Watching “Girls” with girls: Sex, friendship and funerals

I was interviewed by Salon TV critic Neil Drumming for his weekly column, Watching GIRLS With Girls. This was first published on Salon.

This week, we discuss improbable hookups, 15-year plans and Hannah’s inappropriate networking


Watching

Hannah wants to know what’s going to happen with her book. Marnie wants to know what’s wrong with her. Surprisingly, both questions were answered this past Sunday. Not surprisingly, neither girl was satisfied with the answer. Hannah must confront the notion that her life’s work will live in some dusty, digital file cabinet for the next three years. And Marnie takes refuge with her accuser. We break it all down, below:

This week’s “Girl”: Roxanna Asgarian, 26

Hometown: Las Vegas

Job: Freelance journalist

Adam or Ray: Ray

Favorite “Girls” girl: Caroline

Episode watched: “Only Child”

When Hannah and Adam arrive at her dead editor’s funeral, Hannah says, “You never know the depths of someone’s power until you see their funeral.” I thought that was a kind of New York thing to say — the notion of evaluating somebody’s power or influence. Do you find that you are aware of how influential the people around you are?

I think you have to be if you are ambitious. You kind of have to be aware of who’s who and all of that. But I think in Hannah’s case, specifically, she has zeroed in on this book and on her personal profits. She took that funeral as an opportunity to network more than to really feel bad about anything.

She walked into the funeral being almost completely opportunistic. She didn’t seem to have any emotion or empathy. 

Right.

I’ve done this column four times. And I’ve talked so much about whether or not she is likable. I’m repeating myself and I feel like maybe I’m not getting the gist of the show. It is like you said [earlier]. You said it feels like they are making everybody kind of unlikable and at that point you sort of just have to delve into why people behave the way they behave. It’s not debating whether you like them. So clearly what’s motivating her right now is sort of a mix of ambition and desperation?

Right.

At this point in your career, do you feel any of that? Do you feel that ambitious? Do you feel that it’s difficult to move forward in the direction that you want to go professionally?

Yes, I do. Sometimes. I think it’s kind of hard. It’s a thin line to walk. Because you need to really care about what you’re doing in life in order to get where you want to be. But at the same time you can kind of lose some of your humanity by not … you know there are huge sets in New York that just exist on back-scratching. You know what I mean? And that’s really fake and terrible, I feel. But at the same time, if you want to get places you have to be aware of that and you have to still try. Most people are able to cover their intentions a little better than Hannah. Like, they can think that stuff, but it’s not the first thing that comes out.

Honestly, if you were to give her career advice at this point it would be less about how she feels and more about concealing how she feels. It’s really that diplomacy and tact are her issue. I think the publisher’s wife was an interesting cameo for Jennifer Westfeldt, to have a husband that everyone thinks is gay …

That conversation was pretty funny, how Hannah was like  “Oh, no I didn’t think he was gay. I thought he was straight, I thought he was hitting on me.” (laughs)

She went the complete opposite direction to try to save the situation. “No, I thought he wanted to sleep with me.” It seems like you don’t have to go that far …

Right. That’s not what a wife wants to hear necessarily either.

When was the last time you were at a funeral?

The last time I was at a funeral was a long time ago. I don’t even really remember.

I feel like I didn’t go to too many funerals when I was that age. The show is doing some interesting things with the notion of death and mortality, but obviously from that perspective they have to be more tentative around it. It’s not that straightforward when you are at that age. Hannah’s dad was hinting that he may have cancer or something like that …

Yes. That was a really disturbing scene to me.

I think it’s meant to be, right? What was disturbing about it to you? 

I can kind of understand that she didn’t really care that her editor died — depending on your personal feelings — but your dad, who you obviously love? She was really bratty to him, which is just an immaturity thing, probably. At first I thought maybe she didn’t hear what he said, but then she brought it up in this rude way later in the conversation. It was just like, “What is going on with you?”

Yes, she managed to pack quite a bit of offense into that one little diatribe. She manages to pack a lot of offense into almost every moment that she is in. 

I think it is showing the destructive side of ambition. She seems like the most ambitious character, by far, on the show. Shoshanna has ambition, but she is kind of younger — in a different place — you know? But it’s kind of showing the negative aspect of her ambition like it’s good that she has it, but it’s sort of — and she sensed desperation before — that she worries that if this doesn’t happen then this is her only chance.

