‘Girls': About That Vomit Scene

'Girls': About That Vomit Scene


What's with the vomit on “Girls”?

I have to be careful about “Girls,” because the last time I wrote about it, things got a little crazy. (No, not the time I called the show brilliant. The other time.)

Also read: ‘Girls': About That Semen Scene

In January, I asked Lena Dunham during a Q&A why her character, Hannah, is naked so much. She didn't like the question and accused me of not being into her. Which wasn't what I said, but she has a right to not be into my asking.

Because, to be honest, there was a tacit criticism in my question — though it had nothing to do with Dunham's appearance. It was this: I don't know if “Girls” always knows what it's doing.

I like the show. I was delighted that its ratings improved after our fake controversy. But lately “Girls” is all over the place. Some elements — like the vomit — feel pointless.

Also read: Lena Dunham Reacts to Naked Critics – Makes, Deletes Molestation Joke on Twitter

It's not just me. The New York Times’ Neil Genzlinger wrote Friday: “Expanding boundaries needs to have a purpose. Graphic vomit rarely passes that test.” He conceded that his viewpoint might make him seem like a fuddy-duddy.

There's a writing rule I love: Chekhov's gun. If you introduce a gun early in the play, it has to go off. If you take up the viewer's time with something in one episode, it should pay off in another. (A lot of “True Detective” fans think the show broke its Chekhov's gun contract by not explaining the Yellow King. I disagree.)

Also read: ‘True Detective’ Complaints: Calm Down, Internet

“Breaking Bad” is the gold standard of Chekhov's gun writing. Everything serves a purpose. As creator Vince Gilligan has said, the show uses every part of the buffalo.

“Girls” does not. One episode last season, Adam borderline assaulted his girlfriend, Natalia. In the next episode, the heart-on-its-sleeve Season 2 finale, he broke down a door, Tarzan style, to lift her up and carry her away. When the new season began, there was no retribution for Adam's very iffy behavior with Natalia. (Some fans call it a rape, but I don't think the show intended it that way, since Adam was Hannah's hero one episode later.)

Seth Greenland, a writer I love, said once that a novelist's job with a first draft is to vomit up 300 pages, and edit it into something coherent later. I think Lena Dunham is vomiting up lots of breathtakingly good ideas for “Girls.” But she's not killing her darlings. Instead of an editor, she has Judd Apatow, whose movies, while great, tend to run too long.

“Girls,” too, can feel overloaded.

There's self-indulgence for the sake of taking risks and pushing limits. “True Detective” is that kind of self-indulgent. But then there's lazy self-indulgence — doing the shocking thing that gets people talking instead of the thing that makes sense. Or just not knowing what to cut.

I want “Girls” to be the first kind of self-indulgent. I hope it's not the second kind. But either way: artists should make big, bold choices, right or wrong.

And they should also expect viewers to wonder why they made them. And be annoyed when they don't serve a purpose.

See video: Lena Dunham Gets Naked – Again – for ‘Saturday Night Live’

Is the nudity supposed to be funny? To project vulnerability? Is it a middle-finger to the male gaze? All of those purposes would be great, though none happens to be the one reason Dunham gave me. She said it's a “realistic expression of what it's like to be alive.”

One could make the case that a show devoted to realistically presenting life in Brooklyn might feature more African-Americans, but let's set that aside for now.

Showing Adam's semen during that extremely iffy scene was a realistic expression of life: We felt violated, just like his girlfriend did. It felt horribly real. It muddied the water when we were supposed to root for Adam later, but maybe that was the point. Or maybe the show lost its thread. We don't know yet how Adam's story resolves.

Showing Hannah throwing up also served an important purpose, story-wise: It was a quick, efficient way to show us that Hannah acted out against Adam by drinking too much. It was especially interesting given that Adam is a recovering alcoholic. This is a cry for attention that went too far. Okay.

See video: Lena Dunham Asks Savannah Guthrie If She's Willing To Show Nipple

But showing us the actual vomit, like showing us a lot of the nudity, doesn't really add anything. It just gets people talking. It feels like… dare I say it? Another cry for attention gone too far.

Maybe it's even an attempt to bait squares like Neil Genzlinger, with their painfully uncool aversion to spew. It worked.

But do it too often, and it can start to feel like the emperor has no… nevermind.

  • Holly Rosen Fink

    I whole heartedly disagree. It's real life – why should we avoid the truth? Would it be better for Hannah to fake puke?

