In the season opener of “Saturday Night Live,” Tina Fey starred in a spoof of “Girls” as new roommate Blerta – an Albanian peasant gal who, like the show’s other main characters, grapples with relationship difficulties (“My ex-boyfriend is buried in shallow grave. On windy days, the dirt covering him blows away and you can see skull”).
The hilarious takeoff underscored the spot the HBO comedy quickly earned in the popular culture, even if not in the hearts of all TV viewers. The fake promo also highlighted the problems some have with a show built around the less-than-Blerta-level challenges faced by well-educated Brooklyn twentysomethings who are underemployed but far from underprivileged.
The “Girls” divide that emerged with the show’s debut nearly two years ago split among those who hailed creator/writer/star Lena Dunham as a fresh comic force and those turned off by some whiny, self-obsessed characters. But for those of us skeptics who kept watching, the “Girls” debate became less clear-cut during Season 2, which dug deeper – including far too deep with a stomach-turning Q-tip incident that burrowed into the obsessive-compulsive disorder suffered by Dunham’s alter ego, wannabe writer Hannah.
The show returns Sunday for a pivotal third season that seems likely to elicit more strong reactions – if not obsession – from fans and critics alike of a program that's showing modest signs of growing up.
“Girls” arrived in 2012 with Hannah declaring, “I think I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least, the voice of a generation.” The show generated buzz and knocks for its sometimes graphic content, but give Dunham credit for exposing Hannah – and herself – in a largely self-deprecating, unglamorous way, and not always for laughs. We saw Hannah get an STD, suffer literary humiliation and go to a season-ending, impromptu wedding for her free-spirited pal Jessa and a clearly mismatched beau.
The nuptials hinted at both a longing for happiness and the deceiving depth of the insecurities that were more fully revealed during a flawed, but more satisfying second season. Not only did the marriage predictably crumble, we saw the family strife that helped make Jessa the flaky mess she is. We also got a look at Hannah’s OCD issues. The season’s most fascinating – and un-“Girls”-like episode – came when she wandered into an intense one-day affair with an older, handsome doctor who seemed to like her for herself. The installment is notable not for all the sex as much as for baring the yearning for unconditional love, conventionality and domesticity that at least part of Hannah’s restless soul seeks.
The season ended with Hannah’s “Officer and a Gentleman” moment with her demon-plagued, on-again-off-again boyfriend Adam, who started off as a detestable lout but became a ball of confusion who might be worth unraveling. It also seems worth giving Season 3 a chance, even if it’s unclear where “Girls” is rolling next.
Sunday’s return episode goes up against the Golden Globes, where part of the drama will be whether “Girls” repeats as Best Comedy Series and whether 27-year-old Dunham snags her second Best Actress in a Comedy Series award. The Globes are set to be co-hosted by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, whose Blerta (“I have roof over head. For this, I thank God”) might not have HBO back in Albania – or even a TV.
In the meantime, check out the “SNL” parody of “Girls” below, along with HBO’s preview of the real thing:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.