ZOË RICE: Over the past couple weeks I’ve been asked repeatedly if I like the new highly buzzed-out series, Girls. But the more pertinent question for this series is, “Do you like Lena Dunham?” Her name hovers fixedly on the credits screen for a good few seconds as the titles go by: Starring…created by…directed by…written by… The upshot is that even if you only sort of like the show but really like Lena Dunham, you’re still going to make Girls appointment viewing. I think that’s where I am.
From the very opening scene, Lena Dunham had my admiration, in pretty much all her roles. If not quite “hello,” then she had me at “And then I’m busy. Becoming who I am.” What could have sounded only petulant instead rang true as (in her own words) the voice of her generation. Thankfully, it’s a hilarious voice. Only in the hands of this talented 25-year-old woman can I imagine writing here that I loved the “date rape” and “AIDS” moments, and she has perhaps shown me the funniest on-screen Google of all time. Dunham’s writing is effortless, even during Hannah’s moments of greatest effort. You want to stop her from talking herself further into a bad situation, but you kind of also don’t because it’s just so good.
But if you don’t like Lena Dunham, so far there isn’t that much else in the show to latch onto. These four girls are not really a foursome yet. The feeling I’ve gotten from the first two episodes is that Dunham had a clear view of the Hannah and Marnie characters and their relationships, but then she figured (rightly) that the girls should be a foursome. Unfortunately, the other two girls (and some could argue three, including Marnie) are right now very two-dimensional. Zosia Mamet suffers the most for it – her Shoshanna is all primary colors, no shading. And Jessa has yet to evolve past “free spirit.” Moreover, it’s unclear what Shoshanna and Jessa’s places are within the foursome. Whatever bonds of friendship they have with Hannah and Marnie are not yet clear or dramatized, and I do think the young series suffers for it.
As for the Sex and the City talk popping up everywhere, I wish Dunham hadn’t made her own tongue-in-cheek reference to the inevitable comparison. Sex and the City ended 8 years ago. What twenty-three year old is going to say “I’m totally a Carrie” these days? She was almost an embryo when that show premiered. As much as Hannah rings true for me, Shoshanna doesn’t at all.
And let’s all remember, TV review crew – Sex and the City was created and head-written by a gay man. I enjoyed the show just fine, but I always thought of it as someone else’s view of New York women. An ally’s view – a friend’s view, but usually not my own. Girls is firmly written from a girl’s perspective. I only hope Lena Dunham’s viewpoint widens a bit to let all the characters in. I hope she can spread her tendrils to make the entire foursome as compelling to watch as Hannah Horvath.
HOWARD MEGDAL: I think Girls may have been the best pilot I’ve ever seen. And two episodes in, I am absolutely devoted to this show, and Lena Dunham appears to be on my must-watch list among writers. That was quick.
The character of Hannah is only part of it. At no point can you take your eyes off of her, and it has nothing to do with- as the writing reminds us, but subtly- her looks. She is compelling, always, and reacting in ways that are both taken as surprising by the world around her and completely understandable for those watching at home. That’s a neat trick.
I disagree with Zoë in terms of the remaining development, though it is clear that the remaining girls are not fleshed out yet. Shoshanna’s obsession with Sex And The City makes sense- latching onto the fake New York, with unrealistic relationships, when she’s had few of her own is entirely believable to me. It made me think of specific people I know.
And I don’t think we could possibly know the intricate workings of the foursome just yet, after two episodes. Early episodes do a lot of heavy lifting, and we do get a sense of the two romantic relationships- more than a sense, really. Dunham actually distills their essences, and both problems feel extremely real as well. How quickly can we feel not only the inherent creepiness of Hannah’s boyfriend, but enormous understanding for every bit of ambivalence she has toward him. It is astonishing how vividly this connection is made, and so quickly.
I’ll leave it here: I watched the second episode of Girls just after the most recent episode of Mad Men. This has always been a mistake in the past. Mad Men needs to close the television watching evening. It’s like following The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
Girls held its own for me, second episode. It’s that good.