROM THE ACTORS. IT'S A SEMIOTICS PLAYGROUND (AND YOU ALL HAVE TO SEE ROOM 237 AS PROOF OF THE UTTER DEPTHS OF HELL ONE CAN GO IN TRYING TO SUSS OUT KUBRICK'S MANIFOLD INTENTIONS). BUT THE IMPORTANT PART TO US RIGHT NOW IS HOW THE PRESENTATION OF HIS CINEMA EXPLAINS SO MUCH OF HOW "NARRATIVE ART FILMS" ACTUALLY WORK.

SO HAVING A GRASP OF KUBRICK'S HIGH ART, LET US NOW GO BACK AND LOOK AT WHAT HULK DESCRIBED IN THAT FIRST PARAGRAPH, HOW THE NARRATIVE INVERSIONS OF GIRLS WORK AND COMPARE... YUP! IT'S AVOIDING CONVENTIONAL NARRATIVE CONSTANTLY IN AN EFFORT TO CREATE VISCERAL REACTIONS THAT GIVE WAY TO NEW MEANINGS. IT GETS US TO ASK "WHY IS THAT CHARACTER DOING THAT?" AND SUDDENLY REVEALS A PSYCHE AND ROUNDED CHARACTERIZATION THAT IS SO MUCH MORE COMPELLING THAN WE PREVIOUSLY ASSUMED.

THE FACT DUNHAM USES THIS "INVERTING NARRATIVE" TACTIC THIS SHOULDN'T BE A SHOCK, EITHER. IF YOU'VE EVER SEEN HER FIRST FILM TINY FURNITURE THEN YOU'LL NOTICE HOW CAREFULLY SHE USED THE KUBRICKIAN STYLE OF IMMACULATELY COMPOSED, COLD AND DISTANT FRAMES IN AN EFFORT TO GET YOU TO DISSOCIATE FROM THE EMOTION AND ENGAGE THE SYMBOLOGY. AGAIN, HULK'S NOT MAKING THIS CRAP UP. THINK ABOUT THE FINAL METAPHOR WITH THE ALARM CLOCK AND THE COUNTDOWN TO THE CLOSE OF ADOLESCENCE. WHAT ELSE COULD THE PURPOSE BE? AND TO BE FAIR, HULK WOULD ARGUE SHE ACTUALLY WENT TOO FAR WITH THE DETACHED AESTHETIC IN THE FILM, BUT LIKE ALL GOOD ARTISTS, SHE PERHAPS REALIZED HER ERROR. PERHAPS SHE SAW THAT THE THE COLD, COMPOSED FRAMING AND THAT IT WASN'T THE OPTIMAL WAY TO EXPRESS HER VOICE AND IT NEEDED TO BE A LITTLE BIT MORE INTIMATE. ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING HOW HER UNBLINKING HONESTY AND VULNERABILITIES REQUIRED A PRESENTATION THAT COULD BE BOTH GROUNDED / ORGANIC AS WELL DISTANCING WHEN THE SITUATION REQUIRES. WELL NOW WE HAVE IT: THE BALANCE BETWEEN THE TWO THAT WE SEE NOW IN GIRLS IS ALMOST PERFECTLY EXECUTED. IT BRINGS US IN WITH THE CHARACTERS WHEN WE NEED TO BE VULNERABLE AND IT PURPOSEFULLY KNOWS HOT TO PULL AWAY FROM THEM WHEN WE NEED TO THINK THEY'RE BEING RIDICULOUS.

BUT IT DOESN'T STOP WITH HER OWN WORK. LOOK AT THE KINDS OF FILMMAKERS DUNHAM CREDITS AS INFLUENCES. CLAUDIA WEILL. WHIT STILLMAN. DAVID LYNCH IS SEMIOTICS GROUND ZERO. HECK, SHE'S SAID ONE OF HER FAVORITE MOVIES EVER IS MIKE LEIGH'S NUTS IN MAY. AND SHE WASN'T A FILM MAJOR EITHER, BUT INSTEAD MAJORED IN CREATIVE WRITING. WHICH MAKES SENSE BECAUSE WHEN YOU LOOK AT HER WORK, IT'S ALMOST LIKE NABOKOV AND EARLY NORA EPHRON HAD A BABY. SO PLEASE, FOLKS... LET US AT LEAST AGREE THAT THIS ISN'T THE REBELLIOUS FLIPPANCY OF A 20 YEAR OLD "GIRL," THIS IS, IN THE VERY LEAST, SOMEONE ENGAGING IN THE REAL DEAL ATTEMPT AT NARRATIVE ART. AND THAT MEANS WE AT LEAST HAVE TO ENGAGE THE KIND OF GAME THAT HER SHOW IS PLAYING. AND LOOK. HULK LOVES GREAT CONVENTIONAL STORYTELLING AS MUCH AS ANYONE, BUT GREAT ART CAN DO SOMETHING MORE THAN THAT. IT CAN TAKE YOU OFF YOUR GUARD AND SET YOUR BRAIN ON FIRE.

NOW... HULK DOES NOT MEAN TO MAKE GIRLS SOUND AS IF IT IS AN UNAPPROACHABLE, ALIEN-FEELING SHOW TO THE MASSES. FAR FROM IT. SO PERHAPS A GOOD QUESTION TO ASK NEXT IS: HOW ARE PEOPLE ABLE TO "FOLLOW" IT?

WELL, GIRLS DOESN'T WORK OFF LOGISTICAL PLOTTING, BUT INSTEAD WHAT WE CALL EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL-BASED PLOTTING. AND IT'S ACTUALLY PRETTY SIMPLE: A CHARACTER DOES SOMETHING OR HAS SOMETHING HAPPEN TO THEM IN ONE SCENE, WHICH MAKES THEM FEEL A CERTAIN WAY, AND THEN THEY GO INTO THE NEXT SCENE AND THAT LEFTOVER EMOTION AUGMENTS THEIR BEHAVIOR AND EMOTION IN THAT NEW SCENE. MEANING IT'S CAUSE AND EFFECT NOT IN A LOGICAL WAY, BUT A PSYCHOLOGICAL WAY. AND READILY GIVES US THE INSIGHT INTO THE MENTAL BLOCKS AND FLAWS THAT MAY BE RAMPANT WITHIN THAT CHARACTER.

