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'Girls' Season 3 premiere review: Strong, but predictable

"Girls" main cast members (from left, Zosia Mamet,

"Girls" main cast members (from left, Zosia Mamet, Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham and Allison Williams) film scenes for the third season of the hit HBO comedy in Greenport near Claudio's dock. (June 18, 2013) Credit: Randee Daddona

As you can tell and see, this has been a busy week for television, but for HBO, the phrase "great expectations" may be the best word... err, words. "Girls" and the intriguing "True Detective" arrive. Let's deal with "Girls" first, however. More than just about anything else this week, this is where the attention of empires (Time Warner) and boroughs (Brooklyn) will be focused. Good? Bad? Will the "Critical Backlash" begin? (You know how Critical Backlashes work, right? First, critics like me fall over themselves in abject adoration and then we back off, realizing that "abject adoration" is kind of abject, after all. Besides, we all have short attention spans -- me especially.) 

So enough! To my review...

"Girls," 10 p.m. Sunday on HBO

What it's about: Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Adam (Adam Driver) have entered a state of domestic Brooklyn bliss, which gets a fingernails-across-the-chalkboard wake-up call when he runs into his ex, Natalia (Shiri Appleby) at Ray's (Alex Karpovsky) coffee/pizza restaurant. Meanwhile, Jessica (Jemima Kirke) makes a new (non-romantic) friend, Jasper (Richard E. Grant, "Gosford Park") who is older and at least intermittently wiser: "You have to learn when honesty is righteous," he counsels, "and when honesty is nothing more than a party trick." Marnie (Allison Williams) is heartbroken over Charlie (Christopher Abbott, now out of the series after a creative-direction dust-up with Dunham).

My say: It's hard to precisely pinpoint what's missing this season besides Charlie, though to a certain extent "humor" is on the short list. Having seen the first three episodes, "Girls" is simply less funny, less sad, less shocking, less empathetic and more... predictable.

You'll note that's a lot of "lesses" and one very unwelcome "more." But while a critical backlash may be scheduled to begin, there's little chance a viewer one will. The reason is that "Girls" is still a show fans want to see their reflection in -- and which still has enough self-awareness to give them an ironic detachment from that reflection.

"Girls" also still gets a multitude of little things right -- details that are memorable and razor-sharp, along with guest actors (like Grant and Rita Wilson, back as Marnie's mom) who nail them with precision. The early part of the third may not be as good as the first season or stretches of the second, but for a few million anxiously awaiting Sunday, it's still good enough.

Bottom line: Strong open Sunday, the next two episodes less so. I'll get back to you later on the rest of the season.

Grade: B

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