“She’s painfully narcissistic, shockingly tone-deaf and just generally one of the most insufferable people you’ll ever meet.”
That description of Girls‘ polarizing protagonist Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) from the HBO comedy’s Season 5 premiere (Sunday at 10/9c) is brutally accurate — and perhaps a meta wink from Dunham herself, who wrote and directed the installment. And yet, interestingly enough, in the show’s penultimate season, Dunham’s self-absorbed creation is also more sharply focused, fascinating and flat-out funny than ever before.
Don’t mistake that compliment as evidence that Hannah and her pals — Marnie, Jessa, Shoshanna and Elijah — are maturing into productive, unselfish members of society who won’t compel you to fantasize about reaching through your TV screen and choking them out at least once an episode. (In one particularly outlandish scene, Hannah uses one of her eighth-grade students as a prop in an ongoing argument with her boyfriend Fran… and naturally, it’s the child who flees the scene, rather amusingly, in tears.)
And yet, after a couple of seasons that left me screaming the question, “How exactly can any of these characters stand to be in the same room together anymore?“, Season 5 mercifully gives us enough sweet — or at least not vitriolic — moments to balance the powerful topnotes of acidity and bitterness.
Take the premiere, for example, which is set on the day of Marnie’s wedding to idiotic artiste Desi. Yes, you’ll roll your eyes as hard as the bride when Jessa strolls in and declares, “I just bathed in the stream and then ran through the field to dry myself.” But amidst all the passive-aggressiveness — and, frankly, aggressive-aggressiness (i.e. Marnie compelling Shosh to eject Fran from the bridal suite, then telling him “it’s cool if you stay!”) — there are deeper glimpses at what’s arresting the development of these young New Yorkers.
When Marnie’s hellacious mom (a hilarious Rita Wilson) bluntly blathers that the biggest regret of her wedding photos isn’t the fact that she was standing next to a man who turned out to be an unfaithful sex addict, but rather her use of shoulder pads, it makes Marnie’s own neuroses about the aesthetic of her big day resonate more powerfully.
Ultimately, while Season 5’s opening episodes benefit greatly from Dunham’s decision to unite the ladies, Girls‘ greatest joy remains its Ginsu-like sharpness for skewering its twentysomethings’ misguided sense of self-importance and self-entitlement. Well, that and its guffaw-inducing dialogue.
Take Marnie’s insane demands on her hair/makeup consultant: “Let’s do like a Ralph Lauren and Joni Mitchell — artistic, but also with a nod to my cultural heritage, which is white Christian woman.” Or Hannah’s aghast reaction to discovering nude selfies of Fran’s ex-girlfriends on his phone: “Until this happened, I was basically Kate Upton to myself!” Or – oh God, help us — Marnie’s heightened pronunciation of “Ecuador.”
While Hannah’s exploration of her relationship with “good guy” Fran is the central arc of the first four Season 5 episodes screened for critics, Girls doesn’t skimp on subplots for its other key characters. Elijah embarks on a not-quite-what-you’d-expect relationship with a sexy newsman (Corey Stoll); one episode gives us a glimpse of Shosh’s exactly-what-you’d-expect technicolor Japanese life; and Jessa tries to stifle her attraction to Adam as a show of loyalty to Hannah — with occasionally “watch through your fingers” results.
The TVLine Bottom Line: However you view the exploits of Hannah and her “sisters,” the wicked humor and fun of Season 5 make it well worth your while.