The Bottom Line
- Stars Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver
- Created by Lena Dunham
- Airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. EST starting April 15, 2012, on HBO
But that kind of self-aware narcissism is only tolerable for so long, and Dunham’s new HBO series Girls simply circles around the same ideas as Tiny Furniture, subjecting the audience to four different vapid, self-absorbed young women who believe their lives are far more meaningful than they really are. Girls isn’t a biting satire about the solipsism of youth, though; there may be a joke in the first episode about Dunham’s character, Hannah, asserting herself as “the voice of my generation,” but the show’s problem is that Dunham seems to think that she really is the voice of her generation, and everything she does is in service of playing that role.
Also in that first episode, Girls sets itself up self-consciously as the counterpoint to another HBO series about four women living in New York City, the glossy, often superficial Sex and the City. But Hannah and her friends Marnie (Allison Williams, daughter of NBC News anchor Brian Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, daughter of playwright and filmmaker David Mamet) are just as vapid and clueless as Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, only the show makes a grand point of denying it. Whatever problems Sex and the City had, it was never afraid of celebrating its own glossiness. Girls is so disingenuously self-deprecating that it might be more honest if the characters spent an entire episode shoe-shopping.
At the same time, Dunham’s pathological self-obsession does lead to some funny moments, most often when she’s not straining hard to say something important. Of the three episodes available for review, the third, which is the lightest and most joke-filled, is easily the best. Dunham is pop-culture savvy and unafraid to be vulgar, and if she took more cues from Girls executive producer Judd Apatow and let jokes be her guiding force, Girls would be a lot more entertaining.
Instead, it seems to drown its most potentially entertaining moments in endless moping about what they mean. Theoretically, it’s refreshing that Dunham, who looks nothing like a conventionally beautiful actress, is willing to depict herself in explicit sexual situations. But Girls goes so far in “demystifying” sex that it turns around and becomes prudish and judgmental. No one on the show enjoys having sex, which is depicted as uncomfortable and gross, and any hint of alternative sexuality is met with derision. Like Dunham’s fake humility about her creative ambitions, the show’s attitude toward sex contains an air of condescending superiority.
As a snapshot of Dunham’s own artistic fumblings and misguided youthful hubris, Girls is fascinating in a kind of pathetic way. But as an effective piece of storytelling about young people navigating their first forays into adult careers and relationships, it, like its creator, is a whiny, emotionally stunted failure.