THE REASON THIS KIND OF PLOTTING WORKS SO WELL FOR THE SHOW IS THAT IT IS PERFECT FOR THE TWO CENTRAL BEHAVIORS GOING ON WITH THE FOUR MAIN (RATHER YOUNG) CHARACTERS: INSINCERITY AND POSTURE. ALMOST EVERY SCENE HAS A CHARACTER TRYING TO ACT ONE WAY WHEN SOMETHING DIFFERENT IS GOING ON WITH THEM BENEATH THE SURFACE. WE SO READILY SEE THE CHARACTERS' NEEDS AND WANTS, YET THEY CONSTANTLY CLASH WITH THE CHARACTERS' ATTEMPTS AT PRESENTING THEMSELVES IN A COOL OR PUT-TOGETHER LIGHT. WE CALL THIS CREATING A "CHARACTER PSYCHE" AND HULK ARGUES IT MAKES FOR DEEPLY COMPELLING TELEVISION.

BUT THAT SOUNDS SO ESOTERIC! NO ONE WOULD EVER LIKE SOMETHING SO FAR REMOVED FROM TRADITIONAL STORYTELLING LIKE THAT!

WHILE THAT MAY BE A LOGICAL DEDUCTION, DO YOU KNOW WHAT WAS THE LAST TV SHOW TO HEAVILY UTILIZE THIS TACTIC OF EMOTIONAL / PSYCHOLOGICAL PLOTTING?

IT WAS THE SOPRANOS.

AND IT WAS PRETTY DAMN POPULAR. THINK ABOUT THE SIMILARITIES IN THE SHOW'S CONSTRUCTION. THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH THAT SHOW USED THE ART OF INVERSION. THINK ABOUT HOW OFTEN THEY WOULD USE TANGENTIAL PERSONAL EVENTS TO INFORM A LOGICAL PLOT-BASED MOB DECISION AND VICE VERSA. THINK ABOUT THE TIMES WHEN TONY DIDN'T KILL A RIVAL OVER MOB POLITICS, BUT INSTEAD A MINOR PERSONAL INFRACTION THAT SPOKE TO HIS PSYCHE (THERE'S NO EXAMPLE MORE PERFECT THAT THE HORSE OWNERSHIP PLOTLINE). HELL, THINK ABOUT HOW MANY TIMES THEY ESCHEWED MOB POLITICS ALL TOGETHER TO MAKE CHARACTER PIECES. THINK ABOUT THE ENTIRETY OF SEASON FOUR. THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH OF THAT SHOW WAS ABOUT THE POSTURE OF THESE BIG TOUGH GUYS, WHILE THEY ALL HAD THE INNER, OFTEN JUVENILE TURMOIL GOING ON UNDERNEATH. THINK ABOUT HOW SO MUCH OF THAT SHOW IS ABOUT WHAT THE CHARACTERS WEREN'T SAYING. THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH THAT SHOW ZIGGED WHEN IT WAS SUPPOSED TO ZAG. THINK OF HOW OFTEN IT PROVOKED US. THINK ABOUT HOW OFTEN YOU NEVER HAD ANY IDEA WHAT A CHARACTER WOULD DO. THINK ABOUT HOW OFTEN IT DEFIED CONVENTION IN THE NAME OF GETTING US TO THINK AND CONSTRUCT MEANING AROUND IT. THINK ABOUT HOW OFTEN IT REFRAINED FROM TRADITIONAL STORIES OF VENGEANCE. THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH OF THAT SHOW WAS PURELY ABOUT EXPLORING THE PSYCHE. AND LASTLY, THINK ABOUT THE FACT THAT BECAUSE IT DID ALL THIS, WE CROWNED THE SOPRANOS AS ONE OF THE GREATEST PURE NARRATIVE PIECES OF ART THAT HAS EVER BEEN ON TELEVISION.

AND LENA DUNHAM JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE DOING THE SAME EXACT THING IN THE SAME EXACT WAY, ONLY ITS SUBJECT MATTER ISN'T ABOUT THE TRADITIONALLY APPEALING AND SORDID WORLD OF MOBSTERS, BUT INSTEAD A GROUP OF 20-SOMETHING GIRLS DOING THEIR BEST IMPRESSION OF ADULTS IN NEW YORK CITY.

THE BEST PART OF THIS PSYCHOLOGICAL-PLOTTING TACTIC IS THAT IT ACTUALLY MAKES SO MUCH DAMN SENSE FOR GIRLS, TOO.  20-SOMETHINGS ARE ALWAYS IN A CONSTANT WAR WITH HOW THEY PRESENT THEMSELVES VS. HOW THEY ACTUALLY FEEL VS. MAYBE WHO THEY ACTUALLY ARE. THERE COULD NOT BE A METHOD OF PLOTTING MORE ACCURATE OR RESONANT TO THE SUBJECT.

IT WOULD BE EASY FOR HULK TO SIT HERE AND TALK ABOUT ALL THESE GREAT THINGS GIRLS DOES WITHOUT GIVING CONCRETE EXAMPLES SO LET'S DO JUST THAT. IN THE TWO AFOREMENTIONED GREAT EPISODES (2.4 AND 2.5), THERE WERE TWO DRIVING NARRATIVE DEVICES THAT ACUTELY DISPLAY THIS WHOLE INSINCERITY VS. POSTURE DYNAMICS. (SPOILERS OR WHATEVER TO FOLLOW FOR A FEW PARAGRAPHS?) EPISODE 2.4'S "IT'S A SHAME ABOUT RAY" SPENDS MOST OF ITS RUNNING TIMES AS SORT OF A TRADITIONAL EPISODE, BEFORE SOON BREAKING DOWN THE POSTURE AND GIVING WAY TO THE REAL PSYCHOLOGICAL VULNERABILITY THAT'S BEEN BUILDING UNDERNEATH ALL SEASON. THE FIRST INSTANCE IS WITH MARNIE AND HER EX CHARLIE, WHO HAS BEEN CONSTANTLY COMING TO HER NEED IN THE WAKE OF THEIR BIG BREAKUP (AS SHE'S BEEN DOING FAR WORSE THAN SHE'D LIKE TO ADMIT), BUT THE MOMENT SHE REVEALS SHE'S SEEING A FAMOUS ARTIST HE INSTANTLY DROPS THE "NICE GUY" ACT AND CAN'T HANDLE HER BEING WITH SOMEONE ELSE (DESPITE HIS BEING WITH SOMEONE ELSE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY).

