Vexed in the city: HBO's Girls plays for real
04/12/12 10:59 AM
Premiering: Sunday, April 15th at 9:30 p.m (central) on HBO
Starring: Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Chris Abbott, Adam Driver
Produced by: Lena Dunham, Judd Apatow, Jenni Konner
By ED BARK
Plain-spoken, plain-faced and pain-ridden, Hannah Horvath is a TV heroine quite unlike any other.
She's a jobless would-be writer with a heart-of-gold roommate, a rather dirty-to-the-touch boyfriend and parents who finally decide that "we can't keep bankrolling your groovy lifestyle" in hard-to-please Manhattan.
To which Hannah (series creator/producer/writer Lena Dunham) retorts in an opening restaurant scene, "I could be a drug addict. Do you realize how lucky you are?" (Veteran TV watchers might recognize Peter Scolari, who co-starred with Tom Hanks in Bosom Buddies, as the dad on the receiving end of this.)
HBO's decidedly unglamorous Girls, premiering Sunday, April 15th and slated for a 10-episode run in its first season, is pretty much positioned as a polar opposite of that network's biggest comedy hit, Sex and the City. Even though one of its four principal characters still worships the show and has a giant, shrine-ish poster in her apartment living room.
This is very much Dunham's baby, both on-camera and off-. But the series' most recognizable name is co-executive producer Judd Apatow, who's been dissecting young adult behavior for years in both TV series (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared) and feature films (Knocked Up, Superbad).
With Girls, "I've been able to 'godfather' and give notes and advice and whatever wisdom I have left," Apatow told writers at the January network TV "press tour." "When I did Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, I put so much into it that I wound up in the hospital. So it's nice to not have to do that."
Dunham doesn't spare herself. Best known as the director/writer/star of 2010's acclaimed indy film Tiny Furniture, she wrote or co-wrote all 10 episodes of Girls. And her character is bracingly and often jarringly "real" in ways that the Sex and the City quartet wasn't and wouldn't want to be.
Episode 2, for instance, ends with Hannah undergoing a vaginal exam after obsessing over whether she might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease from her lay-about and rather yucky boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver).
An exasperated woman physician on the receiving end of her babble tells Hannah in no uncertain terms that "you could not pay me enough to be 24 again."
"Well, they're not paying me at all," Hannah replies. Perfect.
Hannah's best friend and roommate Marnie (Allison Williams, daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams) is the designated looker of the group. But Marnie's become bored with her steady boyfriend, Charlie (Chris Abbott), whose touch has come to seem like that of an uncle, she tells Hannah. Not that she'd prefer Andy. When Hannah's late for a dinner with guests, Marnie says that her roommate no doubt is "off having sex with that gross animal."
Vagabond Britisher Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is often off having sex with just about anyone. Breezing back to New York to settle in for a bit, she's rooming with her cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), the Sex and the City addict who's otherwise a frustrated virgin.
Perhaps none of this sounds all that appetizing. And sometimes it isn't, particularly when the talk gets positively cavalier at times in an Episode 2 built around Hannah's fears of messy condoms and Jessa's hasty decision to have her pregnancy aborted.
In fact, dad Brian may cringe more than a little when his daughter Allison's character carps about how "there is seriously nothing flakier in this world than not showing up to your own abortion."
Episode 3, the best of the three sent for review, finds Hannah on a voyage of discovery with her old college lover while Marnie gets bowled over by an artist to whom she's introduced by her bawdy art gallery boss. It ends a lot more joyously than Episode 2, with Hannah dancing by herself to "I Keep Dancing On My Own" (by the Swedish artist, Robyn) before Marnie arrives back home and happily joins in.
Girls may to be to most males what The Three Stooges movie is to most females -- an acquired taste at best. Still, it's a distinctive, signature series from a decidedly singular voice. Lena Dunham is unafraid to hold herself up for close inspection. The view can be off-putting at times. But that's life, and this series just wouldn't work without its warts.