Judge Gordon Sullivan has toned things down after last season.
Almost getting it kind of together.
Using sensation to sell something is a dangerous proposition. Though it often works initially, there's also the possibility that the audience will seek ever greater thrills until it's impossible to fulfill them anymore. The smart money says that sensation is a good short-term strategy but that it needs to be abandoned or used sparingly once attention has been gained. That's a lesson that Lena Dunham seems to have learned with Girls. After a flurry of controversy about the frank nature of the show, Dunham and company dial things back a bit here, aiming for a few hard-hitting moments rather than inundating viewers with revelations. Though it's unlikely to win any new fans for the show, Girls: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) builds effectively on the strengths of the previous season.
Facts of the Case
As this season opens, Hannah (Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture) is dealing with Adam's (Adam Driver, You Don't Know Jack) broken leg, Marnie (Allison Williams) loses her job, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, Spartan) is reigniting old flames, and Jessa (Jemimi Kirke, Tiny Furniture) is settling in to married life.
This season, Lena Dunham steers the good ship Oversharing into murkier waters. Where the first season showed us an update to Sex and the City's formula of what it means to be a single woman trying to make it in the Big Apple, the second season shows us the dangers of being careful of what you wish for. In one form or another, the women of Girls spend this season alone (or at least not together), travelling the paths that their actions in the first season led them down. The most emblematic of these journeys is Hannah's; as a writer she has her first brush with real success, and this leads to crippling deadline fear and rampant insecurity. Though the causes and symptoms are different for each of our main characters, the basic idea is the same, with each of them falling apart in the face of what they've received.
Of course there's still the same tight writing married to a squirm-inducing microscopic look at the vagaries of being a twenty-something. Just as importantly, the acting is still up to the challenge presented by the writing. Lena Dunham especially shows a willingness to do things that will divide fans of her character. The rest of the cast are up to the task as well, especially those who only appear for a bit, like Danny Glover and Patrick Wilson.
However one feels about the show proper, HBO really knows how to give its shows a decent home video release. As if to contrast the Sex and the City style of the first season's cover, Girls: The Complete Second Season finds Lena Dunham's face in closeup with a much more muted, nostalgic color scheme. Visually, it sets apart this season from the last. However, just like last season, this time out we get Blu-ray discs of all the episodes, along with DVD, iTunes, and Ultraviolet Digital Copies as well. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfers offered here are just as good as those from last season. That means we get richly detailed digital cinematography with slightly muted colors but pitch-perfect black levels. Noise and compression artefacts aren't an issue at all. The DTS-HD 5.1 tracks are similarly impressive. This is a dialogue-driven show, and the human voice is definitely privileged in these mixes. There's some good ambience when it's called for, but the surrounds don't get much use here.
Extras start with commentaries on all the episodes but two and eight. Writers, directors, and actors appear in various combinations, both solo and in groups for these commentaries. Even Judd Apatow appears for the season finale. Given the short running time of each episode there isn't much room for silence and all the participants are willing to share interesting info on the decisions behind the show and their experiences making them. Every episode but seven also gets either an extended or a deleted scene, most of them cut for pacing rather than strict quality. Each episode gets a short featurette dedicated to it, and they can be watched all together on each disc, totaling 32 minutes between the two discs. My favorite of the extras is a table read of the infamous fifth episode, which is notable for Dunham and Wilson reading from a pre-production script that features scenes that never made it into the episode. We also get a Charlie Rose interview with Dunham, and an interview with Dunham by Emily Nussbaum. The former runs about 30 and the latter 85, with both offering plenty of insights into Dunham's life, creative process, and the show itself. "Guys on Girls" finds Dunham chairing a roundtable featuring most of the male actors from the series discussing their role on the show. A 15-minute making-of also offers fans a peek at kind of season overview, EPK-style. Short gag reels are included on both discs, and Disc Two includes a few songs used in some of the later episodes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This season is going to divide everyone, even fans of the show. Of course those who hated the first season are unlikely to find anything to love about this one either. These are still the stories of privileged white girls living a life that many would kill for, all while screwing it up in various ways. However, even fans of the first season might be turned off by this set. Unlike the "us against the world" vibe of the first season, this season finds the characters in slightly more alienated territory; alienated not only from the world but from each other. Dunham also seems hellbent on taking Hannah to some dark places, and many viewers will have a hard time watching their favorite character do as much damage to herself as Hannah does this season.
Girls: The Complete Second Season is still cutting-edge television. It may not be the wave of the future, but it proves that provocative comedy and drama can survive and try new things. Those who missed the broadcast of this season might want to rent it before committing given how different it feels from the first season, but fans can rest assured that this set is top-notch both in presentation and supplements, making a purchase easy to recommend.
Awkward, but not guilty.
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