AND THE SAME GOES WITH JESSA AND HER HUSBAND THOMAS-JOHN, WHO TO THIS POINT HAVE BEEN UNDER THE MOST NAIVE AND POSTURING PRETENSIONS IMAGINABLE ABOUT THEIR RELATIONSHIP, BUT THE SECOND THERE IS A BUMP IT JUST ALL UNRAVELS SO QUICKLY. FREE FROM THE SHACKLES OF THEIR MISGUIDED DECISION TO GET MARRIED WITHOUT KNOWING EACH OTHER WELL, THEY ARE FINALLY FREE TO BE THEIR REAL SELVES. AND THAT MEANS THEY ARE POSITIVELY VENOMOUS TOWARD ONE ANOTHER. PERHAPS MOST STRIKING WAS JESSA'S LEVEL-HEADED ADMISSION OF AWARENESS WITH HER DEVIL-MAY-CARE LIFESTYLE: "DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG I'VE BEEN DOING THIS?" SHE SAYS. AND IT ALL LEADS TO THE EPISODE'S FINAL HEARTFELT MOMENTS WHEREIN JESSA SHOWS UP TO HANNAH'S BATHTUB NOT TO BE ADMONISHED, BUT JUST SO SHE CAN HAVE A PLACE TO CRY AND BE A "REAL" PERSON FOR ONCE, SNOT AND ALL.

BUT PERHAPS THE AFFECTING SCENE CAME BETWEEN THE NORMALLY CANTANKEROUS RAY AND AND SEEMINGLY SUPERFICIAL SHOSHANNA. WHAT AT FIRST READ TO US AS A RELATIONSHIP BUILT ON MISMATCHED HILARITY AND AWKWARD PAIRING FOR VIRGINITY LOSS SOON GAVE WAY TO TWO PEOPLE BEING ODDLY COMFORTABLE WITH EACH OTHER. AND IN THE EPISODE'S CENTRAL DINNER PARTY SHOSHANNA REALIZES THAT RAY, NOW OUSTED FROM HIS GRANDMOTHER'S PLACE A FEW WEEKS BACK HAS STEALTHILY "MOVED IN" WITH HER. THE MOMENT PLAYS FOR COMEDY UNTIL THE TWO WAIT FOR A SUBWAY LATER THAT NIGHT AND SHOSHANNA BEGINS TO REALIZE JUST HOW UNINSPIRED AND UNMOTIVATED RAY REALLY IS. AND RAY, FEELING AS IF HE'S FINALLY DEFEATED ADMITS THAT HE HAD BEEN JUST TRYING TO SKATE BY AS LONG AS POSSIBLE WITHOUT HER REALIZING HE WAS A LOSER. RAY HAS COMPLETELY DROPPED HIS POSTURE. THERE IS NO MORE ACERBIC FRONT. AND SHOSHANNA, WHO ALWAYS THOUGHT HER LIFE WOULD BE GLAMOROUS AND JUST LIKE TV OR SOMETHING, ADMITS THE REASON SHE WANTS TO BE WITH HIM IS BECAUSE SHE THINKS SHE'S FALLING IN LOVE WITH HIM. RAY, SMACKED RIGHT IN THE GUT BY HER ADMISSION, TAKES A MOMENT AND ALMOST ADMONISHES HER FOR SAYING SUCH A STUPID, YOUNG AND IMMATURE THING, BUT NOT BEFORE HE ADMITTING "I LOVE YOU SO FUCKING MUCH." AND IT'S SO SURPRISINGLY BEAUTIFUL. TWO CHARACTERS WE HAD JUST ASSUMED WERE A CERTAIN WAY FROM THEIR PREVIOUS POSTURE END UP BEING SO MUCH MORE HUMAN THAN ANYONE ELSE AROUND THEM. AND THAT'S BECAUSE THEY HAVE DONE THE SCARIEST THING THAT ADOLESCENTS CAN DO AND EMBRACED THE ULTIMATE VULNERABILITY OF LOVING ANOTHER PERSON. AND WHAT DRIVES ALL OF THIS IS THAT THERE ISN'T A SINGLE PART OF YOU THAT DOUBTS THEM.

THE POINT OF HULK MENTIONING ALL THESE PLOT LINES IN DETAIL IS TO ILLUSTRATE THAT THEY DO NOT COME IN THE FORM OF MELODRAMATICS. THEY ARE NOT CATHARTICALLY ARRIVED AT AS PART OF CONVENTIONAL NARRATIVE. THEY ARE ARRIVED AT VIA INVERSION OF EXPECTATION AND THE EROSION OF POSTURE, WHICH HULK ARGUES CAN BE JUST SO DAMN RESONANT, EVEN CONFIRMING THE CENTRAL TENET OF STORYTELLING: "NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS." TO WIT, A COMPARISON:

