Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Review: Girls

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Grade: A-

It’s rare that a show arrives to the type of critical plaudits that HBO’s new Girls received upon its debut two weeks ago. Because of the tidal wave of praise that it received, informed television fans could predict a backlash coming from a mile away and, indeed, that’s what’s happened. Girls, without question, is a divisive show. There’s really not much room for grey areas here. Either you’re going to find star/director/creator Lena Dunham’s small group of self-absorbed twentysomethings to be accurately indicative of a generation, or you’re going to find them to be insufferable and unlikable, most surely influencing your impressions of Girls toward the negative. For me? I’d put myself in the first group. I’ve found Girls’ first two episodes to be a sign that television has found a uniquely talented new voice in Dunham and, as a married father in his mid-30s who doesn’t completely understand the mindset of young women in their 20s in New York, I see Girls as a seemingly realistic look at an age group that I don’t particularly have much (if anything at all) in common with. And perhaps that’s why it’s an important show.

Dunham is probably best known for her 2010 indie feature Tiny Furniture and has the backing of comedy wizard Judd Apatow (Freaks And Geeks, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) here. Girls has a lot in common tonally with independent film and carries a different voice than you typically see on television. Dunham plays Hannah Horvath, an aspiring writer in NYC who’s recently been cut off financially by her parents [1], is seeing a questionable [2] guy who degrades her at almost every opportunity, and has an internship that pays her absolutely no money. Hannah lives with her best friend Marnie (Allison Williams), a type-A art gallery assistant with a sensitive [3] boyfriend named Charlie (Christopher Abbott) who she can hardly stand anymore. The remaining half of Girls’ titular quartet of women is comprised of Jessa (Jemima Kirke, Dunham’s co-star in Tiny Furniture) as a flighty, earthy, granola-crunch bohemian who Hannah hero worships and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, Mad Men), Jessa’s materialistic cousin.

While Girls’ pilot takes a wider worldview by virtue of introducing and establishing the characters, its second episode “Vagina Panic” was, to me, much more effective and suggests that there just may be a very, very good show here. The pilot gives us a rough sketch of who each character is, and then “Vagina Panic” plays off of those sketches to strong result. It also takes FULL advantage of the latitude that an outlet like HBO provides so, consider this your NSFW content alert right now. In the pilot, one of the major plot points is the discovery that Jessa has gotten unwittingly pregnant and has chosen not to go through with it. We also learn that Marnie and Jessa don’t exactly get along and, in fact, one could say that they in some ways play the angel and devil on each one of Hannah’s shoulders [4]. This makes Jessa’s tardiness and Marnie’s irritation with Jessa’s tardiness to the abortion clinic where Hannah, Marnie, and Shoshanna are waiting to support her resonate all the more. The pilot establishes that Hannah desperately needs to find a new job after quitting her (non-paying) internship so watching her completely bungle a job interview [5] in hilarious fashion hits even harder knowing how badly she needs to find a new gig. The pilot shows that Hannah’s stuck in a horrible relationship with her actor friend/fuck buddy Adam (Adam Driver) so seeing her go back for more in “Vagina Panic” and suffer through more of Adam’s degrading sexual behavior garners even more sympathy/disbelief/frustration for her situation. Dunham shows considerable ability to create people who aren’t just television characters, but fully fleshed out human beings, at least through these two episodes. She’s also a fearless performer who shows absolutely no traces of vanity. See the introductory sex scene between Hannah and Adam in the pilot for an example of this. Or the final scene in the pilot where she confronts her parents while high on opium tea. Or her humiliating discussion about the merits of getting AIDS with a health clinic doctor while sitting on an exam table in stirrups.

While some of the criticism of Girls has been more than a little over the top [6], one of the top points of contention I’ve noticed is the opinion that no one wants to watch a bunch of spoiled, naval-gazing twentysomethings. Girls has been hit with the “entitlement” generation tag and while that is certainly true to a degree, there’s absolutely a need for people to understand this age bracket before blindly condemning it, and Girls examines this demographic very, very well. As I mentioned, I’m not female. I’m not in my 20s. I know that there’s no way I’d want to be a female in my 20s right now. But through Girls, Dunham has created an entry into this interesting world that’s intelligent, funny, and yes – essential. To dismiss it is to display a powerful form of ignorance. To watch it is to learn something. And I’ve found that knowledge trumps ignorance almost every single time.

