“I’ve seen a lot of things,” Hannah (Lena Dunham) says to an emotionally fragile Iowan undergrad. “I’m 25 years old, I’m here to help.” Taking advice from any of the Girls, though, is a dangerous prospect. The HBO series’ fourth season begins with Hannah, Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirk) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) adrift from one another, and also (per usual) adrift in their lives. It also picks up on the precipice of Hannah leaving for Iowa to pursue a graduate degree in writing. Hit the jump for why when you move to Iowa from New York, you can live like a queen.
New York City has always seemed a central part of Girls, but the show moving (in part) to Iowa actually brings that presumption into question. Hannah’s move is filled with funny moments (like her astonishment at how cheap things are, as well as her utter inability to ride a bicycle), but it also feels familiar. Hannah doesn’t make friends, and isn’t accepted. She’s just as self-involved, delusional, and confused as she was back in New York. (Plus, the writing workshop scenes add a whole new layer of comedy and truth to the series).
Girls has always been about transition, and Hannah going to Iowa for its MFA program felt like the right way to make her have to confront the uncomfortable — something she was no longer doing in her relationship with Adam (Adam Driver). With Adam actually catching some acting breaks last season, Hannah had settled into a fantasy of them being a great artistic-couple love story. But Adam’s inability (or lack of desire) to talk about a long-distance plan for them in the new season sows seeds of discord and insecurity about that relationship, and about halfway through the new season, also sets Hannah on another abrupt path.
The other girls are coming up against new struggles in their lives, too. Marnie and Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) are still a musical couple, and — on the DL — also a romantic one (he still hasn’t left his girlfriend). Jessa quickly loses the support of her patron (Louise Lasser) in the new season, and ends up taking a big step in her life by entering AA. Shoshanna also is finding out something that, as Marnie says bluntly to her, everyone has been saying constantly, forever: the real world is hard. And for Shoshanna, that means being (currently) unemployable.
Many Girls favorites return in its new season, like Ray (Alex Karpovsky), Elijah (Andrew Rannells) and Rita Wilson as Marnie’s crazy mom. But the new season also boasts some new, great additions, like Ana Gasteyer and Anthony Edwards as Shoshanna’s parents, Gillian Jacobs as a romantic rival for Hannah, and with Marc Maron, Zachary Quinto, and even Maude Apatow all making appearances as well.
Girls also seems more confident in this fourth season. Storylines are more consistent, with the writing credits almost always being shared with Judd Apatow, Jenni Konner, Bruce Eric Kaplan and other producers, who add a sharper clarity to the material. There also seems to be more of a satirical self-awareness that never lets things get too dark, or too serious, which is a very good thing for this show. Season Four appears to be saying now, more than ever, that life is absurd, and the best course is to not fight that. Perhaps that’s true of Girls, as well. At this point, you are either in or out with this show. And if you are in, it’s time to embrace it. Even Hannah’s “crazy voodoo shit” — as Jessa puts it — and all.
Girls returns Sunday, January 11th at 9 p.m. ET on HBO