ONE OF HULK'S FAVORITE FILMS EVER IS MIKE LEIGH'S HAPPY GO LUCKY. IT IS A FILM THAT NOT ONLY DEFIES ROMANTIC COMEDY CONVENTION, BUT USES YOUR FAMILIARITY WITH THE GENRE TO PREY UPON YOUR EXPECTATION. SURE, IT DOESN'T LOOK LIKE A ROMANTIC COMEDY, AS IT IS SHOT WITH A SURE-FOOTED PEDESTRIAN SENSIBILITY BEFITTING A PERSON WITH LEIGH'S CLARITY. BUT SLOWLY THE NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS REVEAL THEMSELVES. WE EVEN ASSUME THAT OUR MAIN CHARACTER POPPY WILL HAVE A COMMON ARC. (SPOILERS AND SUCH, BUT IT'S NECESSARY FOR DISCUSSION) AT FIRST WE SEE HER KINDLY AND TRUSTING NATURE BEING TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF BY PEOPLE. HER FAMILY AND FRIENDS ALL WARN HER TO BE MORE GUARDED WITH HER AFFECTIONS AND HAPPY GO LUCKY ATTITUDE. SHE THEN MEETS HER CURMUDGEONLY DRIVING INSPECTOR SCOTT, WHO HAS A BY-THE-BOOK SENSIBILITY AND THE FIRST CLEAR INKLINGS OF ATTRACTION TO HER. MEANWHILE, WE SEE THE APPEARANCE OF A HANDSOME SOCIAL WORKER WHO HELPS POPPY WITH A TROUBLED CHILD AND THEN ASKS HER OUT. FROM HERE, CONVENTIONAL ROMANTIC NARRATIVE DICTATES EXACTLY WHERE THINGS WILL GO: THE HANDSOME SOCIAL WORKER WILL TURN OUT TO BE A DUPLICITOUS SHIT. POPPY WILL LEARN SHE CAN'T BE SO TRUSTING WITH NICE PEOPLE. AND INSTEAD HER KIND WAYS WILL REACH THROUGH TO THE TOUGH NUT TO CRACK IN HER DRIVING INSTRUCTOR SCOTT, MAKING FOR AN UNLIKELY ROMANCE OF A MISMATCHED PAIR. IT'S OH SO FAMILIAR ISN'T IT? BUT INSTEAD LEIGH DEFIES EVERY CONVENTION TO GET AT THE LARGER, MORE RESONANT TRUTHS: SCOTT'S CURMUDGEONLY ATTITUDE IS REALLY SOME DEEP-SEATED ANGER ISSUES. AND HIS STALKING ATTRACTION TO POPPY IS NOT QUIRKY AND INNOCENT, BUT DOWNRIGHT SCARY. BUT POPPY IS SO MUCH MORE THAN WE FIRST ASSUMED TOO. THE THING THAT KEEPS BEING REVEALED TO US IS UNDERNEATH THE SEEMINGLY NAIVE, HAPPY GO LUCKY EXTERIOR (THE SAME ONE HER FRIENDS WARNED THE AUDIENCE TO WATCH OUT FOR) SHE IS INCREDIBLY MATURE. SHE'S A GREAT TEACHER. A PATIENT AND KIND PERSON WITH A SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG. HER BEING HAPPY GO LUCKY IS A DIFFICULT CHOICE SHE MAKES EVERYDAY. BUT IT IS ONE OF IMMENSE VALUE. SHE STANDS UP TO SCOTT AND DOES ANYTHING SHE CAN TO GET HIM HELP. AND THE HANDSOME SOCIAL WORKER "OTHER GUY" WE'RE TAUGHT TO THINK OF AS A DICK? HE'S ACTUALLY GREAT AND REALLY LIKES HER. POPPY IS REWARDED FOR STAYING TRUE TO HERSELF AND BEING GOOD. LEIGH IS EFFECTIVELY TEARING APART THE VILE LIES OF ROMANTIC COMEDY CONVENTION BEFORE OUR VERY EYES. AND HE DOES SO WITHOUT BEING LITERAL. HE DOESN'T EXPRESS THAT MAIN ARC OF UNDERSTANDING THROUGH THE CHARACTER, INSTEAD HE PASSES THAT MAIN ARC OF UNDERSTANDING THROUGH US.

THAT'S A BRILLIANT TACTIC AND IT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE ENTIRE CONVENTION OF USING "REVEALS." AND THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH GIRLS USES THIS TACTIC OF REVEALING WITH ITS PSYCHE. A CHARACTER'S REACTION MAY SEEM "ILLOGICAL," IT MAY EVEN SEEM SUDDEN (GIVEN HOW MUCH OF IT IS NEW INFORMATION IS PRESENTED IN THE MOMENT), BUT IT'S ABOUT ADDING A NEW LAYER. AND THIS IS HOW THE SHOW HAS ALWAYS WORKED. LOOK AT THE ARCS SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE SHOW. LOOK AT RAY, AT FIRST THE MOUTHY, TANGENTIAL FRIEND IN SEASON ONE, AND NOW WE'VE GOT A FRONT ROW TICKET TO HIS VULNERABILITY AND ENNUI. THINK ABOUT THAT LAST STRIKING IMAGE OF EPISODE 2.6, WHERE HE SITS WITH THE MUZZLED DOG ON THE PARK BENCH STARING AT NEW YORK FROM AFAR. THINK ABOUT HOW FAR THAT IS FROM THE RAY WE WERE FIRST INTRODUCED TO. THINK ABOUT THE WAY THE LAYERS HAVE BEEN "ADDED" IN A NARRATIVE CONSTRUCTION SENSE, BUT IN A PSYCHOLOGICAL SENSE WE'RE REALLY JUST PEELING THE LAYERS AWAY.

THINK ABOUT THE WAY THE SHOW DID THE SAME EXACT THINK LAST SEASON WITH ADAM. AT FIRST HE WAS WEIRD AND OBTUSE, BUT SLOWLY WE GOT LET INTO HIS LITTLE GUARDED AND FUCKED UP WORLD. SO MUCH SO, THAT WE TRULY GOT TO EMPATHIZE WITH HIM A MEANINGFUL WAY. WHICH WAS ALL PART OF AN AMAZING ATTEMPT TO MAKE HIM MORE EMPATHETIC THAN HANNAH AS SET UP FOR HER EVENTUAL HEARTBREAKING ATTEMPT TO PULL AWAY (A RARE CASE OF PURPOSEFULLY NOT WANTING US TO SIDE COMPLETELY WITH THE NARRATOR).

