Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SXSW: Who Runs the World? Lena Dunham's Girls

Posted by on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 at 2:32 PM

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I watched the first three episodes of Lena Dunham’s Girls on a DVD screener, so I can’t tell you if there were merely big laughs or outright whooping and hollering when the SXSW darling returned in triumph to preview her new Apatow-produced HBO sitcom at the 1,200 seat Paramount. But the format suits Dunham well, as even critics who disliked Tiny Furniture’s quippy assessment of milliennial malaise had anticipated—Girls is a savvy, snappy half-hour pay-cable sitcom that happens to be based out of a demographically resonant place.

Dunham plays Hannah, who is just about to take over the twitter account at her unpaid publishing internship (at what looks like Melville House) when her home subsidies are cut off (her good cop-bad cop parents perhaps speak for the film critics who respectively embraced and decried Tiny Furniture’s investigation of white-girl problems). In one scene in the pilot, as Hannah plans her next move, her two best friends are positioned over either shoulder like an angel and a devil: monogamous gallery assistant Marnie (Allison Williams); and world-traveling totem of glamorous irresponsibility Jessa (Jemima Kirke, who played a similar semiautobiographical artsy-rich city-girl role in Tiny Furniture). As Jessa’s bubbly cousin, a dedicated SATC fan, Zosia Mamet rounds out the quartet self-consciously.

Aside from gratifyingly articulate characters and light social-mortification slapstick, much of the comedy here derives from the fact that its characters are, after all, the ones who hear the stupid things guys say in the sack. (The title’s diminutive take on young adulthood applies equally to both genders.) As in Tiny Furniture, it’s easy to confuse Dunham with her character, but the woman hung up on a guy who ignores her except when humping away (and asking her to role-play a tween-runaway junkie hooker) is not the same woman as the one observant enough to replicate bad role-plays for mass consumption (“Touch yourself.” “Where?”), and canny enough to understand the relationship as part of a passive and unformed person's self-realization arc.

My only reservation, then, is that the show thus far features more jokes based around Dunham’s body-image self-consciousness than her guarded ambitions to be a writer—though the third episode, the final one shown, ends with a triumphant tweet and impromptu solo Robyn dance party in a Greenpoint walk-up. (It’s a great here-is-your-zeitgeist moment, though I would be remiss if I didn't point out that a conversation earlier in the season seems to place Prospect Heights bars Weather Up and Washington Commons in Cobble Hill.)

But even if Dunham continues to undersell her own accomplishments, the show ought to go to interesting places—there’s already been an arc inspired by Jemima Kirke’s real-life pregnancy (she had her first child last year), and if Allison Williams’s character is supposed to be Dunham’s other best friend, Audrey Gelman, then will the artist who hits on her at an opening turn out to be Terry Richardson? How interesting.

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