Speaking of Shoshanna, did you have a five-year plan or a 15-year plan at that age? Did you have those kinds of long-term goals? 

In college? No, I don’t think I did. I went to grad school here in New York and during that time that’s when you start. In college my goal was to get through college. But right now I don’t have a 15-year plan nor could I ever even imagine what I would be doing in 15 years.

Shoshanna has that moment with Jessa, but I feel like the Jessa story line is still in its infancy. I don’t think we’re meant to be fully understanding of her yet. For that reason I’m not all that invested. I’m waiting to see where it’s going.  Let’s get into the nudity thing really quick. There is a scene where Adam and Caroline are arguing off-camera and Hannah is getting dressed and it’s a frontal nude scene and I believe the argument is that they are depicting real life, and so there is no reason not to show nudity, or female nudity, or whatever. That’s sort of how [the show’s creators] defend all the nudity in the show. I sort of agree with that, but I’d like to offer the counterargument, which is this: I so infrequently see nudity in nonsexual situations on television that seeing it is kind of distracting if it isn’t aiding the story line. For example, if there is an argument happening in the other room that is important, but my brain — maybe this is because I am a [heterosexual] man — viscerally registers breasts …

Yes. I felt the same way. It draws your attention. But I think it’s also, like what you said, because you never see it in a nonsexual way, it seems weird. But I really like what the show does with nudity because they really push buttons and they are really unapologetic about it and that’s pretty cool because a lot of the nudity that is on shows is very much — it seems like — [tailored for] the male gaze. It’s very much like very hot, sexy girls that may not even be characters in a show, like ornamental. [“Girls”] does a lot of nudity. They really kind of put it in your face. And that was one example where I felt like you did, where I was looking at her boobs. Then it took me a couple of seconds to realize what was else was happening in the scene, you know.

I do think it is somewhat distracting from the pure narrative. I think it’s a risky thing to do in terms of your story. But I guess if no one ever does it, it will never not be distracting …

That’s a good point. I think there have been a lot of think pieces about this particular facet of the show and I think that maybe next time it won’t be such a big deal. I think that’s kind of a really good thing about the show.

I want to race through this Caroline stuff. You like her. I wanted to ask you if you think Adam wants to have sex with his sister, as she said.

She seems like a person who’s pretty dramatic and I don’t know if she was just trying to push buttons there, you know? I mean, I thought it was funny that Hannah says that’s one of those things you [should] never, ever say out loud.

Exactly. Even if you thought that, you wouldn’t want to think that. You would probably bury it, you know? Before I get off Caroline I want to hear why—since you’ve said she is one of your favorite additions to the show—you feel so strongly about her.

She’s really funny. Obviously, she doesn’t have it any more together than any of the other main characters. But she’s kind of like a truth-telling character as well. Like the way that she was at the graveyard — in the episode before — where she brought up with Hannah that story that she made up. She wasn’t joking about it; she was being real about it, which I think, you know, that’s kind of a cool quality to have. It’s intriguing because a lot of the friendships on the show, to me, don’t feel that authentic to the way my friendships are. You know what I’m saying?

How so?

Well, what she said to Adam when basically he said, “I don’t care about anything your friends have to say.” If my husband said that to me, I would be upset with him because I care about my friends. I have loyalty to them even if they are crazy and they are doing stupid stuff. I can say they’re doing stupid stuff, but I have their back.

Yeah, basically she ended up saying, “I don’t care what my friends have to say either,” which seems really out of character for anyone who has friends. I know she’s not a great person but I still have problems squaring that statement even as a joke. It doesn’t seem like something you would ever even say. Because even if you are delusional about your friends, even if it’s exaggerated loyalty, it just seems like such a strange thing to say. But I guess the unpredictability makes a character more interesting. I just spend a lot of time wrestling with understanding Hannah — or any of them actually.

I want to like her, and most of the time I generally do like her. But the past few episodes have been a little harder to see any redeeming things. Maybe it’s because they were friends — like, these are all people that were friends before — and then, now they are kind of in the separate phase. She and Marnie were friends — best friends — in college and now it doesn’t really seem like they like each other at all. They don’t really say anything nice to each other. Like, Marnie is just totally bitchy all the time.