OR THINK ABOUT MARNIE'S ARC OVER THE LAST TWO SEASONS. SHE WAS THE "PUT TOGETHER" FRIEND ALWAYS CHASTISING HANNAH FOR HER IRRESPONSIBLE WAYS. AND NOW SHE FINDS HERSELF AWASH IN MISUNDERSTANDING, NOT EVEN KNOWING IF SHE'S IN A RELATIONSHIP, WEARING HALF A DRESS ON A SUBWAY AND TRYING TO KEEP IT TOGETHER. THE CHARACTERS ARE CHANGING AND ALL THAT GOOD STUFF, BUT TO THE AUDIENCE, THEY HAVE SLOWLY REVEALED THEIR DEPTH TO US THROUGH THE ERASURE OF POSTURE.

BUT PERHAPS NO EPISODE HAS MADE THIS VULNERABILITY MECHANISM QUITE SO CLEAR AS THE MAGNIFICENT EPISODE 2.5 "ONE MAN'S TRASH," IN WHICH THE SHOW JUST SUDDENLY DROPS THE ENSEMBLE AND BECOMES MORE OF A ONE ACT PLAY. THROUGH A MATTER OF HAPPENSTANCE, HANNAH ENDS UP RANDOMLY APOLOGIZING TO AN OLDER, HANDSOME GUY (PATRICK WILSON) OUTSIDE OF HIS MAGNIFICENT HOUSE ALL BECAUSE SHE DUMPED THE COFFEE SHOP'S TRASH INTO HIS BARRELS. WHAT BEGINS AS AN AWKWARD, BUT OPEN INTERACTION, MORPHS INTO A SUDDEN SEXUAL FLING, THEN SLOWLY MORPHS AGAIN INTO AN ONGOING GAME OF THE TWO OF THEM EFFECTIVELY "PLAYING HOUSE." IT IS ESSENTIALLY A DIFFERENT KIND OF POSTURING ON BOTH THEIR PARTS. FOR HIM, IT IS THE POSTURING OF THE INTIMACY HE HAS LOST IN DIVORCE AND CAN'T SEEM TO FIND IN HIS IMMACULATE EMPTY HOUSE. FOR HER, IT IS THE POSTURING OF ALL THE THINGS SHE HAS PRETENDED SHE THAT DOESN'T WANT, ALL IN THE PURSUIT OF A WILD 20-SOMETHING EXPERIENCE. BUT HERE HANNAH SUDDENLY ADMITS "SHE WANTS ALL THE THINGS." IN THAT MOMENT OF FEELING SAFE AND VULNERABLE, SHE LETS GO OF EVERY DEEP-SEATED FEAR AND INSECURITY. AND AS THAT REALIZATION COMES TO HEAD, AS ALL THE PRETENDING OF EVENTUALLY COMES TO A HEAD, SHE FINALLY LETS IT ALL OUT AND REALIZES SHE WENT TOO FAR. THEY BOTH REALIZE THE ILLUSION IS OVER. THEY DON'T KNOW EACH OTHER. THEY HAVEN'T BUILT ANYTHING REAL IN THESE SHORT FEW DAYS. IT WAS ALL A LIE. ON ONE LEVEL IT'S A RELATIONSHIP IN MICROCOSM. BUT ON ANOTHER LEVEL IT WAS THE SADDEST KIND OF POSTURING OF ALL, BECAUSE IT IS THE MIMICRY OF OUR HEART'S DESIRE. THE NEXT MORNING HE'S GONE, HAVING LEFT FOR WORK. SHE LETS HERSELF OUT, DROPS OFF THE TRASH ONE LAST TIME AND WALKS DOWN THE STREET TEARFULLY TO FORGET HER ILLUSIONS AND PERHAPS FIND SOME NEW ONES.

.... AND IT'S THE CLOSEST TV HAS COME TO AN ABBAS KIAROSTAMI FILM.

CALL IT HYPERBOLE, BUT THE COMPARISON IS TOO SUCCINCT NOT TO BE ACCURATE. IN HULK'S VIEW THAT EPISODE OF GIRLS WAS ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING THAT WE NORMALLY RESERVE FOR A MASTER FILMMAKER. WHICH, EVEN IF YOU DON'T AGREE WITH THE ASSESSMENT, STILL MEANS THAT IN THE VERY LEAST WE SHOULDN'T DISMISS THIS LITTLE SHOW AS BEING PURPOSELESS OR WITHOUT COHERENT INTENTION. AS HULK KEEPS SAYING, IT IS A SHOW THAT USES THE MOST COMMON ARTISTIC NARRATIVE LANGUAGE TO INVERT CONVENTION AND EXPOSE THE VULNERABILITY UNDER POSTURE. BUT THE FUNNIEST PART OF ALL IS THAT HULK ACTUALLY WROTE ALL OF THAT STATEMENT BEFORE SUNDAY'S EPISODE 2.6 ENTITLED "BOYS," WHICH ENDS WITH A CONVERSATION BETWEEN MARNIE AND HANNAH LYING TO EACH OTHER ABOUT HOW GREAT THEY'RE DOING DESPITE BEING AT THEIR MOST MISERABLE LOWS. AND NEVER COULD THE SHOW'S NARRATIVE MECHANISM NEVER BE MORE CLEAR THAN THAT... POSTURE INDEED.

AND LOOK... IF THE SHOW WAS JUST USING THESE SORTS OF ARTISTIC MECHANISMS ALONE THAT WOULD BE WORTH SOMETHING, BUT HULK THINKS IT OFFERS US SO MUCH MORE.

