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'Girls' review: A great opener to season 4

Lena Dunham stars in the fourth season of

Lena Dunham stars in the fourth season of HBO's "Girls." Credit: HBO / Craig Blankenhorn

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Hannah (Lena Dunham) is preparing to leave for the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Adam (Adam Driver) is freaking out. Shosh (Zosia Mamet) has graduated from NYU, while Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is still in AA. Marnie (Allison Williams) and her musician pal Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) are getting, umm, a little more serious.

MY SAY Even with a new locale (Iowa) and an old story (Adam . . . Hannah . . . Splitsville), "Girls" is as "Girls" always was -- sharply observed, intensely self-aware and very funny. Sunday's opener ("Iowa") is terrific, and a comedic torpedo in the side of every barista bar from here to Williamsburg jostling with hip parents and their preening brats, who squall during the jazz-during-brunch sessions. Even better are Desi and Marnie as the would-be Belle and Sebastian of Bedford Avenue. Just priceless . . . or is the word I'm looking for "brutal"?

Meanwhile, Iowa -- or at least the Brooklyn sets dressed up to look like Iowa -- fulfills a vital narrative mission: getting Hannah out of her old discomfort zone and put into a brand-new one, where established habits die hard or not at all, and she meets a whole new set of friends to torment.

But "Girls" also largely remains a tale of trivial pursuits, with mock ironic observations about people in a Seinfeldian cosmos who never grow or necessarily want to, either. That's the running joke -- a good one -- while "Girls" and Dunham are at their very best in those precisely observed moments of existential tail-chasing.

I guess I just can't quite shake the nagging feeling they still don't know where to take these characters -- or their stories -- much beyond that.

GRADE B+

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