Now that you mention Marnie, I think that my favorite scene in the entire episode is her sitting on the bed with the cat. Because she says — I just love that she says — she found someone selling cats and she took the cutest one. Which, yes, maybe anyone would do, but it just sounded so deliberate — it sounds so selfish — like, “Yeah, I made sure that I got the best one of all the abandoned cats.” Her whole approach is so internal and so self-absorbed. But it came out in a way that I thought was funny.

Yeah, my favorite is when she was talking to Ray and she’s kind of being really bratty, and she’s like, “No offense, I would think your apartment would be worse.” And then she said, “I could never live in Brooklyn,” and he was like, “It seems like you have it all figured it out,” and she goes, “Oh, thank you. I have, yeah.”

He says something like, “You seem to have it all together” and she says, “Yes, thank you.” It’s like the sarcasm just breezes right past her. Let’s go to the whole Ray-Marnie interaction. I assume you probably saw the sex coming from a mile away. As soon as she shows up at his apartment I knew. I mean, that’s the tough thing about television nowadays is that if you want to get two people in a room — if you’re writing such a scene – it almost makes no sense because everybody has a cellphone. There is almost no reason to just show up at someone else’s apartment even if you want to have a heart to heart. Especially since he apparently lives far away. So why would she go all the way over there? She comes to his door, it’s like, OK, there is going to be something physical there …

Right. That would be a text message conversation.

Or even meet halfway … Now, is there a person like Ray that you would trust to tell you what is wrong with you if you felt that out of sorts?

I hope so because that was admirable of her to do that, to put herself out like that. Because who wants to get shit on? But I also thought that what Ray said was pretty spot on …

That was my next question: What did you think of Ray’s assessment of Marnie?

Ray is an interesting character because he is the one who’s always grumbling, but you can tell that he’s really vulnerable, too. And then when he said, “Let’s keep it on the DL,” (laughs) that was really kind of funny too because she kind of made this look like, “Well, yeah, I guess. Why would you?”

Why do you think he said that? Do you think he was actually ashamed to sleep with Marnie or do you think he was trying to be cool because she is so [much] more physically appealing than he is in the traditional sense?

Well, isn’t he Charlie’s friend? I know Charlie’s not on the show anymore. But when he said that, that’s the way I took it. That he didn’t want it out there that he just had sex with his friend’s ex.

I forgot about that. Because it’s such a small circle. That’s a very good point. That’s more likely than what I was thinking. We were talking about who’s the most unlikable and who’s really sympathetic, and Ray basically tells Marnie that, despite her flaws, she is a sympathetic character. Did that work for you? Did you feel better about Marnie after he said a million terrible things about her, he said, “I still like you”? 

I don’t know. I don’t think she is that likable. She’s probably the least likable to me just because she is so bitchy to everybody and bitchy to her friends. But I kind of feel for her because she is going through it now. She just got broken up with and I think she has the opportunity right now to kind of grow as a character. Like her going and asking Ray, “What’s wrong with me?” That’s a commendable thing to do and shows that she might be trying to change some of the negative aspects about herself.

I normally ask people about Adam and Hannah’s relationship and whether or not a person your age might actually idealize that relationship or not. But I’m sort of tired of asking that question. Since we are talking about Marnie and Ray — would you root for that pairing, as unlikely and as haphazardly as it occurred? Do you think it would be good for either of them?

It could be. I think when Shoshanna broke up with Ray he kind of got his shit together, you know? He’s pretty old, too, right? Like in his 30s? Not like really old, but I just mean compared to Shoshanna …

He’s about the oldest person and she’s the youngest person.

Right. So, I think that could be good for them, maybe. It doesn’t seem like Marnie would end up with somebody like Ray because she does care about being with a good-looking person. I mean, Ray’s kind of charming-looking. You know what I’m saying …

No, I don’t know. You have to explain. Women’s perspectives on physical beauty are still kind of a mystery to me so I would love to hear more about that …

So, like, Charlie … Charlie is like an actual babe. And you could see why Marnie was with Charlie even though you could see that she didn’t really like him. But he looked good with her. I’m sure she considered that. You know what I mean. She seems like a person who would really consider the outward appearance. So I don’t know if she would ever end up with Ray.

Maybe that is a sign of the beginning of her growth? I don’t know. That seems right, right?

Yes. Because this is a period of life that is so interesting and so fast and everything is changing in your life — that you really can end up very different. That’s believable that people are changing and being jerks and then not being jerks, you know what I mean?