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A Divisive HBO Sitcom: It's All About The Ladies With Frank Talk, Open Sexuality, And Finding One's Voice
on July 11, 2012
HBO's "Girls" seems to be one of those love-it or hate-it propositions and I'm not quite sure why. Its creator and star, Lena Dunham, burst onto the scene with the micro-budgeted indie "Tiny Furniture" in 2010. Embraced enthusiastically by critics, the young talent was branded a new voice in contemporary comedy. But as the picture became more widely seen (it is available in a 2-disc Criterion edition), the backlash began. "Girls" has some of the same situations, concerns, stars, pacing and humor as the feature film and all of the supposed negatives that applied to "Tiny Furniture" have followed Dunham to "Girls." The show is still a huge critical success, it just seems to lack universal appeal. The most common complaint, I suppose, is that it creates a very insular world populated with pretty self-involved characters. It's a fair point, to be sure. But for everyone who says that Dunham doesn't "speak for their generation," I say that she never intended to. She speaks about her world, her life, and the things that she knows. It may not be identifiable to everyone, but it is eminently real and utterly believable! The world created in "Girls" exists and Dunham has skewered it perfectly creating a fresh comedy that is simultaneously absurd and truthful. This is a generation that has yet to find its purpose.
"Girls" is centered around four young women trying to navigate the pitfalls on the way to responsibility and adulthood. The characters ably showcase a combination of post-collegiate ennui and over-educated (and pseudo-intellectual) entitlement. Set in a fashionable New York City young, artistic and urban environment--the show's sardonic tone and cultural critique really speak to this specific subset of individuals. But the quirky storylines, which can be quite funny, also achieves a quiet poignancy when you least expect it. Dunham plays the principle character, an aspiring writer who struggles with menial employment to be able to afford the rent. The others in the quartet are the lovely Allison Williams (as Dunham's more responsible roommate), the brash Jemima Kirke (as a more exotic friend returning home), and the tightly wound Zosia Mamet as the innocent. For those looking for "Sex and the City" comparisons, each of the characters does fit squarely into the Carrie/Miranda/Samantha/Charlotte configuration. I'm not trying to draw any unnecessary comparisons as this is edgier, more modern, more youthful, and has a completely different vibe.
Anyone needing big plotlines or stories, "Girls" really succeeds as a more character driven piece. The women are looking, in some variation or another, for love and success. But also, in many ways, they might not recognize these things should they present themselves. Truthfully, I didn't love every subplot within Season One's ten half hour episodes. I never particularly warmed to Kirke who is supposed to be someone the others look up to. I didn't always see the appeal and it certainly didn't help that she was saddled with some of the year's most unfortunate stories (poor James LeGros features prominently in a particular misfire). But the others really impressed. As an actress, Dunham is unafraid to showcase (and expose) a very personal, and oftentimes unpleasant, side to her persona. The show is frank, sexual, and presents a very unglamorous look at provocative subjects.
"Girls" may be about the women, but many of the men also have a chance to shine. It's good to see Peter Scolari (Newhart, Bosom Buddies) back as Dunham's father. Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) and great character actor Richard Masur have funny cameos. Andrew Rannells (The Book of Mormon) is terrific as a man from Dunham's college days. Christopher Abbott is perfect as Williams' adoring boyfriend, oftentimes accompanied by his witty and sarcastic best friend (Alex Karpovsky, doing the same shtick as he does in Tiny Furniture). But, for my money, it is Adam Driver who (quite unexpectedly) emerges as a real star in this piece. Starting the season as Dunham's casual sex partner, Driver is hysterically aloof--sending mixed signals at every turn. As the season progresses, however, this performance becomes increasingly nuanced and surprising. At the end of the day, I might not remember all of the antics these girls got up to--but I will remember the progressive relationship of Dunham and Driver. These two score as TV's least probable couple and both are absolutely incredible. "Girls" is definitely a show worth checking out. Try it with an open mind, you might be pleasantly surprised. KGHarris, 7/12.