THE MOST SURPRISING OF WHICH MIGHT BE LENA DUNHAM'S CENTRAL PERFORMANCE, WHICH HAS REALLY MORPHED INTO SOMETHING QUITE ACCOMPLISHED. AFTER ALL, THOUGH HULK SAW TINY FURNITURE AND SHE CAME ACROSS AS BOTH WELL-INTENTIONED AND VULNERABLE IN THAT FILM, IT'S HARD TO ARGUE THAT SHE DIDN'T ALSO COME ACROSS AS A BIT WOODEN AND LACKING CONTROL. BUT BY THE FIRST SEASON OF GIRLS? SHE CAME ACROSS SO DAMN STRONG. SUDDENLY SHE HAD THIS ARRAY OF COMEDIC TOUCHSTONES, FROM THE PILOT'S DRUG TEA-INDUCED FLIP OUT TO HER PARENTS, TO A QUIVERING LIP AT HER EX AFTER ANNOUNCING HE'S GAY, TO AN AWKWARD FORCED COME-ON ATTEMPT TO HER BOSS. AND IT WASN'T JUST FUNCTIONAL PERFORMANCE, BUT DOWNRIGHT HILARIOUS. AND THIS SEASON SHE'S IN FULL CONTROL. TAKE EPISODE 2.4'S TIGHTROPE WALK OF DINNER PARTY SCENE WHERE SHE TOWS THE EXACT LINE OF FIVE DIFFERENT AFFECTATIONS: SHE HAS TO SIMULTANEOUSLY LIE TO MARNIE AND PRETEND EVERYTHING'S COOL WITH THEM WHEN IT'S OBVIOUSLY NOT, WHILE LYING TO CHARLIE AND HIS GIRLFRIEND PRETENDING MARNIE WASN'T SUPPOSED TO COME AND THIS WASN'T PART OF AN ELABORATE PUNISHMENT FOR MARNIE, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY LIE TO HERSELF IN SUCH A WAY THAT SHE DOESN'T THINK SHE'S RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY OF THIS SITUATION, WHILE STILL TELEGRAPHING ALL THREE OF THESE TRUTHS SO OBVIOUSLY THAT PLAYS AS JOKE, WHILE STILL "ACTING" GOOD ENOUGH THAT SHE THINKS SHE'S GETTING AWAY WITH IT. THAT IS LITERALLY FIVE CONFLICTING OBJECTIVES AND SHE ABSOLUTELY NAILS IT. DO YOU SERIOUSLY HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD IT IS TO PULL THAT OFF?

BUT PERFORMANCES AND ARTISTIC INTENTION ASIDE, OF COURSE PEOPLE HAVE LATCHED ONTO IS THE SHOW'S SURFACE CONTENT TOO. IT SHOULDN'T BE SURPRISING, AS THAT'S OFTEN WHY WE LATCH ONTO THINGS. HULK PROBABLY WOULDN'T BE WRONG FOR GUESSING THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE STARTED WATCHING THE SOPRANOS NOT FOR ITS DRAMATIC FUNCTION, BUT BECAUSE IT WAS, YOU KNOW, ABOUT MOBSTERS AND STUFF. BUT GIRLS HAS SUPPLIED US WITH BASIC LEVELS OF SURFACE INTEREST ADMIRABLY. OH, HULK SUPPOSES IT CAPTURES THE PARTICULARITY OF A CERTAIN KIND OF RIDICULOUS BROOKLYN CULTURE, BUT THAT'S PROBABLY THE LEAST IMPORTANT OF ITS NICHE AFFECTATIONS. REALLY, HULK THINKS WE CAN ALL AGREE THAT IT MAKES IT MAKES ITS CULTURAL BONES BY DELVING THE WEIRDEST REALMS OF SEX LOGIC THAT PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT. HECK, IT MAKES THE FRANK TALK OF SEX AND THE CITY (WHICH SEEMED REVOLUTIONARY JUST A DECADE AGO) SEEM FACILE. AND IT'S NOT JUST FOR EXHIBITION'S SAKE, BUT COMMENTARY ON INTIMACY ISSUES IN SUCH A WAY WHERE IT DOESN'T TRY TO UNTANGLE THEM, BUT SIMPLY REVEAL THEM. AND IT'S NEVER SO SIMPLE AS TO BE ABOUT THIS SEXUAL TOPIC OR THAT SEXUAL TOPIC. INSTEAD, IT IS ONE OF THE MOST FRANK DEPICTIONS OF THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF SEX ONE CAN HAVE (THINK OF THE SEASON ONE EPISODE WHERE HANNAH GOES HOME AND HAS NO IDEA HOW TO HAVE SEX WITH A GUY WHO ISN'T INTO AS WEIRD STUFF AS ADAM). IT'S NO SURPRISE THAT THIS STUFF HAS RESONATED.

BUT GOING WITH THAT OF COURSE IS THE APPARENT LIGHTNING ROD OF LENA DUNHAM'S NUDITY, WHICH HAS NOT ONLY MANAGED TO UNEARTH SOME OF THE MOST RIDICULOUS, ARCHAIC OPINIONS EVER, BUT WHOSE ALTERNATIVE OF POSITIVE AFFECTATION GETS LOST SO EASILY. NONE PUT IT MORE ELEGANTLY THAN WITH KATE SPENCER'S BEAUTIFUL ESSAY "ON SEEING LENA DUNHAM NAKED," WHEREIN SHE REVEALS JUST HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO SEE "the first woman I’ve ever seen on-screen who looks like me" AND HOW IT AFFECTS HER. IT'S THE KIND OF THING THAT MAKES THE PURPOSE OF THIS STUFF SO TANGIBLE, SO OBVIOUS, AND SO INSPIRING THAT IT FEELS LIKE WE NEEDN'T HAVE THE CONVERSATION AGAIN... BUT SADLY, OF COURSE WE WILL.

BEYOND ALL THESE TANGIBLY GREAT THINGS, PERHAPS THE GREATEST VALUE OF GIRLS IS THAT IT SIMPLY EXISTS FOR THOSE WHO CHERISH IT. AS HULK HAS HOPEFULLY ARTICULATED, IT DOES THINGS THAT NO OTHER TV REALLY DOES. THERE HASN'T BEEN A TELEVISION SHOW THIS INTERESTED IN EXPLORING CHARACTER PSYCHE AND ITS EFFECT ON "PLOT" SINCE THE SOPRANOS... ONLY IT JUST HAPPENS TO BE ABOUT YOUNG, DISAFFECTED "GIRLS."

