Girls, Season 1, Episode 1-2: Pilot and Vagina Panic
There was so much online discussion about Girls before it aired that the hype, the backlash and the anti-backlash has all somehow managed to take place in a matter of weeks. It was the best show HBO has put out in years, this generation’s answer to Sex and the City, but it was also populated by unlikeable, privileged white girls that you can’t sympathise with. Putting all that aside, is it any good? Starring Tiny Furniture’s Lena Dunham as a twenty-something girl in New York navigating her way through early adulthood along with a handful of similarly-skewed friends, it’s identifiable without feeling like it’s pandering to a particular audience. In the first episode, Dunham’s character, Hannah, is eating dinner with her parents in an upscale restaurant when she’s told that they’re cutting her off. Her incendiary reaction – which equates to Hannah telling her folks that they’re lucky she’s not a drug addict – outlines the character perfectly. She’s the sort of literate, over-educated, privileged young person that we’re supposed to hate, but also sneakily see ourselves reflected in. One suspects that Dunham (who also created Girls and wrote these first two episodes) is playing up her own worst traits. She’s singularly, almost doggedly pathetic here, be it allowing her sort-of boyfriend to demean her sexually, or inadvertently calling someone a date rapist during a job interview. Her friends don’t come off it much better, be it brittle roommate Marnie who resents her boyfriend for being too attentive to her needs, or Hannah’s slacker cousin Jessa who announces her pregnancy in the first episode and whose abortion her friends plan for her in Episode 2. Only Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, who I will never tire of watching), the most stereotypical character – she self-knowingly describes herself as “a Charlotte” at one point, and the show’s debt to that other famous show about New York women has been well-documented – approaches likeability in the traditional sense, and this primarily through a moment of vulnerability that, whilst affecting, you can see coming a mile away. There’s a sense that Girls is being asked to be all things to all people, and whilst it’s all-white cast feels strangely atypical with regards to what Girls seems to be representing, it’s sadly not unusual in the television landscape. I can think of only a handful of shows currently airing with a racially diverse cast (Community, Treme and Kerry Washington’s new show, Scandal are the only ones that spring to mind), so it seems a tad unfair to single out Lena Dunham as an arbiter of white-washed programming. This argument also obscures the fact that a lot of what is on offer is really very good indeed, especially two episodes in. Dunham has confident control over her four main characters, and the story she’s trying to tell. In short, this feels like it has a perspective, something which even more laugh-out-loud sitcoms can’t necessarily claim to have. There are moments here that feel irritating for the wrong reasons, and other moments that feel crude rather than “honest,” but Dunham nails the particular irritations and examples of both one-upmanship and genuine affection that underline twenty-something social groups. And there’s not really anything else on TV that’s doing that at the moment.