It’s practically moot to bring up the taboo “female comedy” tag here. So I won’t. Instead, I’d like to talk about “Girls,” the new half-hour HBO comedy from ingénue Lena Dunham, as it deserves to be talked about: as the brutally real, and abhorrently funny, nugget of genius that it is.
If you haven’t heard of Lena Dunham yet, you’re due for an ear cleaning: Not only did she receive tremendous accolades for her directorial feature debut, “Tiny Furniture” (now available on Criterion and Netflix Instant Watch), but she’s been at the top of the Arts & Entertainment section for the past month or so. “Girls,” from executive producer Judd Apatow, is the “Louie” of primetime HBO: Dunham not only stars as the palpable Hannah, but she also wrote, directed and produced the pilot episode, which hit the airwaves last night. The show has dug up a lot of press, both positive and negative, in the past few months. Dunham naysayers are dissatisfied with her glum, pretentious harboring. Dunham purists are affectionate: finally, a show for real post-adolescent girls navigating their future! I happen to fall into the latter camp. As a 20-something post-collegiate, I feel misrepresented in the mainstream. Being a young woman isn’t always about falling into the perfect job, landing the perfect guy after a bout of eye flirting in a bar, or knowing all of the perfect things to say. It’s about being cut off from the family finances, dropped into a cruel world when all you want is to make it big and make it right. There’s a certain unattainable level of success thrust upon you when you finish college, and most times, you come up dry: jobless, practically homeless, mostly hopeless.
That’s why “Girls” feels so pitifully right. These girls aren’t the manic pixie dream girls that occupy the title cards of network hits like Fox’s “New Girl” or CBS’s “Whitney.” There’s nothing glamorous about their pitfalls. Hannah is mopey and selfish, having fleeting sex with her kind-of boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver), and arguing with her parents, who decide to abruptly cut her off from their income in the show’s opening moments. Her best friend, Marnie (Allison Williams), is chronically dissatisfied with her long-term boyfriend, opting to share a bed with Hannah instead of faking sexual satisfaction with him. Their imported British friend, Jessa (Jemima Kirke), is too flyaway to land on anything real, and is knocked up with some mystery man’s fetus. Jessa’s cousin and new roommate, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), is obsessed with “Sex and the City” and all things artificial, opting to reside in her bubblegum fantasy world instead of venturing outward. They’re not perfectly suited to one another – they fight, they’re late to dinner parties, they’re inappropriately frugal or amiss – but they coexist in this Brooklyn La La Land the only way they know how: together.
“Girls” isn’t without flaw. Hannah is at times gruelingly unlikable, which is as obnoxious as it is refreshing. But where she feels organic, the other girls start to ebb into the stereotypical as the episodes progress: Marnie is the uptight shrew, Jessa is the free-thinking hippie who smokes pot in public venues and floats to and fro without a care, Shoshanna is the weirdo virgin who watches too much reality television. They occasionally feel like convenient ways to make Hannah stand out, which may prove tiring as things roll along. The lack of diversity is also repellent. Sure, Lena Dunham is an atypical leading lady – she’s frumpy, a little chubby, egregiously tattooed – but she’s hardly a sight for sore eyes. And aside from her, the cast is as generically Hollywood pretty as you’d expect. Even Shoshanna, the “weird” one, is model gorgeous. Would it really hurt Dunham and company to have a black friend? A Hispanic friend? They live in Brookyln, for crying out loud. Even their band of frenemies are noticeably whitewashed.
But in spite of its shortcomings, “Girls” is still relevant comedy. And it ain’t pretty. There’s a scene in the pilot when Hannah goes to Adam’s apartment for a douse of afternoon delight. After they quibble for a bit about finances and parents, they have sex, as unflinchingly as you’re likely to recall. Adam goes to the bathroom to get a tube of lube and a condom, and asks Hannah to “take off the other stuff” (meaning her shoes and tights) before he gets back. But instead of glamorously slipping one leg after another from her stockings, she struggles to get them off, looking as unappealing as possible in her attempt. It’s funny in that its relatable – of course you never look sexy right when you want to most – and it’s that very sensibility that carries “Girls” from the ordinary to the bitterly obvious. Hannah says earlier in the episode, when she's doused on opium and momentarily inspired to convince her parents she deserves their monetary assistance, "I don't want to freak you out, but I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice of a generation." In that moment, it's entirely plausible that Hannah is a terrible writer (we never actually see the memoir she claims to have written), another insipid example of a generation that thinks they're well equipped to do whatever they've been given the slightest encouragement to do. But the statement is also shockingly meta. Hannah may not be the voice of her generation, but Lena Dunham arguably is. If "Girls" keeps delivering charmingly abrasive lines and sultry moments of truth, she may just prove it tenfold.