AND SADLY THAT'S PROBABLY MAKING ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

3. ON US.

FOR SOME REASON, OUR SOCIETY AT LARGE CAN'T SEEM TO DEAL WITH THE CONFLICTING CULTURAL REGARD FOR LENA DUNHAM. SHE JUST DRIVES PEOPLE CRAZY. FOR INSTANCE, HERE'S A REASONABLY POPULAR AND SUPPORTED COMMENT FROM THE RELATIVE CESSPOOL OF THE IMDB MESSAGE BOARDS:

In my opinion nothing at all apart from some clever dialogue but really that's not enough for me when the main character is a completely despicable person. A spoiled, stupid, immature, self-obsessed hipster brat. Seriously I wouldn't stand being around her for a second in real life. And that Jessa character is even worse. What a totally useless excuse for a human being she is. Disrespectful of everyone and everything around her and smugly proud to be the spoiled princess bitch of her own bubble world. And yet her surroundings seem to mostly admire her. How severely braindamaged are their friends, how do they stand being around such vile individuals.

The show sort of pisses me off with its completely unlikable characters and to top it off the last episode was immensely unrealistic. Not in a thousand years would quite a comely man invite someone like Hannah in for some casual sex. That just doesn't happen, ever. Is this the writer's own fantasies laying the ground for an entire episode? How sad is that?

SO... THIS OBVIOUSLY CROSSES THE LINE INTO GROSS, SEXIST GARBAGE, BUT THE SADDEST REALIZATION IS HOW CLOSELY THIS PERSPECTIVE SKEWS TO THE NATIONAL COMMENTARY.

SERIOUSLY GO BACK TO THAT SLATE PIECE. HOW DIFFERENT IS WHAT THOSE GUYS ARE SAYING FROM THIS GUY? SURE, THEY'VE DRESSED UP THE LANGUAGE AND PROVIDED A FEW "TANGIBLE" REASONS FOR THEIR FEELINGS, BUT THE SENTIMENT IS JUST AS UGLY. WORSE, THEIR CRITICISMS ARE THE KINDS OF CRITICISMS YOU WOULD FIND FOR A SHOW THAT'S TRYING TO ENGAGE CONVENTIONAL NARRATIVE. AND FOR ALL THEIR INTELLECTUAL JUSTIFICATIONS FOR THEIR FEELINGS THEY DON'T EVER STOP FOR ONE DAMN SECOND AND THINK ABOUT THE SHOW AS DOING SOMETHING MORE ALTERNATIVE. NEVER ONCE DO THEY STOP TO THINK OF THE SHOW THE WAY WE WOULD WITH KUBRICK OR THE SOPRANOS. NO, THAT'S BEYOND AN OBVIOUSLY INFERIOR LITTLE SHOW LIKE THIS. PERHAPS THAT'S THE GREATEST OFFENSE OF ALL. THAT NO ONE EVER REALLY STOPS TO THINK ABOUT THE DEPTHS THIS SHOW IS REACHING.

BUT THIS ISN'T SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT CRITICAL ADMONISHMENT. EVEN HULK HAS TO TRY AND REMEMBER THAT. THIS IS ABOUT CHALLENGING THE CRITICAL DIALOGUE. THIS IS ABOUT GETTING US TO EMBRACE A BIGGER IDEA. AND PERHAPS THE FACT THAT THE SHOW CHALLENGES OUR SENSE OF STORY AND CHARACTER CONVENTION SO READILY IS JUST THE KIND OF CONTROVERSY WE NEED.

FOR INSTANCE, IT IS SAID THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT ART OFTEN FEELS DANGEROUS.

EVEN JUST A FEW YEARS AGO, HULK WAS ALWAYS ONE TO KNOCK ON THE OBVIOUS LITERAL SYMBOLOGY OF SERRANO'S "PISS CHRIST," BUT IT'S EASY TO FORGET HOW INCENDIARY THAT KIND OF STUFF CAN BE OUTSIDE OF AN ART CLASSROOM. ESPECIALLY IN THE REST OF THE WORLD, WHO CAN OFTEN RESIDE FAR FROM THE SAFETY OF FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS. THE COMPARISON OF GIRLS TO A FAMOUS PIECE OF SHOCK ART MAY MAKE IT SEEM LIKE HULK IS OVERSTATING THE RELATION, BUT LOOK AROUND THE INTERNET FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME (HECK LOOK AT THE IMDB COMMENT ABOVE) AND YOU REALIZE THAT THE SHOW HAS QUITE CLEARLY TOUCHED A NERVE.

WHY?

HULK COULD PROBABLY SIT DOWN AND PLAY PSYCHOLOGIST FOR HOURS, ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE FACT IT EVEN RENDERED A GENERICALLY NICE REPUBLICAN HULK KNOWS (OKAY, IT'S CAP) INTO A TIZZY, DECLARING THAT DUNHAM "needs to have some fucking respect." BUT THAT'S NOT ALWAYS FAIR. THE IMPORTANT THING TO REALIZE IS THIS IS THE KIND OF ART THAT ISN'T PROVOKING COMMENTS FROM FRINGE GROUPS. THESE ARE THE COMMENTS OF PEOPLE IN OUR LIVES. COLLEAGUES. FRIENDS, FAMILY. EVEN NORMALLY PROGRESSIVE PEOPLE WHO READILY ADOPTED A SIMILAR SHOW THAT HIDES ITS PSYCHOLOGY MEANINGS IN MALE-CENTRIC SETTINGS, AND NOW READILY DISMISS ANOTHER THAT JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE IN A FEMALE-CENTRIC SETTING. AND IT'S PERHAPS NOT BECAUSE OF THIS FACT, BUT LIKELY SYMPTOMATIC OF IT.

