Welcome to a brand new TV Talk conversation, wherein Sarah from FYA and I will discuss Lena Dunham's Girls, which premiered on HBO Sunday night. I've already seen the first three episodes at SXSW, and I wrote about those here. Hulk wrote about the first three eps here. Today I'm going to focus on the pilot, so let's dive in.
Girls covers a few different topics right off the bat - becoming independent despite one's best efforts, creative unfulfillment, sexual unfulfillment, relationship politics, feeling unappreciated at the workplace - but like so much great fiction before it, what the show is truly about is friendship. The heart of the show lies within Hannah and Marnie's often co-dependent, sometimes gross and always loving friendship, as well as their growing acceptance of Jessa and, eventually, Shoshanna into that friendship. The best scenes of the pilot show Hannah and Marnie cozily ensconced in their uncomfortably close way: spooning each other after falling asleep watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show, shaving their legs (Marnie) and eating a cupcake (Hannah) in the bath together, allowing themselves to be entirely vulnerable with one another because they trust each other so wholly.
Sarah and I are best friends - we actually watched the pilot together on Sunday over a bottle of champers. We trust each other entirely and we often share excruciatingly vulnerable insights with each other. We're the kind of close that makes a friendship like Marnie and Hannah's resonate like a gong. However, the first thing we both said upon watching the episode is: "We would never do that." Spoon, bathe together, talk to each other in the bathroom while one of us is peeing. I relate to so much on Girls, but I cannot relate to the exhibitionist nature of that friendship. One unlikely thing Sarah and I discovered, upon watching the show: we're sort of prudes. At least now we know.
Now, you guys know that TV Talk isn't about recapping or even reviewing good television so much as debating the story and philosophy within, but since this is the pilot and I only know these characters' names from IMDB, I'll give you a quick rundown:
Lena Dunham, writer, director and executive producer (along with Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner), plays Hannah, a New York "writer" who barely writes, who interns for free at a publication and has lived off her parents for the two years since she's graduated college. The series opens with her parents cutting her off. Hannah has really gross and emotionally inadequate sex with sleazeball Adam (played deliciously by Adam Driver). One of the great things about the pilot is how fully dedicated Dunham is to portraying herself as kind of shitty. Hannah's entitled, irresponsible and unmotivated. She has a lot to learn, and I'm looking forward to watching her learn it - with plenty of amusing humiliations on the way. Of course she's also loyal, honest, funny, brave, so don't worry. Girls isn't asking you to root for an asshole. It's just asking you to root for a 24-year-old.
Hannah lives with her best friend Marnie, played by Allison Williams. Marnie is the professional, reasonable, moral center of the group. Marnie is stuck in a mediocre relationship with her over-pleasing boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott) whom she goes to great lengths to avoid.
Jessa is their irresponsible, globe-trotting, British sexpot friend, whom Hannah adores and Marnie finds mostly annoying. Jessa's played by Jemima Kirke. Jessa has returned from a sojourn to France and has moved in with her square, hyper cousin Shoshanna, played by Zosia Mamet.
It's probably not fair of me to look forward to the next two eps when rating the quality of Girls, because I damn near worshipped it on the strength of those three episodes, but the pilot isn't entirely strong on its own. The characters are a little too heightened and the plot device (Hannah's being cut off) is a little too pat. And, most tellingly, none of the characters actually do anything in this episode. The pilot is nothing but a passive introduction, but just go ahead and take my word for it that by week two, these women will go from being inert sketches to dynamic, powerfully compelling humans.
But there are still huge laughs to be had in the pilot of Girls, and human realizations as well. There's a moment when Hannah is sitting naked on the couch with Adam (after some particularly mortifying sex) that he asks her about the tattoos on her arm and back, several illustrations from children's books. "I did them mostly in high school. Truthfully, I gained a bunch of weight very quickly and I just felt very out of control of my own body. It was just this Riot Grrl idea, like 'I'm taking control of my own shape!' " She laughs it off, but the moment is honest and real. Of course, those are Dunham's real tattoos and very possibly that's Dunham's story, and that's what works about the show. During the Q&A at SXSW, someone in the audience asked about Dunham's inspiration for the show. She just did the two-thumbed "this guy!" gesture, and we all laughed. I'm sure there are many of you who will find a show about four women in their early 20s living in New York to be self-involved and alienating, but I can't help but think some of that is unfair.
There have been a lot of Internet comments about "white girl problems" in regards to Girls - I've read it since I first posted the trailer four months ago. And it's true - Girls needs some color. All of television needs some color. All of film needs it, too. New York is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, and it's ridiculous that a show taking place there is (so far) made up entirely of white people. But I never hear anyone complaining about "white boy problems" on television, which leads me to believe that the problem, for many people, is more the "girls" aspect than the "white." Please don't misunderstand me - I absolutely agree that Girls would be greatly improved with a more diverse cast. But when the landscape of television is made up almost completely of white men and I never hear a peep about the ensemble shows made up of those men, I can't help but believe that it's not only the racial homogeny of Girls that's leading people to judge it without watching it.
I have a lot more to say about Girls, but that will have to wait for subsequent episodes when stuff actually starts happening. It's a mostly solid pilot that offers a real introduction to these characters you will quickly learn to love, but it forgets to give you many reasons to love them just yet. But don't worry - Episode 2 will be here before you know it, and Sarah will be here to TV Talk it with you! And when you are, Sarah, I have a couple of questions for you: do you agree that the second episode offers a more nuanced portrayal of these ladies? How do you feel about the lily white cast? And please confirm - you definitely do not want to take a bath with me, right? Just want to make sure.