While I've kept plot details for the second season to a minimum, please be aware that there are some spoilers for the show's first season.
Be sure to check out our review for season one.
"Please don't tell anyone this, but… I want to be happy."
Are you ready for more narcissistic, self doubting neuroses layered with a healthy dose of awkward sexuality and irritatingly poor decision making? Yes? Well then, grab a seat and free up about five hours in your schedule, because HBO's 'Girls' is back with another season of Generation Y misadventures for you to enjoy. And slapped in between all the egotism and cluelessness, you'll also find a copious amount of genuine insight and hilarious wit. Perceptive, funny, and sometimes downright annoying, the show continues to shine a spotlight on Millennial struggles -- and while there are times when one might question whether those struggles actually deserve much of a spotlight, the ride is always worth a few good laughs and cringes, usually at the same time.
Season two picks up roughly where we last left off, following Hannah (Lena Dunham) as she attempts to support herself and make it as a writer while living in Brooklyn, New York. Her three best friends, Marnie (Allison Williams), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), and Jessa (Jemima Kirke), also deal with their own challenges, including new relationships, break ups, and job losses. Confronted with constant, usually self created obstacles and even a few potential opportunities, the girls must overcome their anxieties, or risk remaining in perpetual stagnation.
Whether you love it or hate it, Dunham's unique voice continues to shine through, adding an honest and personal touch to all the comical, cringe-worthy insanity the show's characters face. More relatable (and not so relatable) misadventures in dating, partying, work, and self discovery litter the ten episodes featured here -- including a dangerous excursion to Staten Island to return a stolen dog, a crazy night of drug experimentation, a look at the challenges of dating a republican, unsteady family reunions, and a surreally idyllic affair with an older man. The writers even make sure to quickly undo one of last season's most perplexing plot developments, and thankfully this reset button comes with real emotional weight and consequences for the players involved. Throughout it all, the filmmakers pack the series with funny quips and thoughtful observations, revealing a self aware edge that always keeps the characters' occasionally unlikeable behaviors in perspective.
Both critical and sympathetic to her generation's strengths and flaws, Dunham is able to skirt a fine line with her creation, maintaining sympathy for her ensemble while still pointing out the inherent hypocrisies in their choices. With that said, much like the first season, there are times when the self-centered group go a little too far, and it can become genuinely irritating to watch them repeatedly make the same kinds of mistakes. Thankfully, the talented cast manages to help mitigate this potential annoyance. Alex Karpovsky's performance as the cynical and increasingly misanthropic Ray is particularly fun to watch, and the actor does a great job of layering in some real heart and sadness beneath his constant criticisms.
As funny as the series can be, this season is actually a little darker than the previous batch of episodes, and Dunham eases into some potentially disturbing subjects. For instance, OCD is dealt with head on, and Hannah's descent into compulsive behavior can actually be pretty hard to endure. While I may never be able to use a Q-tip again (if you've watched the season, you know exactly what I'm talking about), the issue is dealt with respectfully. Of course, OCD isn't the only weighty topic examined and, as always, sex plays a huge part in the series' DNA.
Were you one of those fans of the first season of 'Girls' who loved everything about the show but somehow found its racy sexual content to be too tame? Well, rejoice, because season two ups the ante just for you! Filled with increasingly awkward, strange, funny, and sometimes even unsettling sex scenes, the show pushes the envelope when it comes to televised carnal activity -- even for HBO. With that said, unlike some of the network's other series, the sexual content here is never gratuitous, and even at its most bizarre or unpleasant, it always serves the story and characters.
Since its premiere, the show has had its fair share of backlash, particularly from those who feel that its focus on the comparatively simple problems of privileged young white people is offensive. While that aspect certainly doesn't change here, Dunham does at least introduce an African America character played by Donald Glover. Sadly, though, the talented comedian's role isn't all that substantial and his inclusion here can't help but feel a little forced. Other aspects of the season are also a bit troubled, including the annoying romantic back and forth between Marnie and her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott). The writers seem a little unsure what do with Adam (Adam Driver) as well, leading to some early plotlines that, while funny, are rather iffy. Likewise, as a whole, the series maintains the kind of atypical plotting and structure found in its freshman outing, and mostly resists traditional story arcs. This gives the season a somewhat meandering feel, but the finale does bring a certain level of closure to the numerous developing plot threads.