NONE OF THIS MEANS THAT GIRLS HAS TO BE YOUR FAVORITE SHOW, OR THAT YOU EVEN HAVE TO LIKE IT. OF COURSE NOT. BUT IF WE'RE GOING TO SIT HERE AND LOB CRITICISM, THE SHOW'S PURPOSE, INTENT AND METHODOLOGY SHOULD AT LEAST BE UNDERSTOOD.

EVEN MORE SO, PLEASE UNDERSTAND HOW IN ANY CONSTANT HARPING OF THE REASONS YOU DON'T LIKE IT CAN COME ACROSS AS DEEPLY PROBLEMATIC FOR ALL INVOLVED. HULK IS ALL FOR A HEALTHY DISCUSSION. BUT BEFORE YOU CONTRIBUTE, JUST PLEASE HAVE SOME SENSE THAT THE GIRLS DISCUSSION IS DEEPLY UNHEALTHY RIGHT NOW. EVEN IN THE COMMENTS BELOW HULK WILL LIKELY FIND A CACOPHONY OF RESPONSES ABOUT WHY SOMEONE DOESN'T LIKE THE SHOW WITH A HOST OF "YEAH, BUT..." LANGUAGE. AND 50% OF WHICH WILL LIKELY ARTICULATE A COMPLAINT THAT IS NOT ACTUALLY RELEVANT TO THIS SHOW ACCOMPLISHING WHAT IT IS TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH.

HULK UNDERSTANDS THAT THE WORD "MYOPIC" CAN GET THROWN AROUND IN ANY CONVERSATION LIKE THIS. HULK COULD ACCUSE A LOT OF THE CRITICS OF HAVING A MYOPIC SENSIBILITY OF HOW TELEVISION SHOULD WORK, BUT YOU COULD EVEN POSSIBLE ARGUE THAT HULK IS HAVING MYOPIC VIEW OF THE SANCTITY OF ART. BUT SUCH IS THE REFLEXIVE NATURE OF THE CONCEPT. ALL HULK CAN OFFER IS AN IDEA THAT PERHAPS REINFORCES WHY THE NOTION OF MYOPIA APPLIES TO THE DIALOGUE.

GIRLS WAS A SHOW THAT GOT HULK TO OPEN HULK'S EYES AND BROADEN HULK'S IDEA OF WHAT TELEVISION COULD BE.

THERE IS NO MORE SIMPLE WAY OF PUTTING IT. IT GOT HULK TO THINK CRITICALLY ABOUT ALMOST EVERY PREVIOUS ARTICULATION OF "YOUNG WOMEN" IN MEDIA AND DO SO WITH CAREFUL THOUGHT AND UNDERSTANDING. AND YES, IT MADE HULK LAUGH.

AND SO HULK ARGUES THAT THE CRITICAL DIALOGUE HAS AN OPTION. THEY CAN KEEP TELLING THE WORLD ABOUT HOW IT DOESN'T FIT INTO A MYOPIC VIEW OF WHAT TELEVISION IS OR SHOULD BE. THEY CAN KEEP CALLING IT "TERRIBLY AVERAGE" AS IF THAT EVALUATION ACTUALLY SAYS SOMETHING.

OR THE CRITICAL COMMUNITY CAN BE SO MUCH BIGGER THAN THAT.

AS PART OF THAT, THERE'S ONE POINT THAT HULK SHOULD HAVE MADE IN THE EARLIER DISCUSSION, BUT HULK WANTED TO WAIT UNTIL NOW. YOU KNOW ALL THAT POSTURING AND INSINCERITY THAT HULK ALLUDED TO AS THE DRIVING CHARACTERIZATION OF THE SHOW? WELL, THAT SHOULD MAKE IT PRETTY CLEAR: GIRLS IS ACTUALLY A SHOW ABOUT HOW DAMN HARD IT IS TO BE GENUINE.

IT'S ABOUT HOW DAMN HARD IT IS TO BE KIND. TO BE SELFLESS. AND TO NOT BE ACERBIC IN THE FACE OF A WORLD THAT MAKES IT SO DAMN EASY TO BE DISMISSIVE. TO PROTECT OURSELVES IN LAYERS OF CYNICISM. TO FEEL LOST IN A HAZE OF POSTURE. IT IS A SHOW WITH CHARACTERS WHO ARE MILES AWAY FROM ADULTHOOD, WHERE IT UNDERSTANDS OUR JUVENILE INCLINATIONS AND WHY WE DO THEM, BUT ALSO CLEARLY UNDERSTANDS THIS ETHEREAL IDEA OUT THERE. A WANT SEEDED DEEP WITHIN US, A GRAND IDEA OF MEASURED RESPONSIBILITY AND KINDNESS. THIS PLACE IS THE VULNERABLE PLACE OF ADULTHOOD.

THIS PLACE IS ALSO WHERE THE CRITICAL PURPOSE LIES.

WHAT IS THAT PURPOSE? WHAT IS IT WE SEEK TO DO? DO WE WANT TO BROADEN HORIZONS? NOT JUST IN SOME ALTRUISTIC EDUCATIONAL SENSE IN OTHERS, BUT FOR OURSELVES? DO WE WANT TO CELEBRATE WHAT IS GOOD? DO WE WANT TO BE AT OUR MOST EXCITING WHEN WE LOVE SOMETHING? WHEN IT PROVOKES US DEEP INSIDE AND GETS US TO ASK: "WHY IS THAT CHARACTER DOING THAT?" AND "WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR US?"

IN THAT SPIRIT, HULK'S NOT MAKING IT UP, FOLKS: GIRLS IS REMARKABLE. AND PERHAPS IT'S JUST SO SAD TO SEE A LITANY OF PEOPLE LOOK FOR ALL THE REASONS IT'S NOT...

... INSTEAD OF LOOKING FOR ALL THE AMAZING REASONS IT IS.

WITH LOVE AND HOPE.

<3 HULK

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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