  • Just another older guy

    I get where you're coming from, but give her a break. She's clearly very talented, and that talent shouldn't have to be criticized every time you have a personal reason to disagree with a particular choice that she's made.

    I'm guessing you enjoy criticizing, which is a reason you're a critic, duh, but do you have to seem so out of touch when you offer your critiques? Perhaps this is a generational thing, and if it is, then please do us all a favor by critiquing yourself about being a bit clueless sometimes when it comes to our generally better younger generation.

    I'm starting to cringe when I read your critiques, and I'm starting to question your ability to offer critiques that are without ad hominem attacks. I'll sign off now by looking at you in my mirror. After all, my critique about you may not be fair. Only you are going to know that.

    As for Lena, more power to her, and all of her generation who will have to deal with how out of touch many of us older people are when it comes to a real understanding between us. But then, that's how it's always been.

    • tim.molloy

      This is the first thing I've written about the show in months, and it contains zero ad hominem attacks. But thanks for reading.

      • Jenya

        “One could make the case that a show devoted to realistically presenting life in Brooklyn might feature more African-Americans, but let's set that aside for now.”

        “It feels like… dare I say it? Another cry for attention gone too far.”

        “But do it too often, and it can start to feel like the emperor has no… nevermind.”

    • utazdevl

      Is there some written list of people who are talent but, because they are young, are immune from critique? At what age or level of success are we allowed take off the kit gloves and discuss the shortcoming of Hollywood talent? If you could kindly send me a SnapChat or post a pic on Instagram I'd be glad to oblige.

  • Lauren

    One of the most memorable movie scenes of all time was Jill Clayburgh vomiting after Michael Murphy tells her he's having an affair in An Unmarried Woman. Words could not convey the character's state of mind nearly as well as that action. Same for Hannah. Her complete drunken devolvement, the vomit slipping out of her mouth in spite of herself, sliding to the ground. It perfectly depicted exactly what was happening to that character at that time in a way words could not. It was brilliant and authentic.

  • utazdevl

    Tim – I think you have finally hit on my biggest issue with the show, the fact that it wants to say something but doesn't know what to say. Adam's scene with Natalia was “big, bold choice” but what was the commentary? What were the ramifications of Adam's actions, or even Natalia's actions in trying to draw out the inside Adam was hiding?

    Last night's vomiting could have easily been less graphic and had the same effect. The visual of the vomit just seemed to be there to shock and incite conversation, but without any real deep topic to be discussed. More importantly, will there be any work ramifications for Hannah's inappropriate drunken-ness with her co-workers? Dunham (and Apatow) can claim this is all about “real life” but in “real life”, there are consequences for peoples actions. Most of us don't wake up one morning cured of OCD (with no further symptoms for months) or ready to ignore our grandmothers surprising death.

  • Richard Ellis

    shows amount of respect she has for her audience

  • cbranco909

    I feel Lena is quite talented. I am getting tired of all the over analyzing of this show. And no, you don't have to be in a certain demographic to enjoy it — I'm over 40, live in rural Oklahoma, and it's one of my favorite shows.

  • Hurly Ghurley

    I've never heard of the show. But, it sounds rather tiring.

  • divastudies

    It's so odd that people defend the show without having any standard by which to evaluate it. Molloy at least presents support for his questions, which are reasonable critiques. Lean Dunham is marginally talented — not nearly as funny as she thinks she is or how the fans think she is. She is but a one-note wonder. There is so little credible characterization in her writing — like one day have this character do this, oh cool let's have him or her do this now. Trying to shock the audience with unwanted nudity, vulgarity, behaviors, and the like is NOT talent: it's lazy sensationalism. Keep the show, replace her as head writer, and make her keep her clothes on (not because her body is unattractive but because her nudity is unnecessary, adds nothing).

    • Gina Sirois

      A lot of women feel like her nudity serves a purpose: it brings a note of reality back to TV.

      TV is a place where beautiful women go to sleep and wake up in full make-up and yet you never ever see them applying a drop. It's gone past false into full blown stupidity. Girls represents women with the fakery removed. No boob jobs, sometimes bad hair cuts, drinking too much when insecure, US, FLAWS AND ALL.

      The pressures that women are under these days are obscene. We hide all the little embarrassing things we do to try to deal with those standards. Sometimes it's nice to see real women on the screen, telling the story of how F you, we're imperfect but we have each-other.