8.9

Girls Review: “Iowa”

(Episode 4.01)

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<i>Girls</i> Review: &#8220;Iowa&#8221;

If you thought last season of HBO’s Girls was a rough trip, you’re not alone. While we saw a continuation of the show’s sharp writing and great performances, we also saw some of the ladies (and men) at their own self-invested rock bottoms. Yes, Girls’ Season Four opener offers some of that dreadful behavior. But it does so with a comedic flair and ray of hope that wasn’t as present last season, and the series has kicked off with a promising first offering.

But let’s catch up on some of those eye-rolling moments in the third season, shall we? There was Hannah, who fed her boyfriend a manufactured scenario about a dead cousin. Then, after her editor, David, turned up dead, she asked his widow for a new publishing contact during his funeral. It got rough. Marnie was in prime form, stealing boyfriends (Shoshanna’s main squeeze, Ray) and reclaiming performance stages. Jessa skipped rehab, tried to get a proper job, relapsed, and was no better off for it. And Shoshanna… well, she did a bit of bed-based soul searching. She actually seemed level-headed, comparatively.

While the quality of a show can’t be judged by how agreeable its characters are, its sheer enjoyment can be hindered by repeat forehead-slapping moves. But, especially after last night’s episode, I do think Season Three was a mandatory step in pushing some of these characters along. They’ve hopefully learned from their lessons, and the ride that follows, so far, seems to be worth that rough patch.

Gunning along at a notably tighter pace, “Iowa” was one of Girls’ most well-rounded episodes. It’s hilarious, tear-summoning, and infuriating. It’ll give you some warm and fuzzies right from the start, when we’re tasked with sitting through a celebration dinner for Hannah. She’s accepted a spot at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, which means two things immediately: she’s going to be separated from her group in New York and her relationship is potentially in trouble.

Hannah’s dad delivers easily the best line of the show, toasting Hannah: “Slow to grow… but oh, how beautiful the blossom.” As one of the setting scenes for the season, along with the countless promo ads that promise some growing up, it’ll be interesting to see how far along Hannah blossoms this year. But that whole scene, dripping with sentimental lines from the Horvath parents and Hannah alike, is deconstructed as soon as Adam walks in. The audition he just went to? “It was “fuckin’ shitty.” And dinner falls apart from there.

And we catch up with the others, all centered around this narrative of our key Girl leaving town. Adam’s taken to acting in ads, and his muck-walking depression commercial is almost as rough to watch as Marnie’s “What I Am” video. Jessa, who’s particularly awful to Hannah throughout the episode, seems to be in the clear after nearly assisting in the suicide of an older artist Bedelia, whose Brooklyn-lipped daughter (played by a hilarious Natasha Lyonne) spits hot fire at Jessa in her debut scene. I wish there was video online already, but Lyonne’s repeated use of the word “unconscionable” was hysterical. Lyonne really shines in this guest spot, and she claims every second of screen time with a quirkiness that’s usually reserved for Coen characters. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of her.

Marnie. She’s going to sing a lot this season, so buckle up. After forming a folk duo with her mega-crush Desi, the two perform at a restaurant “jazz brunch.” Marnie sings a farewell song to Hannah that starts out sweet enough, and it’s the first scene where on-stage Marnie is appropriate and welcome. But a few kids at the restaurant act like—well, little kids at a restaurant. They run, scream, act like little shits. Marnie can’t take the pressure, and she runs crying into the street. Everyone feels bad.

At that restaurant, Marnie leaves Hannah’s goodbye song unsung. Jessa’s anger toward Hannah, while regrettable, reflects how Jessa normally acts when she’s hurting. And Shoshanna checked out mentally the second Ray entered the restaurant. This opening episode seems to be all about unfinished goodbyes, the most emotional example being Hannah’s departure. She leaves her apartment with Adam without saying goodbye, and the couple’s future is left floating somewhere in the air between New York and Iowa. It’s an emotional episode. I got emotional, okay? I realized—like a good set of pals—how invested I was in all of those characters, even when they drove me nuts. With weekly reactions like this, Girls can’t be doing all that bad. And with a hilarious opener, I’m looking forward to some big steps in 2015.

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