Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Karl Puschmann: Girls' new format keeps viewers smitten again

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Series lost its way in recent seasons but is back in winning form.
The fifth season of the New York-based comedy-drama is seducing viewers all over again. Photo / Supplied
The fifth season of the New York-based comedy-drama is seducing viewers all over again. Photo / Supplied

Settling in at the start of Girls' fifth season, I was full of expectations. I'll admit they weren't great expectations but as they were based on the show's past form, its overall trend and recent history, I thought I knew what to expect while I was expecting.

About the only thing I didn't expect was to have my expectations be completely wrong. You'd expect I would have learned by now ...

So here's how I expected it to play out. The first half of the season would be meandering nonsense with little to no relevance, importance, or pay-off in the second half.

From the midway point the show would suddenly realise it was running out of episodes and smartly get its act together.

The characters would come together and hurtle through its story in a breathless race to fit everything in before the final credits rolled. All the loose strands would be tied up and an end-of-season cliffhanger set-up to hopefully entice you back on its return.

It may have been an incredibly poor strategy for gaining and/or retaining viewers, but for the most part this pattern worked. Watching Girls was equitable to eating all your brussels sprouts before being allowed dessert. If you could stomach that garbage then you were in for a treat, as those dawdling openings were consistently redeemed by very good season back ends.

I did not expect season five to be all back end right from the start. It's fair to say Girls has massively raised its game. From the get-go the show has not been wasting any time, yours or its. Each episode has mattered and felt important, which is something you haven't been able to say for a long time.

But the fact that it's turning out so good isn't the surprising part, after all, Girls has proven its worth repeatedly - albeit lazily - over the years.

No, what's surprised me more than anything else is how hungry it feels. Something or someone has obviously lit a fire under creator, writer and star Lena Dunham's ass because gawddamn is she bringing it this year.

It's no exaggeration to say the show is finally fulfilling the raw and exciting potential of its critically acclaimed first two seasons.

By jettisoning those middling, go nowhere early episodes Girls has given itself room to experiment and push itself. Dunham's Hannah, the show's main character, has largely taken a backseat this season. Which has been a big plus for two reasons; one, Hannah is a supremely annoying person and two, it's given the show a chance to focus in and flesh out its support crew.

In a bold and quirky move, we've been afforded whole episodes that have eschewed the gang to centre exclusively around a single character and what's going on with them.

It was a gamble that totally paid off and is largely attributable to this season being so strong.

By giving over full episodes to explore Shoshanna's joy in Japan and Marnie's misery in her marriage we've gained a whole new take on these characters and become far more sympathetic to their points of view than we would have had these plots been quickly brushed over or scattered throughout the season.

And while it's hugely unlikely, I'm seriously hoping for a full episode that follows the show's lovable grump Ray. His humorously bitter rantings and brewing war with the rival cafe across the street from his own would make for an utterly superb 30 minutes of television.

Overexposure may have dulled the impact of Dunham's unique voice somewhat, so perhaps that's why it feels like the show has something to prove this season.

The stakes of its drama are higher, the comic relief funnier, there's more boobs and bums bouncing around than ever before - I'm fairly certain Dunham has spent more screentime in the buff than she has in clothes - and people are getting jiggy in a far more graphic and explicit fashion than previously.

Not that this is a show that ever shied away from showing sex in as much messy, unglam detail as it possibly could.

But there's no doubt Girls is now pushing up against television's boundaries. Though it never feels like it's aiming for cheap shocks or mere titillation. Instead the rough or confusing or disappointing sexual escapades are all working to serve the story as they puncture romantic or situational fantasies and crash them back into real life.

Depicting real life is where Girls has always been at its best. Now that Girls is focusing more on the bits that matter and less on the bits that don't it's finally begun to come of age.

- NZ Herald

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