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john doyle

In the hierarchy of things that interest the most vitally important demographic (younger women who watch little TV but set trends and buy stuff), the HBO series Girls is up there, high on the list. In this neck of the woods, it is somewhere below keen interest in the location of new Target stores in Canada, but definitely above interest in the incredibly boring Oscar race.

So far, this second season of Lena Dunham's sometimes gently satiric and sometimes poignant comedy series has shuffled along rather than strode forward. People have been a tad annoyed by it.

And little wonder. What have we got so far? (I'm not in the demographic, but let's go for it here.) The opening episode, centred around a falling-apart party at the apartment shared by Hannah and Elijah, had a few memorable lines. Such as the question put to Shoshanna: "Do you miss your hymen?" and it did have that farcical scene of Elijah and Marnie attempting what cannot be talked about in polite company, an event that triggered a winding, ongoing plot twist. At the same time, the episode appeared unfocussed, indulgent. A bunch of twentysomethings being drunk. Hence the annoyance factor set in.

Next came the I Get Ideas episode, which saw Marnie defeated in her quest for another lowly job in the art racket, and her decision to work as a hostess at a restaurant. The memorable line directed at Marnie was, "You could like totally get a pretty-person job." There was Hannah's bizarre negotiation of her semi-relationship with Republican black dude Sandy (Donald Glover), which reeked of plot ephemera. And, of course, the baroque meltdown of Hannah's ex, Adam, which tended to overwhelm the entire episode. Especially arch were his whiny numbskull declarations, such as, "As a man living my man life, my desire for you cannot be repressed.…"

With Sunday's episode, Bad Friend, the series was resolutely back on stride. It was funny, for a change, and not trying maniacally. Hannah's gig with an online magazine, which called on her to do cocaine and/or engage in a threesome, was spot-on snark at the ludicrous pretensions of limit-pushing journalism that many online outlets engage in. The introduction of the ex-junkie Laird (Jon Glaser, who was superb) was deft comedy. And the line, "All the junkies in my building totally hang out by the mailboxes," was sublime. Hannah and Elijah's nightclub adventures were drenched in drollery and the reappearance of Laird, buying socks at a late-night drugstore, suggested that Dunham had found a comic groove that intertwined plot lines, instead of wandering aimlessly. As for Marnie's encounter with the artist she initially loathed, her character blossomed rather than acting as a perambulating symbol of disappointed youth.

I can assure you that next Sunday's episode is a small masterpiece of indelicate farce. Hannah throws a dinner party, oblivious to the weighty tensions among the invitees. Meanwhile, Jessa is taken for dinner with the parents of her husband Thomas John (Chris O'Dowd). That's a doozy of disintegrating dinner-table dynamics.

It is, as I think you will find, a relief to have Dunham largely working in dialogue spoken while characters sit for a meal. Her ear for the fidgety but fraught talk of twentysomethings is uncanny. And there's genuine comic gold in scenes that are honed for humour, yet trenchant.

The sloppiness of the first episodes seems to have evaporated. The comedy has hardened into something that feels genuine, and there's more self-examination, less self-exposure. It's the self-exposure element that can really get on your nerves.

The first season of Girls also took time to find authentic wit and genuine poignancy. The first episodes of this season only gave succour to those who found the entire exercise in chronicling this group of people to be shallow and without meaning. What's happened again is that Dunham seems to be putting her energy into creating well-shaped scenes of comedy, and allowing moments of pain to emerge organically from carefully planted hints of fear and dread. There is comic subtlety, there is a wry tone about the innocence of her characters and less emphasis on their woeful irresponsibility. Good.

Airing Monday:

Tonight's Murdoch Mysteries (CBC, 9 p.m.) is called A Study in Sherlock. The gist is this – "When Murdoch pursues a murderous gang of armed robbers, his prime suspect is a man claiming to be Sherlock Holmes." Indeed. And take note that CBC has made changes to its weeknight schedule starting today. The encore presentation of Dragons' Den now airs Mondays at 8 p.m. and Mr. D moves to Wednesdays at 8 p.m., along with The Ron James Show, which airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. Aren't you glad I told you? Now tell your PVR.

All times ET. Check local listings.