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Maybe HBO's 'Camping' Is the TV Embodiment of Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner's Former Relationship

By Dustin Rowles | TV | November 26, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | November 26, 2018 |


Maybe you’ve read the Lena Dunham profile up today on The Cut, or maybe you haven’t. It’s a brilliantly written profile of an exhausting, insufferable person who is exhausting and insufferable (Roxana will have more on that shortly). My main takeaway from the profile, however, is that Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner are done not only as creative partners but as friends.

Dunham’s split with Konner seems harder to process than the one with Antonoff. The women had an intensely close friendship, which they often described in interviews as co-dependent. Others told me Konner was like Dunham’s “mom.” Her phone, Dunham jokes, is full of photos of herself and Konner still, as if they were married … The only times Dunham gets uncharacteristically tight-lipped are when I ask questions about Konner. When she starts her answers, they are usually hedged with “All I will say is” or “I don’t want to speak for Jenni.” It seems there was no explosive breaking point but rather a slow dissolution. People who are close to both of them say they are no longer friends.

With that lens, it’s hard not to see HBO’s Camping with an entirely different perspective, and better appreciate what the series has evolved into — a strangely funny, awkward, and occasionally brilliant show about the dissolution of a marriage (or marriages). Granted, the first few episodes were almost unbearable, but ultimately necessary to set up the last few. In spite of Dunham’s arguments to the contrary, at the outset, Jennifer Garner’s character (a stand-in for Dunham, in my mind, at least) was terrible and incredibly unsympathetic. In many ways, she still is — they all are (except David Tennant’s put-upon Walt), but I don’t believe that the point of Camping is to redeem these characters. It’s to illustrate that they’re better off without each other and that what makes them awful is maintaining friendships and relationships that they have clearly outgrown, and for which they all feel a strong sense of resentment. They’re bitter and angry and toxic because they have chosen to maintain these unhealthy relationships.

It’s a fitting show for Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham to end their creative partnership (and according to that profile, their friendship) on. Sometimes, we hate who we become when we are with certain people, and perhaps the best thing the eight main characters on this show can do on next week’s season finale is simply to decide to go their separate ways realize that they’re all better off without each other.

In this week’s penultimate episode, we finally arrive at Walt’s birthday party. After spending too much time together, everyone is feeling on edge. Carleen is missing, Jandice and Miguel are on the skids, George is looking for a revenge fuck to get back at Nina Joy for cheating on him, and Joe? He’s just a sad bastard with severe addiction issues that he has no interest in addressing.

In the midst of all this, Kathryn (Garner) endeavors to celebrate Walt’s birthday, but when the effort is met with awkward weirdness, Jandice suggests they all do drugs, and so drugs they do. It frees them to say the things that have been under the surface. Jandice tells Miguel that she’s already emotionally on Tinder; when the man that Nina Joy has been sleeping with (Rene Gube) shows up, George has a rage meltdown and Nina Joy leaves him; Carleen tells Joe that she’s done with him, too; and then Carleen finally also stands up to Kathryn and tells her that the reason why she moved to Arizona was to get the hell away from her.

In spite of all the splits, however, Kathryn and Walt seem to come out on the other side of it, and they even briefly enjoy a moment together. “You see what we can accomplish when we work together?” Walt says affectionately to Kathryn, who volleys with an uncharacteristically funny retort: “Did you know that chickens die when they have sex?” she says while kissing her husband. “They do?” Walt asks. “They do when I have sex with them,” Kathryn jokes, and you can see — for a fleeting moment — that somewhere underneath the layers and layers of Type-A bullshit that Kathryn can actually be a likable person.

Then she ruins everything. “Nina Joy and I made up,” she says, giddily. “We’re friends! We realized neither one of us want to fuck our husbands. That’s what we bonded over,” she tells her husband before realizing what she’s said.

“You know what, Kathryn? Go fuck yourself,” Walt finally says, in the moment we’ve been waiting for all season long.

In my mind, I like to think of Walt as Jenni Konner, the person who has put all the work into the marriage, who has maintained it in spite of all of Dunham’s efforts to destroy it. I don’t know what the last straw was for Konner and Dunham — the profile suggests, like Kathryn and Walt, their relationship has been slowly deteriorating for a while — but I like to think that Konner got sick of all the attacks that she has personally withered because of Dunham’s antics, and that she finally said, “You know what, Lena? Go fuck yourself.”

It gives me a whole new appreciation for the show.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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Header Image Source: HBO