At this late stage, it’s pointless to debate whether Girls should be classified as a comedy or a drama, but I have been thinking more about how the show’s tonal promiscuity affects my perception and enjoyment of it. I tend to think of Girls as a comedy because it was initially presented as one. Its half-hour format makes it a comedy almost by default, and it has a consistency, if not a frequency of jokes. But because it hits so many really wrenching dramatic notes (see: any scene in which Hannah cries), I tend to process it as a funny drama even while I think of it as a comedy. That’s why the glacial character development has always frustrated me. I watch Girls like a drama, so I expect dramatic norms like steady, significant character development. That’s not an expectation of even the most serialized comedies, which hover near the status quo no matter how the cast or circumstances change. Hell, technically Modern Family is a serialized comedy.

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This occurred to me as I watched “Homeward Bound” because it’s the most traditionally, broadly comedic the show has been in some time. The borderline slapstick tone that occasionally peeks out was on full display. And it was the first episode of the season to feature all four of Girls’ girls, each of them with a separate storyline that carries equal weight. Combine that with the thematic consistency of Hannah, Marnie, Shosh, and Jessa renegotiating strained relationships with men, and “Homeward Bound” starts to look like a network single-cam if you squint just right. There’s even a guest appearance from the former star of one of the most successful network sitcoms in history. The show has structurally never looked more like a sitcom or been this kind of funny for an entire episode.

So much of the comedy in “Homeward Bound” is physical. Hannah’s running laps in a rest stop bathroom to escape smothering Fran and his “housecar,” then she’s giving Ray awkward roadhead, causing him to run his new coffee truck off the road. (Between this and the sauna incident in “Queen For Two Days,” Hannah may never be able to perform oral sex again.) Jessa is contorting herself to escape a torrent of spit-up while holding Laird and Caroline’s baby. Shosh is getting jostled around on a moving walkway at the worst possible time, since she’s not exactly thrilled to be back Stateside.

Murray Miller’s script also has some killer jokes. Hannah’s line about being triggered by a hand on the back of the head during fellatio slayed me, as did Ray’s list of women who could vouch for the functionality of his penis. (In a close third: Shosh and Scott’s debate about the size of her sake.) For an episode primarily structured around a break-up and its aftermath, “Homeward Bound” is surprisingly light throughout. It’s a welcome change of pace after “The Panic In Central Park” and “Hello Kitty,” which were both great, but pretty heavy. Season five is definitely shaping up to be the funniest season of this show since the first.

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As funny as the episode is, it’s no less emotionally incisive. The heaviest stuff comes in Adam and Jessa’s story, which portends some darkness for the final two episodes. Caroline’s disappearance is more than a little concerning. Meanwhile, Adam and Jessa’s relationship is entering an especially tumultuous period now that their illicit affair has been exposed. Theirs is the kind of morally ambiguous relationship that’s sustained by the frisson of naughtiness. Just like during their sexual roleplay, when she’s the high school girl terrified of pregnancy and he’s the quarterback scared to piss off his coach, they’ve goosed the excitement of their interactions by playing around with the idea of dating behind Hannah’s back. Now that Hannah knows about them, one of the most exciting elements of their relationship has fizzled out, and they have to transition into something realer and more grown-up. They’re facing the reality of being in a relationship with each other, like the reality of someone’s mentally ill sister going missing and her baby vomiting down your back.

There’s usually a weak link in any sitcom episode, and if I had to choose I’d go with Marnie’s plot. For one thing, I just can’t stand Desi and I resent his continued presence in my life. But I also don’t want to see Marnie sliding back to Desi out of a fear of losing him permanently or because she likes competing with other women. “Central Park” was so special because it showed a self-confident, resolute version of Marnie we’d never seen before. I wanted that Marnie to stick around for good. Then again, Girls is still a comedy for all intents and purposes. Maybe I shouldn’t expect Marnie to evolve, I should just expect to laugh heartily watching her jog in place.

Stray observations

  • Cool appearance by Guillermo Diaz, though considering the last time I saw Diaz and Lena Dunham on screen together he was slitting her throat in Scandal, seeing them together in the context of her hitchhiking with him had me all out of sorts.
  • I was kind of blown away by Lisa Bonet’s performance. Girls is so modest, small, and low-key that prominent, widely recognized performers—Donald Glover, Patrick Wilson, Amy Schumer—can seem not quite right in their roles, like their star power throws the show off-balance. Bonet’s Tandis (?) Moncrieff fits right in.
  • Speaking of Tandis, I love how Girls gives its female interlopers the most annoying ass names to turn the audience against them from the beginning. Before Tandis Moncrieff, there was Mimi-Rose Howard and even Koi Sharf, the mystery woman referred to in season one as one of Booth Jonathan’s lovers. If you get a silly name on this show, you are not liked.
  • Fran on Hannah: “You know what? My brother thought you were so fucking rude. And he was right. He fucking handwrote a letter saying how rude you were. That’s how much he meant it.”
  • HBO provided me with the exact shot I wanted to use for the main image. You the real MVP, HBO Media Relations.

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