Allison Williams

Most good television comedies take a while to hit their stride. The first two seasons of “Seinfeld” are funny, but it wasn’t until season three that the cast found its snarky rhythm that made the show famous. “Cheers” was the same way; It took a while to develop the right womanizing tone for Sam Malone, and the right stuffy warmth for Frasier Crane. “Girls” has finally settled in, and the show and its cast have grown into something remarkable.

Season three’s narrative picks up a few weeks after the end of season two. Hannah (Lena Dunham), with the help of her on-again boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver), has stabilized her obsessive compulsive disorder and is back to work on her e-book. Marnie (Allison Williams) is continuing the downward spiral she began last year after losing her once-devoted tech developer boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott). Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is in the midst of a six-week stint in a rehab facility, and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is filling her last semester at NYU with one-night stands, chain smoking and binge drinking.  

The principal actors never fail to deliver in full character each time they’re on screen. In previous years, the protagonists were more caricatures than characters: Hannah was an avatar of selfishness, Marnie was all-consumingly ambitious, Jessa obnoxiously flighty and Shoshanna hopelessly naive. They were all easy to predict in every situation. This time around, the characters have been genuinely affected by each other’s presence. Hannah shows a new ambition in her quest for publication, while Marnie masks her slide into depression with a bluster typical of Jessa. Shoshanna still talks incessantly, but now she’s trying on a bit of her friends’ cynicism. 

The difference in character development in season three is astounding. Dunham’s performance has never been stronger. Hannah’s newfound determination feels natural and is balanced by a real emotional vulnerability as she realizes that her desire for greatness has a cost. Her work in two later episodes is Emmy-worthy, as she copes with her complete lack of emotion following a devastating epiphany about the career and life she’s chosen. Dunham has been praised by many in the past for her fearlessness in regards to on-screen nudity, but the real bravery this season is displayed on her face. Her emotional honesty is crushing. As a writer, she never creates easy resolutions for her character; as a director, she doesn’t allow us to look away; as an actor, she makes us feel every blow. 

Her co-stars have done just as good a job of fully realizing the emotions and physicalities of their characters this season. Williams has become adept at knowing exactly when and how to let her character’s cracks show, playing Marnie as a wall of faux confidence. Kirke plays Jessa as guarded and infuriatingly mysterious as ever but slowly allows more hints of darkness and real emotion to creep in than in previous seasons. It seems that she is building up to something, and she gives the audience hints that make putting up with her worth it. Mamet is still charming and offbeat, while leaning into the stresses Shoshanna faces as she moves toward graduation.

Driver continues his remarkable work from the past two years. Adam is bizarre, almost feral at times and beyond idiosyncratic, but he somehow remains the most stable character in the show. Shoshanna describes him as “so dementedly helpful,” and she’s completely right. Any time “Girls” is bogged down, Driver resuscitates it with a mix of madcap energy and true tenderness. Dunham gives him many of the show’s best monologues, and he always runs with the opportunity. 

The third season of “Girls” is, in short, tremendous. Dunham, the show’s creator, writer and show runner, has always focused on subverting viewers’ expectations of what sitcoms can do but by delivering a set of episodes that are poignant, laugh-till-it-hurts funny and, most of all, true. Dunham has finally delivered the show she’s been striving toward.

“Girls” star, Lena Dunham attends the HBO premiere of the show at the NYU Skirball Center on Wednesday in New York 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Twenty-six-year-old Lena Dunham is not the slacker/wannabe writer she plays in the hit HBO series “Girls” that she stars in, created and currently directs. Although the current darling of the New York media circuit, Dunham has incurred as much criticism as she has cover photos.

While many of the critiques of the show are valid — unrealistic situations, a lack of diversity among main characters and catering to a narrow audience — criticizing “Girls” for the appearance of Dunham’s body is about as relevant as praising “Friends” for Jennifer Aniston’s haircut.

