TV Recap: Girls, “Incidentals” (3.8)

By Jordan Ferguson


23/2/2014, 10:00 pm(EST), HBO

And as quickly as it was cast, the spell is broken. Season three of Girls, more than either of the two that came before, is learning how to be a TV show. That sounds, on the surface, like a compliment, but I’m not sure that it is. This season has been more consistent than previous ones, yes, but while I can applaud the show for reducing the amount of lows, it is hard not to miss the staggering highs that counter-balanced them. “Beach House” is the closest season three has come so far to a masterpiece of the same quality as “The Return,” “It’s a Shame About Ray,” or “One Man’s Trash,” a spell-binding half-hour that felt like it had something to say not just about these characters, but about friendships more broadly, and also about the strengths and weaknesses of television as a medium for addressing these issues. “Incidentals” is an inevitable step back down into what is at this point standard fare for the show. It is a funny episode that creates a good vibe and some good laughs, but mostly it feels like a placeholder before we push into the season’s final stretch.

This is the sort of episode pretty much every television show is forced to do, from time to time, by nature of being a television show. It is a breather, a space between the high tensions and emotional ruptures of “Beach House” and whatever drama and comedy awaits our heroines in the season’s closing third. As filler, it is perfectly adequate, but “Incidentals” feels mostly like Girls on auto-pilot—this episode runs on our willingness to mostly just hang out with these people and laugh as they are kind of terrible. For me, that willingness is pretty high, and I found the episode mostly enjoyable, if slight. But your mileage may vary based on what you’re looking to get out of the show every week. Funny and sort of sweet, this is, but it is hardly landmark television like this show can be at its best.

In addition to the episode’s filler feel, it also falls into a trap that tends to plague these placeholder episodes on Girls: it all feels a little manufactured. At its heights, this is a show that feels achingly, cringe-inducingly torn from real life, but “Incidentals” felt all too often like a sitcom, with special guest star Patti LuPone showing up to make Hannah anxious Adam will cheat on her now that he is a big broadway star, standard B-plots in Jessa’s boredom with normal life leading to her falling off the wagon and Marnie’s break-up with Ray hurting her more than she expected, and even a fun runner of Elijah trying to break into Broadway through any door that will have him.

Some of this works better than other portions. Everything Elijah does is pretty good, and Shoshanna is back in her classic role of chucking out amazing one-liners from the deep sidelines of the storyline. But then there is the stuff with Desi, Adam’s new cast mate who enthralls everyone and tells Marnie to stick with her art. This is one of those moments where you can actually watch the show losing track of a thread like it has in the past. Marnie’s singing has heretofoe been a pipedream, good for some jokes about how deluded she is, but nothing we as viewers or anyone in the series seems to be taking seriously. But now, out of nowhere, she is being told that she’s got what it takes. Maybe Desi was just being nice, but this felt like the sort of story that needed a button—Desi making a pass, for example, or Marnie sending off her stuff only to be dismissed—in order to land or even really make sense in the larger picture of the season.

The episode doesn’t spend a lot of time with Adam, which is weird considering what happens to him here is kind of titanic in the effect it might have on his life. Elijah points out that Adam is the first to achieve his dream, and while Hannah tries to dismiss that, she is mostly too distracted by fear that Adam will cheat on her to notice what will probably be the real wedge in their relationship: Adam is getting what he wants, and that is going to make Hannah jealous. She says she is happy for him, that she loves him and supports him. And she believes all of these things. They may even be true. But she underestimates how much her self-conception is tied up in her view of herself as a girl who is about to make it, who is on the path to realizing her dreams. She was ok with Adam being the stable one psychologically in their relationship, because she saw herself as the stable one professionally. But how will she react when Adam is more successful in that realm as well? My guess is not well.

“Incidentals” is setting up the pieces, which is a necessary component of the show knocking them all over by the finale. There is a new tension in Hannah and Adam’s relationship. Marnie and Ray are broken up (at least for the moment). Jessa is off the wagon because she’s let Jasper back into her life (a plotline that the show treats glibly, for the moment, but that I am sure will have grim consequences in the next few episodes). We close on a moment of stability for Hannah and Adam, as they goof around in the tub, claim permanent devotion to one another, and he performs his lines to her in a (really impressive) accent that reminds me just how great Adam Driver is. It’s a nice, tranquil moment in a nice, tranquil episode. But this is Girls, which means that even as the episode closed with me smiling, I felt the sinking feeling that I had just witnessed the calm before the storm.

The Roundup

  • -”There’s no small parts, only small actors, and you’re a tall person…”
  • -”How long have you had osteoporosis?” “I don’t have osteoporosis!”
  • -”You can be an early victim of Alzheimer’s, I don’t see why you can’t
    be an early victim of osteoporosis…”
  • -”I’d say in some ways he’s the most mature person I’ve ever met, and
    in some ways he hasn’t yet been born.”
  • -”Blue Crush was such an important film for women…”
  • -”What the fuck does ‘have fun’ mean?” “I think it means have fun.” “Or
    does it mean have fun now because Broadway is the cruelest of
  • -”Alright, what did I miss?” Great entrance line by the still great Richard E. Grant.
  • -”I wouldn’t be eating pizza in front of you if I actually liked you!”
  • -”That is a fucking closet!”
  • -”So there I am, on a sort of vision quest…”
  • -”Are you fucking kidding me?” “I hate myself for loving him.”
  • -”I love Michelle Branch.” “Dylan.” “I love Dylan too.”
  • -”I’m really trying to break out of the contemporary dance world, so if
    you could give me an introduction to the Broadway world…the closest
    I’ve got is a hand job from a guy from Pippin.”
  • -”Well don’t come crying to me when Kristen Chenowith passes out
    because you forgot to feed her!”
  • -”So we maybe shouldn’t have taken her out of rehab…”
71/100 ~ GOOD. “Incidentals” is an inevitable step back down into what is at this point standard fare for the show. It is a funny episode that creates a good vibe and some good laughs, but mostly it feels like a placeholder before we push into the season’s final stretch.
Jordan Ferguson is a lifelong pop culture fan, and would probably never leave his couch if he could get away with it. When he isn’t wasting time “studying the law” at the University of Michigan, he writes about film, television, and music. In addition to writing for Next Projection, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Review To Be Named, a homemade haven for pop-culture obsessives. Check out more of his work at , follow him on twitter @bobchanning, or just yell really loudly on the street. Don’t worry, he’ll hear.