Detractors of "Girls" aren't going to be moved to sudden adoration for season three, which premiered as a double-feature installation last night on HBO. Hannah is still full of taxing self-pity. Shoshanna is still vacantly detached from reality. Jessa is still blunt and nonplussed. Marnie is still gallivanting through a pesky post-breakup stratosphere. Business is usual in Williamsburg. And for initiated and dedicated viewers, that's good news. Sort of. I guess.
The thing with "Girls" is that it requires a certain suspension of the typical norms of television watchability. There's nothing particularly happy or likable or uplifting about the show, even when the gals hit a stride. We know there's something torturous looming in the distance. That's the show's constant: brutality. But for as arduous as it can be to watch Hannah spiral into OCD tantrums or Jessa defile a stranger, there's a certain beauty to the breakdown. And it's that cocktail of strife and bliss that makes the show so damn intoxicating.
Take Hannah and Adam, for instance. Their relationship is textbook nightmare status. Together, they create a vortex - a powerful center with a torrid, destructive path. They're together again, sharing a bed and apartment, best friends and cohabiters. And even though we know the foundation is wobbly, it's still refreshing to see Hannah in a better place than where we left her, and it's Adam's presence that shifted gears. She's writing more, and better than ever according to her editor (who is suddenly obsessed with her mental affliction). She's attending therapy with regularity. Her friendship with Marnie is back on solid ground. And despite the occasional argument and run-ins with ex-girlfriends (that Natalia scene is pure torture), she and Adam coexist pretty harmoniously. (And boy is it fun to return to their dynamic. Take for instance their brief exchange in Grumpy's: "Hi, what are you doing here?" Hannah asks when he shows up randomly. "I dropped my keys down a subway grate," he says, in an odd and charming cadence that only Adam Driver could deliver.)
Not so harmonious is poor Marnie, deflated after the random departure of Charlie. (Christopher Abbott, who played Charlie, infamously left the show last season because he wasn't feeling the character's progression). She's sleeping on her mom's couch and crying randomly when she thinks back on their good times. This development is recycled material from last season, Marnie again the victim of terrible life circumstances. It'd be nice to see her catch a bone. Her mother, played by Rita Wilson, isn't helping matters. She's there to nit and pick at her daughter in the most nagging and immature of ways. (Her potent description of Marnie's new apartment: "It smells like kimchi in here.")
And then there's Jessa, who disappeared without a trace last season. She's been in rehab, it turns out. A rehab called Sheltering Winds (the cleverest oxymoron). Firm to her characterization, she's having trouble not being a terrible, toxic presence there. Take her scrutiny of fellow patient Mindy (played, in the most random of cameos, by Kim Gordon): "Mindy enjoys wearing scrunchies. No one has addressed that." "Scrunchies? I've never worn a scrunchie in my life," says Mindy. "You want to wear them, though." She's dismissive, rude, even outs a sexually abused black lesbian (Tastee!). So, you know, typical Jessa territory. I have to admit that for all the turmoil she dredges up, I really enjoy Jessa. There's a crudeness to her that's so rarely seen, a sort of affirmative truth that exists in many but doesn't make for good, sympathetic television. I hate her, but I appreciate her unflinching honesty, and feel strange pangs of both sadness and vitriol for her.