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Where the Real "Girls" Are
April 15, 2012  | By Eric Gould  | 2 comments

The comic timing in Lena Dunham's new HBO series Girls is less about sticking the landing than flubbing it -- and the subsequent, awkward sidestep to regain balance. The ability to craft those odd dismounts out of a scene is this writer-director's biggest strength, and often the most charming part of this new cringe-comedy, which looks at four twentysomethings making their way in modern-day New York City...

When Dunham's character, Hannah, meets her old boyfriend for drinks and discovers he wasn't truthful about his sexuality during their relationship, the conversation quickly turns heated. As he's about to huff off, he leans over and utters one well-aimed parting shot.

"It was nice to see you," he says. "Your dad is gay."

Girls, which premieres Sunday, April 15, at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO, often has been mentioned as an analog of Sex and The City -- and, just as frequently, dismissed as such, observations that are right, and true.

The show is much more of a Louie for girls, and never gets near a breathless tale of life in a magic city full of possibility.

Girls, planted as it is in Brooklyn, is about as far from Sex and the City's glossed-up version of Manhattan as possible. While Carrie slipped on Jimmy Choos and skittered down the front steps to men waiting in limousines, Dunham's Hannah, abruptly cut off from her visiting parents' financial support, steals the tip they've left behind for the hotel maid. She's spent the past two years drifting aimlessly, as an unpaid intern for a small publishing company that has no intention of making her a salaried employee.


The New York of FX's Louie is a dimly lit, moody tangle of humiliation and indifference, as is much of Dunham's world view in Girls. Hannah has a some-time hook-up: a narcissistic out-of-work actor (Adam Driver) who won't meet her for dates, but will have her over for sex.

A fledgling writer, she's flunked a promising editorial interview after jokes about date rape, and uses her exam by a gynecologist as a casual opportunity to muse on material she's developing about contracting HIV and AIDS.

Girls is all about the complexities of emerging adults, enmeshed in urbanized, digital life while fumbling through their feelings. It builds, usually, to good, off-kilter punch-lines.

When Hannah finally asks for a salary, and is let go instead, her boss (played, in a wonderful cameo, by Christopher Eigeman from 1994's Barcelona) laments, "I was just going to have you manage our Twitter... You have such a quippy voice for that."

That clipping, observational verbal style is where she parts stylistic company with Louie, and joins another of HBO's winning half-hours of weekly alienation, Mike White's Enlightened. Both shows thrive on the detailed nuance -- and of course, on the female narrative voice (in the case of Enlightened, Laura Dern's painfully evolving Amy).


Hannah and the three friends making up the entourage of Girls are young, smart, liberal arts majors. They may not know what it is they actually want, but they know, at least, how to articulate their feelings. A lot.

In episode three, when Marnie (Allison WIlliams) criticizes her nice, eager-to-please boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott), she tells him: "You shouldn't stop doing something because I tell you to. You should just be yourself. You should just go about your business, piss me off, and not give a fuck. That's what men do."

And then, in a later scene at the Soho gallery where Marnie works, she gets erotically charged when an arrogant artist is suggestive and rude to her.

In other hands, Girls would, most likely, be another snarky, indie hipster exercise in self-indulgence, too full of its own ironic references to achieve any depth. And, once in a while, Dunham does indeed slip in the Coldplay joke.


But that and other insider-isms here turn out to be strengths, not weaknesses. Even with Judd Apatow as a co-executive producer, Dunham is this show's auteur -- writer, director, star, and voice. She's so facile with her material, you never sense that she's straining to get this stuff in. It all flows naturally, like stuff streaming by her that she happens to catch in her net.

There has been -- and will continue to be -- much written about Dunham's fearlessness in showing herself naked, photographing herself in unflattering light and from unflattering angles. And there are some jaw-dropping, hilarious, yet disturbing sexual encounters enacted as well. Like Louis C.K. in his bravely baring sitcom, she should be rightfully acknowledged for these, and for the truth and humor she is attempting to explore.

These risks have a very large payoff, and the use of them creates a verite that is undeniable. They help excavate poetry and beauty from everyday life -- and ordinary failure. She may not reach the rich satiric depths of Todd Solondz's 1995 film Welcome to the Dollhouse, but for comic truth in serial form, you can't do much better than Girls does.

HBO can be applauded for putting a new series on the shoulders of a 25-year-old writer (although, yes, she's under the wing here of veteran comedy king Apatow). It's a risky, expensive bet on a young talent, and should be applauded for its willingness to commit to new territory, and a new voice.

From the look of the first three episodes, Dunham and Girls seem to be up to the task, and worth the investment and the risk.

Very much so.

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ere!) [can we expand the character limit here too?] Anyway, I think this film is a nice introduction to her voice!
May 1, 2012   |  Reply
Eric G
Mara - Point taken...600 character count should be increased! We'll work on that. Yes, "Tiny Furniture" was omitted, but, it was mentioned in almost every other article on the show, and we figured it was a given. Thanks for tossing it back in. --EG
May 1, 2012
I like this show very much, and I think it's perfect that you associate it with both Louie and Enlightened. I don't know what this family can be called, but I love "HBO's winning half-hours of weekly alienation".

Also, you didn't mention her feature Tiny Furniture (which got the Criterion Collection treatment and pissed off male film geeks everywh
May 1, 2012   |  Reply
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