TV Review: Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ is Next Great HBO Comedy

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CHICAGO – Lena Dunham’s brilliant new HBO series is called “Girls” and not “Women” for a very distinct reason. She’s capturing a rarely-chronicled aspect of the iGeneration, that period where we are definitely not children but also not yet quite adults. And there’s something about the current wave of recession era twentysomethings that’s particularly unique. They grew up in a time in which they were told they were special only to have the real world show them otherwise. If these sound like heady themes for an HBO comedy, they are, but you should know that “Girls” is no ordinary comedy. It’s smart, raunchy, daring, and so well-written as to feel unlike anything else on TV. It’s not perfect (despite what some critics may have you believe) but it’s close enough that it could be so by the end of its first season. TV Rating: 4.5/5.0
TV Rating: 4.5/5.0

At the end of the first episode of “Girls,” Hannah (show star/creator/writer/director Lena Dunham, who released “Tiny Furniture” in 2010) asks her parents to essentially pay her to write her memoir, which she makes clear that she has to live in order to write (she’s only on chapter four). It’s a brilliant bookend structure to the episode (which opens with her parents cutting her off in a SPECTACULAR scene) in that Hannah represents so many people who think that just living their lives is enough to warrant a monthly stipend. It’s not ego that dictates it but the sense that young people are still so worried about figuring out who they are that they ignore formerly assumed basics of society like getting a job, a stable relationship, a home, etc. They are caught up in the quarter-life crisis and little things like bills and rent money aren’t about to derail their journey of self-discovery.

Photo credit: HBO

If this sounds like a program about egocentric, unlikable people, that’s OK. You’re not supposed to love Hannah and her friends. The true genius of the show is that Dunham is willing to make a television comedy that doesn’t, like so many other TV programs, beg you to love its protagonists. Some critics have turned off to “Girls” because the characters are unlikable. They have missed the point. There’s a key line at the end of the second episode in which an older character says, “You couldn’t pay me to be 24 again.” There’s no idolization here. Just identification with a time when young people think they’re still the center of the universe even when they’re clearly not. You end up liking Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna not because the writing asks you too but because they feel real. That’s daring television.

Photo credit: HBO

Hannah is the lead, a girl who’s often clever in 140 characters on Twitter but less so in her real life. She’s an awkward protagonist, a girl who makes bad decisions (the guy she’s having sex with is a notable tool) and says awkward things (there’s a moment in a job interview that’s hard to watch) but who seems genuinely like a warm-hearted soul. She cares about her friends. She is creative and smart. But like so many twentysomethings, she worries about her appearance, has casual sex with a jerk because he pays attention to her, and can’t keep a job. Dunham gets this character perfectly, finding her voice in an amazing way.

What’s even more amazing is that she finds other voices as well. Most twentysomething writers fall flat when trying to write multiple characters (heck, so do most thirty- and fortysomething writers). It would be easy to see how Dunham could write Hannah, the character she plays and probably identifies the most with, but what’s most remarkable is how well-crafted and unique the rest of the cast comes off as well. The writing is some of the best on TV. And she writes as well for her supporting cast (including stellar turns by Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari as her parents) as she does for her quartet of female leads.

Hannah’s friends are led by roommate Marnie (Allison Williams), a beautiful girl who seems to have it all but could use a little of the chaos of her best friend’s life in her now-boring relationship. She’s a type A who seems to be coming apart due to her own predictability. Williams is spectacular here, giving one of the best performances in the first three episodes. She’s charismatic, believable, loyal to her friends, and, in many ways, the character I found the most interesting.

Photo credit: HBO

And, here’s yet another praise for Dunham’s writing ability — she gives her co-stars arcs that are as interesting as her own. If it’s Hannah’s show in the premiere, it becomes more of Marnie’s in the second and third episode, and characters who at first seem something of a distraction like Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, daughter of David Mamet & Lindsey Crouse) get amazingly well-rounded scenes in episode three. Writing for an ensemble is hard to do and Dunham gets it after only three episodes. Jessa is the world traveler who seems to have it all together but isn’t as stable or confident as she appears and Shoshanna is Jessa’s roommate, a seemingly innocent girl who loves (and references) “Sex and the City” but doesn’t have much real-world experience.

You should be warned that “Girls” is defiantly raunchy. Jokes about anal sex, STDs, masturbation, condoms, role-playing — this is not for everyone. And yet it never feels like the raunch is there purely to shock. I do wonder if twentysomethings actually sit around talking about sex and the men in their lives as much as the characters do on “Girls,” but the third episode (easily the best) hints at what this show could truly become — one of the best on TV. It may even be that already.

“Girls” stars Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, and Zosia Mamet. It premieres on HBO on Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 9:30pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

BB's picture

I love this show! I’m

I love this show! I’m gutted I had to miss it yesterday … hopijng to catch it On-Demand!

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