'Girls' Season 6: TV Review

A strong beginning to the end of 'Girls.'
2/12/2017

These might be the last episodes, but Lena Dunham's HBO comedy still has things to say and boundaries to push.

I think we can all agree that the final scene of Girls isn't going to be Hannah, Shosh, Jessa and Marnie sitting cross-legged in a circle, holding hands with a candle in the middle as Hannah announces, "Well, we used to be girls, but now ... we're women" as it fades to black. There are no secrets to be revealed, no answers to be given and no expectations that any of our heroines are guaranteed a stable resting point at the end of this sixth and concluding season.

With no obvious destinations to steer toward, the first three episodes of the last Girls season find Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner working without a trace of complacency and with creative boundaries they obviously want to push. While the season-opening episodes contain periodic hints at the show's mortality, there are still axes to grind and think pieces to be spawned here.

Girls is, of course, coming off of a fifth season that caused a few previous detractors to go, "Wow, the show is finally growing up," which was neither true nor a complete falsehood, I suppose (more the latter than the former). For the characters, growth on Girls has always come in fits and starts. They didn't grow up last year any more than they grew up in previous seasons, at least not permanently. Last season definitely saw the writers experimenting with location and form and focus — from the destination wedding episode to Shosh in Tokyo to the shockingly emotional Marnie-centric "The Panic in Central Park" — but that wasn't really new, either. Girls has often been criticized for its insularity, but perhaps it hasn't been adequately enough celebrated for the frequency with which it used that insularity as a way to see the greater world. Put a different way, Girls is still viewed as a hipstery Brooklyn show when it was only ever that as an early way to establish these characters, and it ceased to be exclusively that a long time ago.

It happens that each of the three sixth-season episodes sent in advance to critics are atypical episodes of Girls, if you still keep the show in its initial box, which means they're typical of the show Girls has become.

The first episode picks up in the aftermath of Hannah's (Dunham) triumphant New York Times column about Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Adam's (Adam Driver) betrayal. Suddenly, Hannah finds herself in demand as a writer and lands an unlikely gig going to Montauk and writing about the fad of wealthy women appropriating surfing culture. The episode, which runs a whopping 42 minutes, features the ubiquitous Riz Ahmed as Hannah's go-with-the-flow instructor and, with impunity, trolls the show's "Why is Lena naked all the time?" and "Why is there so little diversity?" detractors, while illustrating its increased ability or willingness to expand boundaries.

That Hannah doesn't respond to having her boundaries expanded gracefully is Hannah's problem and not the show's problem, which has always been something people who dislike Girls have struggled to understand. It's a really good episode, it lets Ahmed rap, it continues to underline how underrated Dunham is as an actress and it's the closest the show has ever come to winking in the direction of traditional romantic comedy.

There's more genre play in the second episode, which takes the toxic and disintegrated Desi/Marnie marriage to a logical extreme as a horror movie and that will doubtlessly irk some viewers, though I laughed really hard in a way that I'm 95 percent sure was intentional. The episode features a different sort of nightmare as its B-story, reinforcing the cousin relationship between Shosh and Jessa (one that I confess I'd totally forgotten existed).

The third episode, one that you'll surely read dozens of online essays about, is Dunham's Oleanna, a two-hander featuring guest star Matthew Rhys in a terrific guest turn that calls to mind Patrick Wilson's season-two episode "One Man's Trash." The episode will be interpreted as Dunham commenting on people commenting on Dunham's comments on nearly everything she's commented on over the past five years or, rather, it's about what happens when you use your public forum to address a social issue and somebody says, "What gives you that right?" I don't think this is as good an episode as "One Man's Trash," but I still give Dunham a respectful "I see what you're doing here" nod and I'll rewatch it before it airs on the assumption that I'll have to write something about it then.

That's three episodes, each with a different setting and each with a markedly different tone, but there are unifying elements, including echoed mentions of Buddhism and Flamin' Hot Cheetos, plus repeated musings on maturation that read in a different way with the series coming to an end. The second episode in particular focuses on how grown-up, or not grown-up, all of the characters have become and what they've learned, or failed to learn, from their recent history. The episodes also all have Hannah at the forefront, but Shosh, Jessa and Marnie have good material in the first two, with good moments from Alex Karpovsky's Ray and Andrew Rannells' Elijah. Things are a little Adam-lite, at least to begin with, but Driver's a rather busy guy and there are more episodes to come. I certainly don't think we've seen the last Hannah/Adam scene.

You can be sure that we'll be checking in as one of the better comedies of the past decade ends its run, but through three episodes, Girls is back on solid and often increasingly inventive footing.

Cast: Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky, Andrew Rannells
Creator: Lena Dunham
Showrunners: Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner
Premieres: Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (HBO)

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