The first two seasons of "Girls" were an emotional roller coaster for Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham), starting out as a comical look at the petty ups and downs of a group of privileged young women as they baby-stepped into adulthood, but then spiraling in its second season into a darker place as Hannah struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
At the beginning of the third season, the path has begun to straighten out for Hannah, and her troubles feel quotidian, if not mundane. She has her OCD in check. Her relationship with her man-boy paramour Adam (Adam Driver) has taken a remarkably healthy turn. And the writing career she desperately wants is finally taking off, with an e-book deal and an agent (John Cameron Mitchell ) who believes in her.
Things are a little rockier for Dunham – the show's writer/director/producer and the creator of Hannah – who is currently on a press tour where her vision continues to be challenged. At a Thursday Television Critics Association panel, a reporter's question about her character's oft-nudity annoyed the show's producers, with Dunham giving an honest answer before shrugging it off with, "If you are not into me, that's your problem, and you are going to have to kind of work that out."
To a degree, she's right. From the get-go, "Girls" was nothing if not polarizing. And while its many haters have grown even more vehement, it's also held on to its champions. "Girls" fans have embraced the show for being brass, for being bold, and yes, for its unconventional use of boobs. But will they stick with it if it gets a little boring?
Though things are going well for Hannah, not everyone in the "Girls" universe has found stability in their lives. Jessa (Jemima Kirke), finally facing some repercussions for her free-wheeling flightiness, is in rehab, where she has adopted a new father figure (Richard E. Grant) and is outing a fellow patient (Danielle Brooks). Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) strains to balance her newfound sexual freedom with her academic commitments in her senior year of college. Marnie (Allison Williams) continues to wallow in her breakup with Charlie – a breakup that has more or less occupied her entire series arc. Here too, "Girls" feels a little stale.
And in a complete 180 from Season 1, the boys of "Girls" – whom James Franco once called "the biggest bunch of losers I've ever seen" – are finally acting like men. Ray excels as a manager at his coffee shop job and Adam has turned into a kind and generous boyfriend that Hannah, now, probably doesn't deserve.
Dunham has said that the third season will feature more alone time with its characters and with that, "Girls" has sacrificed some of its original magic. Most of the high points of the first half of Season 3 occur when the titular girls are back together, whether it's Shoshanna and Hannah rocking out to Maroon 5 on a road trip, a poignant reunion between Hannah and Jessa or Marnie dragging Hannah into some show tune karaoke against her will. But those moments are too few and far between, and a singular focus on Hannah dominates, while her friends' more interesting struggles are left to play out on the sidelines.
But there are other bright spots. Rita Wilson and Colin Quinn make welcome returns as the adults in the room (though they don't necessarily act like it), and Jennifer Westfeldt also shows up in an unexpected role. Hannah and Adam's domestic bliss also is interrupted by the entrance of his whackadoo sister Caroline (Gaby Hoffmann) in the third episode. She's a cyclone of crazy, befriending Hannah one moment and screaming at her the next, and supplies Hannah's world with some much needed turmoil.
"Girls" always has been a notably self-aware show. From Season 1, the body issues of some of its actors have been written in at script level. Season 2 responded to racism criticism by giving Hannah a black boyfriend, and then having her be somewhat racist about it. This season kicks off with a takedown of Hannah delivered to her and Adam by his ex (Shiri Appleby) and her best friend (Amy Schumer) that might as well be a parody of some the show's angriest critics. "You can't make things that mean nothing mean something," Jessa says in an early episode, and the viewer can't help but apply it to the lack of action in Hannah's storyline.