'Girls' is an uneven and imperfect show, but its manic charms and sharp wit continue to entertain and enlighten. Dunham's voice remains as divisive as ever, and though some might find the series' characters too self centered and delusional to relate to, there is real sincerity in their journeys and hardships -- even if you do frequently want to slap them in the face. Lovingly, of course. The season as a whole has a few lulls and inconsistencies, but as it winds down to its bizarrely skewed and perversely triumphant version of a classic romantic comedy finale, the show steadies itself, paving the way for even more head scratching decisions. In some ways superior and other ways inferior to its first season, like its characters, 'Girls' flirts with the pull of comfortable regression and the fear of real growth, but always makes all its awkward stumbles worthwhile.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
HBO presents 'Girls: The Complete Second Season' in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack. All ten episodes and special features are spread out over two BD-50 discs housed in a foldout case that comes packaged in a cardboard slipcase. An additional foldout sleeve containing one flipper DVD (with all ten episodes) is also included, along with an insert with instructions for a downloadable digital copy. After a streaming promo for HBO, the discs transition to standard menus.
The show is provided with a series of 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfers in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Much like the first season set, the video here has an overall pleasing look with nice clarity and a fitting visual style
Shot in high definition, the digital source is very clean with no troublesome artifacts outside of some very minor noise from time to time. While a few scenes can look a tad soft and flat, there is still a nice sense of fine detail throughout the episodes, bringing out textures and dimension in the "uniquely" dressed characters and New York locations. The color palette is on the light side, favoring more passive shades rather than bold hues. With that said, saturation remains rich and certain scenes feature tantalizing pop (like a sequence set in a busy club with colorful lights). Contrast is a little dim, with slightly subdued whites and blacks, giving the image a faintly milky appearance, though, this style works well with the more naturalistic tone of the content.
The second season of 'Girls' follows suit with the first, hitting Blu-ray with a strong transfer from HBO that bests its more compressed broadcast appearance.
The episodes are presented with English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mixes, French DTS 5.1 mixes, and Spanish DTS 2.0 mixes with optional English SHD, French, and Spanish subtitles. Like the video, the sound design here is very reminiscent of the previous season, placing emphasis on dialogue but still opening up nicely during livelier moments.
Speech is clear and crisp throughout with no balance issues. The soundscape can feel a little restrained, but outdoor scenes still feature a solid sense of delicate atmosphere, projecting city ambiance (traffic, passing pedestrians) around the room. Directionality is modest, but smooth audio pans and separations are present when called for. Certain sequences, like one character's brief detour into a bizarre electronic art piece, contain lively surround activity. Dynamic range is wide with no distortion, and the show's trendy music sounds great. Low frequencies are deep and full, especially in certain song selections and a rowdy club scene.
The majority of the runtime throughout the season is fairly modest, but the show offers welcome immersion when it needs to, complementing the dialogue heavy presentation with some auditory character and personality.
Like the first season set, HBO and the producers have put together an extensive collection of special features, including commentaries, interviews, and lots of deleted scenes. All of the supplements are presented in 1080p with DTS 2.0 sound and no subtitles (unless noted otherwise).
'Girls: The Complete Second Season' offers more humorous Generation Y misadventures. Though the characters aren't always very appealing, Dunham's approach feels honest and the show takes on its subjects with equal sympathy and criticism. The video and audio are both good, providing a fitting and technically strong listening and viewing experience. Supplements are robust and informative, giving fans a plethora of worthwhile material to go through. While it's unlikely that the show's detractors will be won over by this new season, fans of the series should not hesitate to pick this up. Recommended.