This season of Girls is pushing forth the most complex comedy on television, in that it so deliberately balances screwball comedy with stark human drama. The titular characters this year are just as carefree, just as emotional, just as aggressive, and just as lovably flawed as ever. I say that with a sprinkle of hesitation because, let’s face it, these are really, really unlikable characters at times.

Lena Dunham’s Hannah is the show’s most perplexing work. She goes after these toxic relationships, most obviously with Adam, yet her breakdown earlier this season about how it’s her choice to leave him shows us an actual change in character. What became frustrating last season was Hannah’s inability to recognize that this relationship was so disastrously harmful to her; it’s only fitting given the show’s grounding in reality, but as a viewer we want what’s best for our heroine. And only someone like Lena Dunham could give us a heroine we sometimes really despise. 

Her character’s exploration of cocaine and her seedy jealousy speak wonders about not only her revelations over the past few episodes, but her friends as well. Allison Williams, just as sexy as ever, is providing us with a woman who embodies many her age: she’s ambitious to a certain extent, settles for certainty, and then gives up on it when everyone else seems to have it better. Take a look at her boyfriend, who last year gave us an incredibly sympathetic male figure in a show so heavily dominated by feminine forces; now he’s been shunned slightly because, well, he’s acting on inhibitions.

These are characters driven by emotions, not logic. I find that one of the show’s most defining personality traits. It’s also the most inaccessible; people like something definitive and tangible to hold onto while watching television or film. Here, we’re provided with remarkably well-rounded characters who interact with each other based on whim and dependence. They have each other in their lives, and decide to keep that, through thick and thin. Why? Because that’s life, that’s how people act; there’s not a lot of logic behind staying with ones we grow apart from, but the idea of staying with them works for us.

Shoshanna was the annoying, innocent girl last year, but she’s transformed into something of a revelation in the show’s mix of sexually promiscuous leads. She’s allowed us to identify with her by falling in love with the man she’s spending so much time with. While those elements, and his homelessness have felt a tad forced, I’m sure they’re developing into something quite extraordinary. Her scene on the bench as they discuss their feelings, and as he mentions that she shouldn’t find anything to like in him, and that he was hiding this about himself for so long, is remarkable. The scene being capped by, “I love you so fucking much,” is merely icing on the cake. It’s pretty difficult to not have at least smiled at that little gem. 

This season’s defining mark is Jessa’s breakdown in Hannah’s tub. Jessa is a character many hate, but she’s the free spirit that many her age are; it’s only fitting that she’s the one many dislike because she does everything everyone wants to do. She mentions how she’ll look 50 when she’s 30; her spontaneous husband, played solidly by Chris O’Dowd, points out her flaws and dissects the hell out of her character. Shows often fall apart when they put characters under the scalpel like that; Girls feels heightened and more emotional now, for it provided us with Jessa being characterized all the more.

Look at how her and Hannah lie in the tub, naked, exposed in the most obvious way to each other. They’re baring everything physically; this is a scene many shows and films have used before. But they don’t hold this one’s impact: Jessa has never been an emotional character, so distanced from love and connection that when she begins crying, right in front of Hannah, who looks on the verge of tears, it’s the series’ most defining shot. Here’s a character we have struggled to connect with because she lacks sympathy and often doesn’t illicit passion for anything except her vague notion of life; now she’s given her moment of self-realization, and it’s closed out by an uncomfortable joke about blowing her nose in the tub.

I’ve often told people that a show called Boys wouldn’t be as interesting. Girls shows us that, once again, females can be more compelling leads when they have a brilliant creative mind like Lena Dunham behind the camera. Trust me, I don’t like her nude scenes any more than I like hearing an elaborate description of buttholes on the show, but when a show can provide us with uncomfortable notions of sexuality and spot-on humor in one individual scene, it’s doing something special.

Girls might be developing into the best show on television. And I never once thought that I’d be saying that. 

Written by Eric Forthun