Shoshanna On My Mind: Hearting HBO’s Side Characters

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Perhaps all of this is Samantha Jones’ fault.

My husband recently watched all of the seasons of Sex and the City. He’d never see them combo’d with the fact we just got HBO Now. The show has done some really fucking weird aging, by the way. Like nearly everything Carrie and Big do, which I once considered romantic, is kind of the most deplorable behavior ever which makes people the globe over despise American straight people. I used to want a Big and Carrie kind of love but now I realize I used to also really hate myself. The show also has some,shall we say, “whimsical racism” and backward homophobia- which is fucking bizarre considering the whole thing was pretty much written by gay dudes. I had a hard time rewatching the episodes for these reasons but I’d get stuck in an episode, thanks largely in part to Samantha Jones. Samantha Jones to this day remains the sole survivor of the group who you’d actually want to hang out with and who wouldn’t make you want to step in front speeding New York City bus. She’s the only one who tells the truth, she’s the only one whose personality doesn’t make you die inside and of course, she has all of the good one liners.  All of this Samatha-ness made me think, in a very Carrie Bradshaw way, “I started to wonder did I love HBO shows or did I just like the side characters?” Cue the burning cigarette as I type on a vintage Mac.

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I suppose I should give you some background info: The reason we went down the HBO Now rabbit hole to begin with is because of Game of Thrones. Look, I didn’t want to nerd out over some goddamn fantasy series. Really. But the storytelling is so good I had no choice. And now I’m some sheep all invested in these sword wielding weirdos. Such is life. Instead of getting cable or waiting until the series comes out on DVD(which we had been doing) we chose HBO Now. It was a good choice. I am invested in Game of Thrones despite really hating the poorly plotted mountain of misogynistic garbage that was season 5. A lot of that has to do with the characters too. Just so we are clear- a great Game of Thrones episode for me contains one or all of the following:

  1. Direwolves
  2. Tryion Lannister
  3. Dragons
  4. Brienne of Muthafucking Tarth

I don’t have time for 45 minutes of Sansa whining or John Snow brooding in a corner. Ditto whatever bullshittery they’ve cooked up with the Red Woman or the assortment of a-holes currently ruining the North at a snail’s pace. But I will put up with these things however if an episode has some great, juicy character stuff. Four minutes with Lord Varys or Davos, for example, can make some other not terrific scenes easier to digest. In general, I think season 6 is back on track because of that very thing. We are getting more character stuff and faster moving storylines that push along the action. And this season has had some incredible (if not heartbreaking) scenes featuring all of my favorite GOT things. And 10 minutes of Brienne with a sword goes a long, long way in my book.

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So the side characters aren’t the only reason I heart GOT but what about other HBO shows? We’ve also added Silicon Valley to the rotation. While I think Mike Judge is probably the best comedic chronicler of the mundane, this show has a lead character problem. Richard, our protagonist programmer waffles between endearing dorky and “Oh. My. God. Dude. Get it together”-ness. His dorkiness can also morph into uppity and judgey (says the guy judging fictional characters from his computer) and he can be hard to root for when you want to smack him in the head. Thank god for Jared, Dinesh and Gilfoyle. These side characters mixed in with an assortment of Silicon Valley tech misfits make Richard palatable. When the show is brilliant (and it frequently is) it lets these geniuses with zero social skills flounder in the real world and finds big laughs in parodying this universe that creates tech superstars. Plus, every single line that Kumail Nanjiani as Dinesh delivers is comedy gold. The guy can say more with his eyebrows than any other actor on the planet. This is a compliment, by the way. Dinesh and Gilfoyle are the frenemy, genius progression of Judge’s own Beavis and Butthead and utterly entertaining to watch.

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The one thing that all of these HBO shows have in common is fantastic casts. Casts so fantastic that they can, at times, make up for the weak parts of the show as a whole. Which brings us to Shoshanna. Shoshanna Shapiro, for those uninitiated, is quirky, motor-mouthed mess of early 20-something emotions who steals every scene in Girls. According to tv trivia, Shoshanna was intended to be a single episode character but I’m glad she’s stuck around. There’s a lot of feelings about Girls out there on the internet and a lot of feelings about Lena Dunham. While I don’t want to wade in well-tread waters, I will admit I certainly fell into the “this whole thing annoys the shit out of me” camp when the show first came out. But we’ve watched the first three seasons and I gotta say I’ve changed my mind. I mean yes the narrative can be shrill and annoying but I think that’s really accurate for the age of people they’re portraying. And when Dunham finds the funny in situations, the show actually soars. Shoshanna, played with comic precision by Zosia Mamet, personifies what’s brilliant about Girls. Simultaneously a parody of 20-something girls as well as a lost lamb in the New York City woods, Mamet pulls off a hell of a hat trick by creating a character that we both laugh at and root for. For the 40 scenes where you want to throttle Marnie and Hannah, you get one scene with Shoshanna and all is nearly forgiven. Point being, I’m sticking it out with Girls through its current season because I hear it keeps getting better and because it means I’ll get more Shoshanna time.

So wait. Did I even answer my own question? Did Carrie ever answer her questions? Who the hell knows. What I do know is an overflow of good side characters means there’s quality writing happening out there in HBO land and in TV land in general. Writers are clearly doing their thang if they can create people we want to see week after week, even it’s only for a few fleeting moments.

Cue the jazzy saxophone over the end credits.

 

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