Flanked by three thin, media-approved beauties (Zosia Mamet, Allison Williams and Jemima Kirke), Dunham’s figure has been used to critique the realism of the show. God knows that Dunham could never have sex with a man like Donald Glover while Williams, who plays her “beautiful” best friend, sits forlorn on the couch.

Marnie (Allison Williams) is uptight, critical and regularly complimented for her beauty on the show. She is Dunham’s opposite both in body type and body visibility. In the premiere of season one, Marnie and Hannah (Lena Dunham) sit in a bathtub. Dunham’s arms drape over the side of the tub while Williams sits upright, tightly wrapped in a towel. “I only show my boobs to people I’m having sex with,” Marnie says.

Curiously, the audience never once sees her naked chest or behind during season one nor in the premiere of season two though she has plenty of onscreen sex. While this could be William’s reluctance to be naked on television, it doesn’t really matter. The decision is one that fits her character.  

It is doubtful the media would be up in arms over seeing Williams naked anyway. The New York Post used words like “blobby” and “sloppy” to describe Dunham’s naked body, wondering why we even have to be subjected to such an imperfect figure. But the truth is that Dunham’s character is insecure and seeking approval. Hannah is hoping that by quickly shedding her clothes, she can appear more confident than her insecurity allows.  

The season two premiere opens and closes with a mostly naked and unashamed Dunham. Her co-stars spend little time in equally naked situations. And that is realistic. It should no longer be a crutch that cruel and lazy writers use to critique the show. Why is it that we can accept a variety of nationalities, sexual orientations and races on screen, but not an atypical body type?

Ultimately, no one is as naked as Dunham, but that is a realistic step for the show. Hannah Horvath is not modest in season two, and honestly, we shouldn’t expect her to be.  

Published January 14, 2013 as "Lead role in HBO series breaks stereotypes". 

Cast members, from left, Zosia Mamet, Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke and Allison Williams attend the HBO premiere of “Girls.” 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Few shows last year drew more insipid criticisms than Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” which burst out of the gate with a roaringly funny pilot and charges varying from nepotism to racism. No matter how much controversy the Internet kicked up, the sharpness of Dunham’s voice and her unshakable understanding of her characters never faltered, and “Girls,” which returned Sunday night for its second season, earned its spot as one of the funniest shows on television.

Season two finds Hannah (Dunham) and friends living the free-floating lives of young New Yorkers. Hannah’s relationship with Adam (Adam Driver) has only gotten stranger since she ended things, and after the events of the season premier, things are probably going to get pretty tense with her roommate/gay ex-boyfriend Elijah (Andrew Rannells) and best friend Marnie (Allison Williams). Meanwhile, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) deals with romantic turmoil and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) struggles with the new realities of her life after marrying Thomas-John (Chris O’Dowd).

Dunham’s cutting wit is practically the star of “Girls,” and she truly understands the people of her time and place. Her cast is packed with hilarious figures, and even minor characters like love interest Sandy (Donald Glover) and Elijah get personalities, quirks and typically observant, sly dialogue. It’s remarkable how Dunham’s voice shines through in each of her characters without diluting their distinctness, from Shoshanna’s motor-mouthed collection of neuroses to Jessa’s loopy self-destructiveness.

Allison Williams is probably the show’s most abrasive presence, but even her character, Marnie, gets the occasional moment of pathos. Jemima Kirke barely registered in last night’s episode, but her new marriage is the season’s weakest story line so far, an unfocused exploration of a half-baked storyline. Nonetheless, Kirke’s confidence is infectious, and it’s hard not to love her half-cocked presence. Meanwhile, Zosia Mamet has developed into a golden comedic presence over the last season, getting just as big a laugh from a silent reaction or a ridiculous outfit as from one of Dunham’s one-liners.

