EP Jenni Konner on How a First-Season Scene About a Boy Helped 'Girls' Find Its Footing
By Stacy Lambe
No one loves a great scene more than the person who first dreamed it up -- the writer. We're asking iconic shows' creators and writers to tell ETonline all about the moment on their series that they most cherished getting to see make it from script to screen.
Since it first premiered in 2012, Girls has told the harsh and hilarious stories of four twenty-something women learning how to navigate life after college in New York City. For four seasons, we’ve watched these awkward girls evolve into slightly less awkward young women -- in part thanks to the boys -- err, men -- in their lives.
For Hannah -- played by show creator Lena Dunham -- that’s Adam (Adam Driver), an aloof, sexually aggressive part-time actor who starts the series as Hannah’s friend with benefits but later becomes her boyfriend.
“When we shot the pilot, we thought, ‘He’s going to maybe only be in the first episode,’” Jenni Konner, Girls executive producer and co-writer, reveals to ETonline. “We really didn’t know what his character was going to be. And then we were like, ‘Oh no, we need him to be a series regular.’”
As the series has progressed, Adam’s presence has become an integral part of Hannah’s life, and their relationship has become the core romance of the show. But it’s at the end of episode seven, “Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident” -- when the two characters decide to date -- that Konner cites as not only her favorite scene but as pivotal to shaping the series.
It’s there, in a back alley of Bushwick, Adam calls out Hannah for only thinking about herself after she becomes upset she didn’t know he was an alcoholic. “You never asked,” he screams in damnation to the whole litany concerns Hannah has about his character. And when she refuses to leave, Adam eventually confronts her about the status of their relationship.
“There was a moment where we were like, ‘This is exciting,’” Konner says.
We reached Konner by phone to dig into what made that moment a turning point for Girls. These are excerpts from that conversation.
Sometimes a favorite scene, especially for a writer or creator, is not always the expected one. In an episode packed full of one-liners, plenty of plot, and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) on crack, it’s a quieter moment at the end that stands out.
Konner: Lena and I wrote this episode together -- I think it was the first time we wrote together. The thing I love about this scene so much is it was the first time we get to know Adam. When he was created, he was just kind of the shitty guy who you want to be your boyfriend, and he doesn’t want to give you everything you want. And we were thinking, “What a creep this guy is.” He never satisfies her. He’s just a fuck buddy. We want so much more from him. And then we had this scene where she’s complaining to him about what he is and he’s just like, “Hold on, you never asked me a fucking thing about myself. You never asked me anything. You haven’t even tried to get to know me.” It’s the first moment where you go, “Oh, maybe Hannah is an unreliable narrator.” And maybe we’re going to get to learn about other points of view. It’s a moment where we said, “Hey everyone, Adam’s not what you think he is.”
Konner’s co-writing process with Dunham is fairly reliable.
Konner: We tend to check into hotels and watch Scandal and then write and then watch Scandal and then write -- or any Shonda Rhimes procedural. We have a very strong writers’ room where everyone can do their own script. So we sit and break story in a fair amount of detail and then we go off and write together. It’s usually me and Lena or me, Lena and Judd [Apatow] sometimes, just sitting in a room and saying, “You take this scene and I’ll take this scene.”
While there’s plenty of opportunity to improv on the series, it’s during these emotional scenes that everything is filmed as written, even all three characters’ reactions in the taxi just before the episode cuts to credits.
Konner: We always get the scene as written and then we do play around with it. But this one involved a stunt. It was an all-night shoot. It was 150 degrees. And I don’t think we had a lot of space. Also, it’s such a big, pivotal scene -- that was one where we didn’t play around that much because we needed to get what we needed to get. [Adam, Allison, and Lena’s reactions were] completely scripted. The whole idea of that was that we’re going to do this hard cut to Hannah being so happy. I think it’s in the stage direction, “A huge smile spreads across her face.” We knew that was going to be very delicious for her.
In addition to expanding Hannah and Adam’s relationship, the scene also had a larger impact on Adam’s development and what the show could potentially be. Yes, it was called Girls, but now it could also be about the boys.
Konner: We’ve never seen Adam in the real world [before this]. Hannah’s never seen him with his shirt on. None of the girls had met him. He’s kind of a Snuffleupagus of Hannah’s life until that moment. We just sort of thought, “What is Adam’s point of view of this relationship? Let’s show what it looks like from the other side of being in a relationship with Hannah.” It’s similar to introducing someone’s parents. It’s like, “Oh, that’s how you build Shoshanna having those two people.”
I think it set it up for the rest of the show, which is, “You think you know Adam and you don’t.” He has really grown into one of our most fully realized characters and one of my favorite characters, and he’s obviously one of our favorite actors. And he’s so talented. It set up a real human -- it was really fleshing him out and saying, “Now we can spend time alone with him. He can have his own stories.” They’re going to have a relationship, and what does it look like when these two people try to have a normal relationship.
And the episode as a whole taught Dunham and Konner about filming all four girls together and what those relationships looked like.
Konner: That is the first episode where all the girls are in the same place in the first season. So they’re not all together until episode seven, which is pretty untraditional in TV when it’s about a group of girls who don’t see each other all the time. We tried to make it more realistic friendships, but we did want to do an episode where we did see them all interacting and what that would look like. I think it taught us a lot about the four of those girls.