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Send in the frowns: Girls is back for Season 4


Girls update: Hannah is blue. So what else is new? HBO photo

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Season 4 of HBO’s Girls opens with a shocker of a scene. At dinner with her oft-scolding parents, Hannah Horvath is giggly, even giddy.

Don’t get used to it. This will be another winter of discontent on a series that can still shine at times despite its deteriorating standing among the nation’s television critics.

Barometer: the annual hitfix.com poll of best TV series, in which each participant lists a personal Top 10.

The inaugural survey, in 2012, also marked Girls’ first season. It placed 6th that year before falling to 44th in 2013. And in the latest hitfix results, in which 52 critics (including your friendly content provider) were polled, Girls was nowhere to be found among the 96 series receiving at least one point on a sliding scale That means it failed to make even one critic’s Top 10 list in its third season.

Still, Girls is by no means a complete loser as Season 4 begins unfolding on Sunday, Jan. 11th at 8 p.m. (central).. Lena Dunham may be prime-time TV’s most polarizing creator, writer and star. But she’s not a hack. And in the first five episodes of the 10-episode Season 4, she’s also not getting naked. That became an “issue” for many, with Dunham’s Hannah showcasing her less than sculpted body to the point of “No more!” Her dark shadows can still be hard to bear, though. And after some brief flashes of false hope, Girls again will be deep in the throes of another off-the-charts misery index.

Hannah’s initially thrilled to be heading off to a prestigious two-year Iowa Writers’ Workshop to which only a select few young wordsmiths are accepted.

“Slow to grow, but oh, how beautiful is the blossom,” her father, Tad (Peter Scolari), says at a celebratory dinner before it’s time to pack up and hit the road.

Hannah’s off-and-on boyfriend, the equally high maintenance Adam Sackler (Adam Driver), is more miserable about his acting future than about her leaving their shared New York apartment. “The plan is there is no plan,” he says of any future they might have together. “That works for me -- as a plan.”

Marnie Michaels (Allison Williams), Jessa Johansson (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna Shapiro (Zosia Mamet) remain in various states of disrepair as Hannah’s principal gal pals.

Marnie is trying to break through as a singer in tandem with Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). But their first “jazz brunch” goes awry while Marnie also is tearfully frustrated by Desi’s disinclination to break up with his girlfriend and settle in with her.

Jessa remains a recovering addict and overall horrible person who outwardly doesn’t give a damn about Hannah’s departure. And Shoshanna is a jobless college grad who’s still mooning over ex-boyfriend Ray Ploshansky (Alex Karpovsky). Her divorced parents (briefly played by Anthony Edwards and Ana Gasteyer) continue to war with one another, making Shoshanna even more inclined to brood.

Episodes 2 and 3 of the new season find Hannah in Iowa and quickly none too happy about it. Her fellow students are highly judgmental and she’s no prize herself. But the writing is sharp during their group sessions, with outcast Hannah giving as good as she gets while viewers wonder how long it will be before she inevitably heads back to New York.

Meanwhile, Jessa is highly indignant when police cite her for public peeing in the street. And yes, this is a show where you’ll actually get to see her do it -- in simulated fashion.

Girls still delivers other memorable moments, though. And not all of them are gag-inducing. Dunham has written some terrific scenes for herself, and she also rises to the occasion of acting them out.

Even so, how many times can this show basically go back to square one? Hannah Horvath has reached the point where a happy ending might ring completely false. She’s still only 25, but has more mileage, wear and tear on her than a 1989 Chevy pickup.

Her three mates also are in various states of disrepair. But among them, only Jessa seems utterly irredeemable. All in all, Girls has gone from a voyage of discovery in Season One (wow, what a great new voice Dunham is) to an ongoing assemblage of traffic wrecks and flat tires.

It’s the kind of series where the anal and easily addled Ray Ploshansky has become a voice of reason -- or designated driver if you prefer. Between bouts of screaming expletives at honking motorists, he’s capable of counseling Marnie, putting Jessa in her place and making Shoshanna feel just a little bit better about herself.

Hannah likely is beyond his reach, though. Her fits and spurts of joy are always preludes to impending storms. We just can’t go on meeting this way.


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