On Sunday, HBO premiered its new generically-titled, half-hour dramedy series ‘Girls’. The show stars and is written, directed, produced, edited, scored, lit, photographed, sound mixed, catered and pretty much everything else by 25-year-old indie filmmaking sensation Lena Dunham, creator of the audience-polarizing 2010 art film ‘Tiny Furniture‘. Will Dunham’s TV series prove as divisive as her movie, or will it just slink off into obscurity?
I honestly don’t have an answer for that yet. It could go either way.
There’s not a lot of plot to recap here. The ‘Pilot’ episode introduces us to Dunham’s character, Hannah, a directionless twentysomething living in New York City. Hannah has been out of college for two years but still doesn’t have a real job or any plan for ever getting one. She’s been working as an unpaid intern and mooching off her parents, and she seems perfectly content to continue that indefinitely. As we meet them, the parents announce that they’re cutting Hannah off cold turkey – no more money. In an amusing twist, the father (Peter Scolari from ‘Bosom Buddies’ and ‘Newhart’) is the one who turns weak-willed at the moment of confrontation, while the mother says that she’s had enough. I can’t say as I blame her.
The episode introduces us to Hannah’s circle of hipster friends and her jackass sort-of-boyfriend. The neurotic Hannah bemoans her lot in life. Eventually, she gets high and stupidly tries to beg her parents to continue supporting her long enough that she can complete her memoirs, of which she’s written about five pages and has already run out of material. They don’t go for it. That’s about it.
The way I’ve described it makes the show sound pretty insufferable, doesn’t it? That’s probably not fair.
Listen, I understand why some people really dislike Lena Dunham. It can be difficult to sympathize with the travails of an entitled slacker who whines how unfair it is that mommy and daddy won’t pay for her rent and food well into adulthood. How could this girl who has never done anything interesting with her life believe herself capable of writing a memoir that anyone would want to read?
On the other hand, I also understand why some people do like Dunham. She’s smart and funny and (in her real life) obviously talented. She also presents herself with an emotional honesty that feels raw and real. She doesn’t glamorize who she is and isn’t afraid to make herself look quite unflattering. The bit about writing a memoir is obviously supposed to be self-critical. She’s well aware of how ridiculous that sounds. Her show captures a portrait of a generation of young urbanites who behave this way, and they’re really out there. She wants us to know that they’re people like any others, with plenty of flaws, but also thoughts and feelings that might occasionally be worth sharing.
And it’s not like Dunham is the first person to tread this ground. Tales of disaffected youth are a well-worn genre back to ‘The Graduate’ and beyond. Like any other genre, they can be done well or done poorly, depending on the talent involved.
‘Girls’ is much less self-consciously arty in presentation than ‘Tiny Furniture’, but in terms of story and character (which I gather is more or less a reflection of Dunham herself), it’s basically more of the same. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing will be up to each viewer to decide. I’m not opposed to it, and will probably watch again.