Forget the Mayans: 2012 will now be remembered as the year we all saw Peter Scolari’s penis.
That was a surprise. Probably not as surprising as most other penises from the cast of Newhart would be, but a surprise nonetheless. I first watched this episode a few weeks ago and the only things I remembered before rewatching it was the basic homecoming premise and that shot of a prone and fully naked Peter Scolari. Toss in Becky Ann Baker’s topless scene, and “The Return” is an instant classic for weirdos who love to see middle-aged cast members of beloved old TV shows in the buff.
I don’t mean to trivialize the rest of “The Return.” My initial distaste for Girls has obviously receded, and this episode maintains the steady run the show’s been on since the third episode. We understand Hannah enough now that it’s not even that annoying tonight when she slips into her worst and most selfish behavior since the pilot.
Of course everybody knows how weird it is to return to the house you grew up in after you’ve already started living your adult life, with the remnants of your childhood and adolescence scarring the bedroom walls and the constant threat of running into old acquaintances both friendly and not. Even if you grew up in a cool college town like Hannah, it’s still awkward to be 24 and stuck around the same places and people as when you were 16. Your grip on adulthood already feels tenuous enough, especially when you’re jobless and in a city as huge and impersonal as New York, that even the briefest return to the suburbs can feel like an admission of failure.
Hannah’s back in Lansing to celebrate her parents’ anniversary, but her plans quickly change. She starts to avoid them as soon as she gets there, in part because she’s too afraid to admit that she quit her job and needs money to make rent. A pharmacy run for her mom gives her two good reasons to skip out on family entirely. She runs into girl she knew in high school who now works at a coffee shop, a hot blonde cheerleader type who still aspires to be an actress and model and who doesn’t seem like somebody Hannah would’ve been friends with. She invites Hannah to a benefit for a classmate who disappeared like Natalee Holloway. Later on Hannah runs into a guy she barely knew in high school (who looks exactly like Steven Weber must have when he was in his early twenties) and agrees to a date.
The benefit is an unintentional disaster. Hannah’s friend does a cut-rate Ke$ha impersonation, lip-syncing and half-nakedly gyrating along to a horrible pop song about the missing girl. It’s a funny scene, but perhaps a little too broad, and too much of an easy “Hannah really is better than these people” set-up. Earlier on Hannah psyches herself up by telling herself she’s naturally interesting because she lives in New York, and this scene is so unkind to the locals that it makes me think Lena Dunham actually believes that.
It’s good to see Hannah have some sex that isn’t entirely awkward or unsettling. Sure, it starts off that way, with Hannah assuming the pharmacist wanted her to start him off with a little light fingering, but this guy is nothing like Adam and prefers good old-fashioned missionary. I like how Hannah’s emotional relationship with Adam has progressed even if the sex is still weird and uncomfortable, but it’s good to see her experience sex that isn’t wanna-be DIY porn. Of course, as nice as he is, this guy is absolutely boring, and I’d have no problem if he and his annoying long hair never showed up again.
Meanwhile Hannah’s parents spend their entire anniversary dinner complaining and worrying about Hannah until Mrs. Horvath changes the subject to sex. They get frisky in the shower until Mr. Horvath slips, hits his head, and goes the full Scolari while unconscious on the bathroom floor. Unlike most sit-com characters Hannah thankfully doesn’t convulse in horror when she finds out her parents were having sex.
Hannah’s maybe too proud for her own good, though. Her mother asks her straight-up if she’s doing okay financially, and Hannah smiles away the offer and says she’s doing well. That night she gets a call from Adam, and their conversation again makes up for some of his more disgusting and unlikable tendencies. He’s not as dumb as he looks, and although he clearly doesn’t consider Hannah his one and only, she isn’t just a submissive sex toy who will give in to his every pornographic desire. He cares about her as a person, and their banter has become one of the best parts of Girls.
“The Return” doesn’t show us much of where Hannah has come from emotionally or intellectually, but it does effectively show how she’s grown as a person since high school. Girls isn’t just an unusually funny show, it has somehow become a thoroughly likable one. That’s about the last thing I would have predicted after the pilot. That’s why we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.