The False Depth of Dudes: Why Girls' Guys Are All So Ridiculous

Our roundtable discusses "Incidentals," the eighth episode of the HBO show's third season.

This week's panelists: Ashley FettersChris Heller, and Spencer Kornhaber

Kornhaber: I laughed a lot at the dialogue on this episode of Girls, but my favorite parts may have been the facial expressions. There was Hannah’s furrowed brow and shifty eyes while Adam’s new castmate Desi led an acoustic singalong of Bob Dylan/Michelle Branch’s “Roll on John.” There was Marnie’s dropped-jaw disgust while Ray dumped her. And there were Jessa’s pursed lips at Jasper’s manic ranting (“You can lie to your friends, you can lie to your parents, you can lie to the mirror, but you can't lie to me!”) in the kids’ store.

Note the line that followed all of these excellent looks directed at men. Hannah: “Are they fucking kidding me?” Marnie: “Are you fucking serious?” Jessa: “You’re high.”

Girls, as we’ve discussed, is about a lot of things: entitled millennials, female friendships, career compromises. It’s also, of course, about gender. And this episode, for me, helped crystalize one of the show’s main motifs on the subject. Call it The False Depth of Dudes.

The girls of Girls attract viewer criticism for their self-centeredness. But the reason their self-centeredness stands out so much is that most of the female characters have no filter. Hannah in particular says whatever she’s feeling whenever she wants; Marnie has evolved further in that direction this season as well, and that’s been fun/grating to see. But the guys are different. They’re constantly trying to prove their intelligence and profundity.

There’s Desi, performing campfire songs and spinning tales about vision quests at a hotel party—even Elijah knows the guy’s full of it (“I hate myself for loving him”). There’s Jasper, mansplaining to Shoshanna about college (“I know!” she shrieks, hitting him) and to Jessa about her true nature. There’s Ray, who even in ending his relationship with Marnie drips pretention with every word. All these guys think they’re smarter than the women around them. All are shown to be ridiculous.

(The ur-example of this is the all-but-forgotten Booth Jonathan, referenced in this episode as “a wiener in a halfshell.”)

This is actually a pretty radical portrayal—contrary to certain stereotypes about the sexes, on Girls it’s men who are calculated and made-up, not women. And I think it’s often true to life; society’s idea of how men should act can often result in displays of phony, condescending self-seriousness.

For the entire series, Adam also has displayed false depth—welding inscrutable sculptures, lecturing his girlfriend about processed foods and online gossip, picking some notion of artistic integrity over employment. But one cool thing about this season, and particularly this episode, has been the way he’s slowly started to scale back the BS, accepting Hannah for Hannah and dropping the attitude that prevented him from landing a job.

That process is part of growing up, which, as we talked about two weeks back, is something all the main characters have been trying to do lately. Much of this episode felt tense because time after time, you expected someone to ruin a normal-person situation by being childish and weird. But at the casting director’s office, Adam politely complies when asked to get off his phone, and then nervously chuckles when told he landed the part; he saves his more animalistic emotions for the bathroom, where he muffle his victory roars with paper towels. Hannah freaks out at her adult-sized paycheck and says she’s going to “make it rain,” but the shopping spree we then witness isn’t reckless at all—she just bought one nice dress.

The one exception is Jessa, who feigns happiness with her newly stable life—“I eat lunch every day!”—but then gives into Jasper’s cajoling, takes coke, and robs her store. Hannah’s right: They took her out of rehab too soon.

I loved the closing scene with Hannah and Adam in the bathtub. He tells her he finds Elijah ridiculous; she says the same of Desi. She confides her Patti Lupone-induced fears about Adam getting the Broadway job, but assures him that she loves him and is glad he’s doing what he wants to do. His reply: “Ditto.” It’s a lovely, genuine, honest exchange—one of the few we’ve seen on the show where a woman says how she really feels, and a guy doesn’t try to make her feel bad for it.

What do you all think: Is the False Depth of Dudes a thing? Is the show being unfair to men? Or am I reading into things too much?

Heller: Well, ahem, you see, to understand the psychological makeup of the contemporary adult male, firstly, we must rigorously investigate the socioeconomic systems that dominate the masculine experience in 21st-century America.

Just kidding. False depth is most definitely a thing, Spencer—and I would know, since I'm guilty of it almost as often as the guys of Girls. (Except for Desi, Broadway's newfound king of pretense.) While every character on the show is self-centered, and every character expresses that selfishness through a persona, the men are much more bigheaded about it. I'm with you on that. I even agree that Girls isn't unfair to men—or, at least, it treats them no less critically than it does women.

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