As he gets older, Judd Apatow is becoming a knuckleballer. A pitcher who doesn’t have to throw dialogue at ninety-eight miles per hour, or maybe simply doesn’t want to get pigeonholed as that guy. This week he got comparable results by lobbing trickier stuff, surprising the viewer, and maximizing sentiment. It’s fun to watch him switch up his game.

This is his first shot at co-writing Girls, and while it feels misogynistic to credit him entirely with the unique positives of last night’s show, it did bare some of his hallmarks, particularly Freaks and Geeks‘ bittersweetness of nostalgia, and the ways our childhood homes ripen with age. The simplicity of this episode, in particular its closing moments, made its action seem so light and airy that for the first time this season, I was compelled to watch the episode over again from scratch, because it felt as though maybe I’d missed something. Not for lack of quality or content, but because the action moves at a more relaxed pace: apropos (Apatowopros, if you will) for this escape from New York into Hannah’s hometown of East Lansing, Michigan.

While this may seem a stretch, what this episode actually reminded me of were the early films of post-war Italian directors like Federico Fellini and Ermanno Olmi, when they made gorgeous, autobiographical movies about small town youths wrestling with the temptations of city life. Hannah’s one-night stand Eric the Pharmacist is the biggest counterpoint to New York living – he owns the local drugstore with his dad and looks like a gentler James Spader. Yet even on this decidedly un-intimidating date, Hannah audibly psychs herself up in the mirror: “You live in New York, therefore you are naturally interesting”. “It’s not up to you to fill all the pauses”. “The worst stuff that you say sounds better than the best stuff that some other people say”. The implication that she was trying to make old clothes left behind at home was a clever touch so subtle that I may have imagined it entirely.

Structurally this episode does something I would like to see more of: spending thirty minutes on one character of the quartet, removed from the group dynamic. Hannah behaves quite differently outside of New York, away from Marnie and Adam. There’s a kind of relaxed timidity to her movements on her quaint pizza shop date. You’d almost think she’s softening a bit under the security blanket of home, until we catch Hannah’s reaction to the talent portion of the quasi-memorial benefit of a seemingly dead schoolmate whom she doesn’t remember. It’s clear that the pace of the place is too slow for her now, and that there is something corny and embarrassing about these people that she feels she’s outgrown. And I do like that when asked what her real job is in New York, she responds “I’m a writer,” with confidence, even if it’s quickly followed by explaining that being one means she’s broke.

From the Department of Unbridled Joy: her parents’ anniversary date was adorable as hell. They dress up nicely to go to a fancy restaurant (S’il Vous Plate!) and make each other laugh with Woody Allen impressions. Peter Scolari – renouncing his career resignation as a bargain basement Tom Hanks and becoming his own man – in particular seems to revel in playing a dad who’s corny but still funny, even when speaking with the resignation of a man who long ago put aside childish things. He expects his daughter will have to give up her long shot career dreams, because he gave up his when he was her age. Yet we still get touches of his goofy side, as when he holds up a picture of bananas when picking up “Hannah Banana” from the airport. Becky Ann Baker was again fearless as a mascara-drenched menopausal mom far removed from her Freaks and Geeks matron saint of patience, and both she and Scolari deserve any and all high-fives available for getting naked to great effect. But in that restaurant, what shines through is Mom and Pop Horvath sound so different together than they do around their daugher. They seem happier and more confident, more honest and thus cooler. You always wonder what the folks who raised you sound like when you’re not around, and while any child might find it odd to be classified by their father with the backhanded comment of “likable”, this scene confirms it: the ‘rents are alright.

The sex scene with Hannah, in which she asks if Eric wants her to leave her boots on before telling him matter-of-factly that she likes to be pressured in bed is one of those shorthand moments of writing in which you learn a lot from placing surface tension upon what had previously only been implied. Here Hannah verifies that she’s far more adventurous than the mannish boy who moments earlier chuckled at how serious and worrisome she can be. Asking Eric if she’s “tight like a baby” is now a way of gauging his self-worth, not her own. We watch here how sex reveals who we are, whether we want it to not.

Which brings us to Hannah’s closing conversation with Adam. He wears a dainty floral sleep mask and as Hannah tells him that she slept with Eric, he replies without a shred of jealousy, “Was it fun?”  With each passing week he becomes less of a caricature and more of a nuanced, fascinating figure.  It doesn’t seem accidental that immediately after Marnie grills Hannah about bilking her parents for rent money, she calls Adam. He is once freedom from responsibility and an inspiring, take-no-prisoners figure. I do wonder how much of a future they have together now that Adam has softened and revealed that he has mushy feelings for Hannah, or at least misses her when she’s not around. A tamer show would likely have him get clingy and saccharine, just as a tamer show would have never turned the tables on his bromantics in the first place.

The lovebirds’ discussion of New York here was particularly interesting. Hannah’s view of the isle as an entity that does not want her – yet whom she insists on continuing to make a damn good effort at conquering – certainly seems analogous to her relationship with Adam, and to her dual interest in the submissive and dominant boundaries of sex. The pop psychology I’m going for here, is that we citizens of Gotham may be here because we enjoy being bound up by this city, even if we are rarely gagged, remaining the Tweeting and Tumbling capitol of the world as we do. That we may be here because we’re a little sadistic, a little masochistic, and increasingly willing to tell the neighborhood all about it.

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