Saturday January 12, 2013

When a young man locks a young woman inside his art installation, a claustrophobic box made of TV screens blaring loud footage of death and decay, the viewer can’t help but root for the woman to burst out screaming. We expect her to react angrily at being subjected to the flood of violent, disturbing imagery. Instead she emerges, shaken and distraught, to exclaim, "You are so fing brilliant!"

The woman is played by Allison Williams, who really steps out from her pretty-girl role this season. The show is "Girls."

The scene illustrates the state of relationships that typify the series, where 20-something women put themselves in abusive situations -- physical, sexual and emotional -- en route to finding themselves. We yearn for them to get it together, but we know the continued life of the comedy depends on their not quite getting it together.

The HBO series "Girls," a lightning rod for feminists, critics and cultural anthropologists when it debuted last season, returns even stronger and equally provocative on Sunday. Judging by the first four episodes, the new season contains more laugh-out-loud funny moments, the char-acters are well defined and the men get more prominence. The quest of a generation to define itself as unique beyond the parameters set by parents continues to fascinate.

Lena Dunham, the series’ creator-writer who plays Hannah, paints herself/her character in an achingly honest (often nude) light.


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Unflattering camera angles are the least of it. Andrew Rannells is terrific as Hannah’s gay roommate/ crush. The two of them have a lovely comedic chemistry as they, and Marnie (Williams), explore modern sexual politics and old-fashioned hurt feelings. Chris O’Dowd gives a fascinating read to the role of Jessa’s (Jemima Kirke) new husband.

Gender politics have never been more achingly funny. Whether snorting cocaine off a toilet seat at a nightclub, applying for jobs with impossibly difficult, irrational bosses, or attempting to cook noodles, the characters display a limitless self-involvement. Analyzing every breath they take, they miss the bigger picture, like Shoshanna (the wonderful Zosia Mamet) and boyfriend Ray (Alex Karpovsky) trying to sort out their feelings, fearful of acknowledging their connection.

It’s fresh, it’s bold, it’s uncomfortable at times, and that’s as it should be. The 20s are tough, and each generation tries to outwit the growing pains in a slightly different way. The problem, they find, is that it’s like trying to outsmart gravity.

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- If the creators of ABC’s "The Middle" have their way, poor Sue Heck’s teeth will never be fixed. Actress Eden Sher wore a set of removable braces to her audition to play the daughter on the ABC comedy, helping her win the job. She hasn’t taken them off since, at least on camera. They’re the signature of the geeky, lovable loser that is high school soph Sue Heck.

"I don’t ever get recognized by anyone," said the 21-year-old Sher, who in real life has straight teeth, clear skin and a youthful touch of Hollywood glamour. "I don’t get offended by it. I take it as a compliment."

Sher has had the removable braces since a short stint on "Weeds." She had braces in real life but had them taken off in the midst of a season’s filming. Wanting continuity, the show had her orthodontist prepare a set of braces that can be taken on and off.

"I would love to see Sue get her braces off at some point," she said recently. "The writers have stopped taking my calls on this."