[1] Which you almost have to admit is a kind of dickish thing to do with no advance warning.
[2] Read: complete jackass who says things like the following, after a discussion of whether or not he and Hannah use condoms during sex: “I guess we do. That’s probably why it takes me 25 years to nut whenever I have sex with you.”
[3] Read: total pussy.
[4] With Marnie pushing Hannah more towards adult responsibility while Jessa plies her with “be yourself and damn the consequences” type of advice.
[5] In a scene very reminiscent of the classic cringe-inducing Jon Favreau phone call scene in Swingers, Hannah hits it off with the HR rep who’s interviewing her over their thoughts on Brooklyn bars, only to fatally damage her chances of getting the job when she jokingly accuses the interviewer of being the cause for the decline in date rapes at his university. Dunham’s coquettish finger-to-her-lower-lip move sells the scene completely and it’s only made worse by her going back and explaining that it’s a joke whereby she’s accusing the guy of being a rapist. This might have been my favorite scene in either of the first two episodes and is a strong suggestion that Girls really knows what it’s doing when it comes to its comedic voice.
[6] The fake “Nepotism” poster, for example.

Miscellany:
*Without question through two episodes, Shoshanna is the character that’s resonating the least with me. Though there is some progress made towards the end of “Vagina Panic,” to this point she’s way too much of a cartoon (materialistic, spoiled, naïve girl) to be taken seriously. Mamet has shown considerable talent in a supporting role on Mad Men, so here’s hoping that the show’s able to course-correct Shoshanna before it’s too late.
*I must admit, it’s kind of weird to see Becky Ann Baker from Freaks & Geeks playing Hannah’s mother her and not be not a milquetoast like she was on NBC’s cult drama. It takes a little getting used to, to be sure.
*I like that the show confronted the prevalent (and completely wrong-headed) Sex And The City comparisons head on in the pilot. Way to get out in front of that one.
*Film/television vet Chris Eigeman was just perfectly smarmy enough for the role as Hannah’s boss at the company where she was interning in the pilot but, alas, it appears his presence on the show may have just been a one-off.
*Adam is an actor who’s into woodworking because “it’s just more honest.” And also because he’s a douchebag.
*I’m not quite ready to call this a full-on concern quite yet but… did anyone else notice that almost every male character on this show is an asshole? File that away just in case it’s needed later.
*Jessa thinks dates are “for lesbians.” Because Jessa is kind of awesome.
*It’s more than a little ironic that one of the best new comedies of the 2011-12 television season (Girls) will likely be confused with one of its worst (2 Broke Girls) by virtue of name alone.
*That being said, there have been comparisons made of Girls being a distaff version of Louie. Let’s not get quite that crazy yet, people.
*”We can’t keep bankrolling your groovy lifestyle.” “My groovy lifestyle?”
*”I could be a drug addict. Do you realize how lucky you are?”
*”I think you need to admit something to yourself which is that you’re sick of eating him out.” “Eew.” “Because he has a vagina.”
*”Well, when you get hungry enough, you’re gonna figure it out.” “Do you mean physically hungry or hungry for the job?”
*”Weren’t you an intern? So, they basically just asked you to stop hanging out there?”
*”You modern career woman. I know what you like. You think you can just come in here and talk all that noise?” “Uh… no?”
*”Will you get a condom?” “I’ll consider it.”
*”Just, when you said the thing about lube I was worried you were gonna… try to do that. Please don’t do that. That feels awful. Thank you.”
*”No, I never do coke. Every time I do coke I shit my pants.”
*”When I look at both of you, a Coldplay song plays in my heart.”
*”I don’t want to freak you out, but I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or, at least, a voice of a generation.”
*”YOU’RE GOING TO DRINK A STRONG CUP OF COFFEE!”
*”You’re a dirty little whore, and I’m going to send you home to your parents covered in come.” “Don’t do that. They’re going to be so angry.”
*”I’m going to make the continent of Africa on your arm.”
*”I like a bar where the average patron would be described as ‘crotchety.'”
*”How could she ruin the beautiful abortion that you threw?”
*”I don’t have an obsessive fear of AIDS. I have an obsessive fear of HIV that can turn into AIDS. I’m not a fool.”
*”She doesn’t really know how to text. She calls it a ‘word alert.'”
*”It’s more of a Forrest Gump-based fear.”
*”You could not pay me enough to be 24 again.” “They’re not paying me at all.”

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