Lena Dunham loves making Hannah’s life a special kind of disaster, and the closer she is to a nervous breakdown, the funnier “Girls” becomes. She’s not afraid to make her characters unlikable, or even unreasonable, but they’re always recognizably human, and that’s what makes “Girls” such an affable show. It’s easy to relate to the characters’ experiences, and Dunham’s handle on her world and the people she’s filled it with make ”Girls” a unique, exhilarating and hilarious show.

Published on January 14, 2013 as "'Girls' returns with same wit and humor". 

Photo Credit: Raquel Breternitz | Daily Texan Staff

There’s a moment in the third episode of “Girls,” the new comedy created, written and directed by “Tiny Furniture” auteur Lena Dunham, where the show transcends being really good to being great. It’s a sequence made in the image of pure cliche, a trope of postfeminist movie shorthand for empowerment: the goofy group bedroom sing-along dance scene.

These scenes, with their purposely overworked lip-synching to ‘80s pop, their hairbrush microphones and matching outfits, rarely ring true. They portend a call to arms, a coming together of women to share in a song and dance of solidarity, empathy and fun — their friendship and commitment to each other deepened with each harmony.

Except most of these sequences are just silly, lazy and fleeting. They are akin to pusillanimous narrative shortcuts, such as the shopping montage and crying in the rain.

But when Hannah (Dunham) and Marnie (Allison Williams, daughter of “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams), best friends navigating post-graduate stupors in New York, dance together in a bedroom to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” it not only succeeds in bringing them closer, but it’s also completely earned and makes total sense.

Yes, “Girls” emerges as an unexpected corrective text to ‘00s-era cultural conventions, rendered in a sparse, honest ensemble comedy that’s finely acted and immensely watchable. It is generation Y’s intellectual devotional, created by a woman who grew up on Clinton and W. Bush-era pop culture who made a series for her peers.

The pilot opens on Hannah being unceremoniously given “one last push” from her parents: They’re severing financial ties from Hannah, an aspiring memoirist who can’t finish her book because she hasn’t “lived it yet” who is forced to figure out self-sustainability.

But this bildungsroman, refreshingly, doesn’t dwell on its topicality. Sure, Hannah is faced with New York City-sized rent and no job and an unused college degree, much like some of her peers of actual 20-somethings, but her and her friends’ struggles are never direct or surface level. It’s about the anxiety and fear of failure and that internal tension between wanting the protections of youth and reaping the benefits of finally growing up.

And Dunham’s show masterfully captures the kind of willful poor decision-making that comes from this tension. “Girls” depicts those young adult moments — of realizing that a choice you’ve made, convinced of your own maturity and agency, was actually awful and foolish — with a charming sense of bemusement.

Sometimes they’re just funny bursts of self-loathing (“I just bought four cupcakes and ate one of them in your bathroom”), but others are protracted and tumultuous, like Hannah’s relationship with her sort-of boyfriend Adam (the spectacularly abhorrent Adam Driver), whose belittlement of her at every turn doesn’t keep her away.

What holds the show together, though, is the easiness of the cast’s friendship. There’s a naturalness to their interactions: whether it’s the put-together and cutting Marnie butting heads with Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and her careless sense of adventure, or Hannah commiserating with Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) “about the stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms,” you get the sense that not only are these young women real, but could also be real friends.

This is all by Dunham’s design, who comes across in “Girls” as even more a self-assured filmmaker. You can also see the careful, guiding hand of producer Judd Apatow, whose theatrical raunchiness is withheld for his ability to render small moments of powerful emotional resonance.

Dunham proved great at those instances too in “Tiny Furniture,” but here it’s more focused and affecting. Episode two weaves the idea of facing your own mortality into a plot about an STI exam.

But the reason you should watch “Girls,” even if you have an XY chromosome, is how sobering and honest it is about young people and the friends they have and the choices they make. Sometimes it feels so relatable as to be overwhelming, but it also knows that laughter, something this show is overflowing in, is what can get us all through it.

Published on Friday, April 13, 2012 as: Girls. Show depicts friends' lives, love, adulthood