Comedy television is an incredibly difficult avenue in which to find success. We’re inundated with a multitude of comedy series every day, ranging from the quirky and offbeat to the rote and mundane. Writer/director/actress Lena Dunham is trying her hand at the medium with HBO’s Girls, and what she’s created is a funny, touching, and realistic look at life as an ambitious yet ambivalent twentysomething in the big city. Moreover, Girls fills the need for a smart female-centric series that paints women as strong yet fallible human beings who are entirely relatable and unbelievably funny. Hit the jump to read my review of the series premiere of Girls.
Tiny Furniture writer/director/actress Lena Dunham spearheads this new HBO comedy series as the show’s driving creative force. She wrote and directed the pilot, of which she’s also the lead actress. Dunham plays Hannah, a 24-year-old aspiring writer living in New York City, and we’re introduced to her in the opening scene. She’s having dinner with her parents when halfway through the meal, her mother and father decide to tell her that they’re cutting her off financially. They remind her that they’ve been supporting her since she graduated from college two years ago, and she needs to start living a life free from their tether.
Hannah’s personality becomes crystal clear in how she reacts to the news at hand (disbelief with a touch of “how dare you!”), and we come to understand that she’s not really a bad person, she’s just very young. She believes she has the talent to be a great writer, but she forgets that she has to actually put in the work to become successful. It’s not that she’s lazy; she’s just blissfully ignorant of exactly how hard it is to be an adult.
Throughout the course of the episode, we’re also introduced to Hannah’s three friends Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke), and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet). Marnie is the “motherly” friend of the group, and is played with balanced maturity and self-doubt by Allison Williams. She’s Hannah’s roommate and is always trying to limit the damage that comes from Hannah’s poor decision-making skills, skimming over the poor choices she makes herself. Jessa is a Brit who lives a bohemian lifestyle and appears to have it all figured out. As we soon discover, her “free-living” existence is merely a façade for some deeper insecurities. Shoshanna, to use her own words, is a bit of a “Samantha.” She’s Jessa’s roommate and cousin, and longs to live a life full of extravagance and fun but is bogged down by her own innocence and overall uncoolness.
The pilot is extremely well put together, with a sharp introduction to Hannah and her friends, followed by a hilarious downward spiral towards the end in which Hannah decides to confront her parents about the money situation. The episode also features what might possibly be the most awkward/uncomfortable sex scene played for laughs in recent memory. Hannah goes to see her semi-boyfriend (he’s more like a “sex friend”) played with just the right amount of douchiness and charm by Adam Driver. They proceed to have a spontaneous and hilarious sexual encounter, made all the more funny by Hannah’s reaction to the matter at hand.
Given that the show is a comedy, the important question is, is it funny? The answer is, absolutely. Dunham’s dry demeanor and overall cluelessness plays like gangbusters in the most uncomfortable of situations, and watching the trials and tribulations of Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna is equally enjoyable. They stumble through life, making many of the same mistakes and impulse decisions that I assume a fair amount of viewers will be able to relate to. Any college graduate who’s had the experience of being thrown out into the world with the expectation that you must now become an adult and be successful should feel some familiarity with the situations our lead characters find themselves in. To paraphrase a line from the pilot, college majors don’t mean shit.
Each of the four leads shows great promise and moments of real insight, but all fit the titular description of “girls.” They’re trying to live life on their own in New York City, but at heart these twentysomethings still have a lot of growing up to do. That’s the crux of what Girls is about, and I think that’s where a lot of the reliability comes into play. When do we start to feel like a real “grown-up” and how do we do it? It’s a serious question that everyone must face at one point or another, but it’s a lot more fun watching it play out through Dunham’s eyes.
Where Girls really shines is in its realism and relatability. There are plenty of TV shows that purport to be “realistic,” but Girls goes one better and actually feels familiar. The jokes and aforementioned uncomfortable situations not only work because they’re funny, but their execution is done so matter-of-factly and with such even-handedness that you’ll find yourself swearing the same thing has happened to you. Dunham writes so well that none of the jokes ever feel forced, and the characters’ hilarious reactions come off as perfectly reasonable.
If there’s one qualm I have with the series going forward, it’s that I’m fearful of it falling into The Office trap of too much awkwardness for its own good. This never happens in the pilot, but the awkward situations that do arise are so uncomfortable and so real that I don’t know how many can come up per episode before it becomes discomforting for the viewer. That said, Dunham wrote and direct the pilot masterfully, with some solid input from executive producer Judd Apatow, so I’m hopeful that we’ll never run into this issue.
Girls makes yet another welcomed addition to this Golden Age of television that we’re currently living through. Some of the best storytelling of any medium is happening on the small screen, and Dunham’s comedic yet poignant take on ambitious twentysomethings looks to fit that mold perfectly. Furthermore, she’s crafted an intelligent series centering on strong, human, and funny females that neither looks down upon women nor paints them as exaggerated caricatures. Girls is real, relatable, and above all uproariously fun.
Girls premieres on Sunday, April 15th on HBO at 10:30pm/9:30c