Since its debut, hell even prior to it, HBO's new series Girls has been a bit polarizing -- for lack of a less overused word. The show was all a certain corner of the internet, the one we seem to hang around in most of the time, could talk about for a couple weeks back in April. But now it's mid-May and the controversy — is it racist? is it sexist? is it classist? — has died down, but of course the show still soldiers on. And it's really not exactly the show we thought it was a month ago.
It's still about a general narcissistic, mostly clueless, selfish ambition that many young people possess but are too lazy to realize, but it's also just, I dunno, about a few characters in a nice, quiet, mostly humane way. Take last night's episode, which took our main narcissist Hannah out of navel-gazing Brooklyn and home to regular old East Lansing, Michigan for a weekend with her parents. She was still self-obsessed and moody and bratty, but it was less because she was some emblem of some New York City age group and more because she's just kind of a whiny kid. And her once overly indulgent, now a bit regretful parents don't deal with her in either a particularly punishing or supportive way. They just sorta let her be her while trying to give her some gentle nudges here and there. Like parents do with kids that age in the real world.
That's the surprising thing about Girls sometimes; once you remove all the trendiness of its specific topics, it's actually a pretty realistic show. Particularly, Hannah's relationship with her parents, who are played beautifully by Peter Scolari and the always marvelous Becky Ann Baker, is, for us at least, a strikingly lived-in, wholly believable dynamic. Sure the shock of Hannah's display of epic brattiness in the pilot episode — demanding with despair that her parents fund her life while she stumbles around pretending to be a writer — still reverberates, but I dunno. I think that was maybe a pilot episode technique, to build things initially big in the hopes that they'd settle down to a more comfortable level over the course of the season. And settle they have, certain parts of the show anyway. And they're a small but not exactly un-simple delight to watch.
I almost wish that Girls was a show about Hannah moving back to Michigan, too broke to stay in New York and reeling from a breakup with her goofy/mean hookup buddy Adam. That way we'd get to see more of the fish-back-in-its-original-water awkwardness that felt fresh and rang true last night, and we'd get a weekly serving of Scolari and Baker's perfectly calibrated chemistry. (Baker in particular, who did a daring nude scene last night, is a treat.) Plus the show wouldn't be bogged down by the Brooklyn-dwelling blogosphere's shouts of "That's not what Brooklyn is like!!" I'm sure East Lansing has its defenders, but they're likely not quite as vocal as those living off the G train.
This is all to say that if you wrote the show off for all of its hot-button stuff, maybe go back and give it another chance and look at the stuff that isn't so of-the-moment. At least in last night's episode, there was a kind of timeless universality to the show — this is how kids are, this is how parents are — that felt, in a way that some of these cold pseudo-hipster topics often don't, almost warm and inviting. Girls is increasingly not the chilly or cynical endeavor we thought it was going to be. On increasing occasion it's not just about "girls." It's about people!