Early reviews of HBO's new series written, created, and directed by (not to mention starring) Lena Dunham pretty unanimously agree that Girls is good, but, then again, so is most of the other stuff that premieres on HBO. Even if a show doesn't attract an audience because it's too weird like Carnivàle, too Jesus-y like John from Cincinnati, or too soul-crushing like Deadwood (which, admittedly, had a three-season run), HBO imbues its productions with the pedigree of former brilliance, ensuring viewers that at the very least, the HBO show is a well-crafted show, definitely not like all the lowbrow garbage on the channel for pre-adolescent boys, Cinemax.
That Girls is going to be good shouldn't surprise anyone — why wouldn't it be good? Lena Dunham seems pretty sharp, she's attracted a good cast of young women that includes Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, and Zosia Mamet. Judd Apatow fell in love with the project and has, according to Emily Nussbaum's March 25 extended interview with Dunham, acted like a project advisor, steering the 25-year-old Dunham carefully through some of the thornier points of helming an entire production all by herself. Despite Apatow's involvement, though, critics note that the show is faithful to Dunham's vision. Women and Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein, who's already quite pleased with the series, not only praises the show for maintaining the integrity of Dunham's writing, but also for successfully incorporating the voices of so many other female writers as well. Silverstein writes,
And I also love that this show is so clearly Lena's vision. To see a young woman with such strong vision and to be able to defend it and speak about it in such a strong way almost makes me weep. And while she wrote the first three shows herself, the writer's room is populated with other many other women. This is a young woman who embraces other women, and loves other women which is so clear from the moment the show begins. There is none of this competition crap. This is a pure lovefest.
And, after reading Nussbaum's interview, it's clear that the show's been created by a whole group of same-minded young women who nonetheless bring a different perspective to a production that some critics see as the primary benefactor of Sex and the City's legacy, the product of a new generation of young, urban women who, despite inheriting a legacy of independence from the former HBO series, are still struggling to define their own bodies, while trying to gain a foothold in an adulthood that probably precludes their loftier ambitions. The love, though, that Silverstein can so clearly see amongst the actors, writers, and producers of this series, may be absent amongst the show's characters, a fact, writes Los Angeles Times TV critic Mary McNamara, that may not bode well for Girls' longevity.
McNamara, who might be a little too far-removed from the generation that created Girls to appreciate the more cynical friendships that hold the show's characters together, explains that, though Dunham has succeeded in capturing her generation's peculiar sense of privilege (or at least has succeeded in showing that other generations think of her generation as feeling entitled) and taking ownership of her often naked body, the obvious intelligence driving Girls feels emotionally hollow. Observes McNamara,
Like its main character, "Girls" is, essentially, a memoir in the making, and as recognizable as the characters may be and as powerful as the moments are, it is, in its own way, just as stylized and romanticized as "Sex and the City." In early episodes, these girls too spend most of their time talking about boys - no one reads a book or sees a play or discusses politics or has a bizarre encounter on the subway. There is a cool cleverness to the show that is both attractive and off-putting; the characters are flawed and hyper-aware of their flaws, the stories so bent on covering every angle of self-examination that there is no real role for the viewer to play.
McNamara concludes that this ultimately makes for "an intellectual rather than emotional experience," a show that might be a little too heavy on intellectual self-examination for viewers to really get into. That, and, as McNamara notes, Dunham's post-college years bear very little resemblance to the disjointed urban struggles her character's experience, which isn't a damning fact because nobody criticizes Will Scheffer for not having lived a life as a Mormon polygamist and then writing a show about it. Yeah, Lena Dunham didn't struggle like her fictional character, but so what? That's not really a criticism so much as a gripe.
The real problem with the way Girls is being prematurely lauded as a series by and for Lena Dunham's generation is that nothing on HBO is really for Lena Dunham's generation, because even if a lot of younger 20-somethings get into a show like Entourage or Sex and the City, those shows still have to attract an older crowd with the ability to pay a monthly bill. HBO series are for people who can afford a hefty cable bill every month, in other words, settled, professional people who have a little extra time on Sunday night to watch Mark Antony get high on opium or Samantha Jones convince some dude she's sleeping with that his semen takes like rotten garbage. And if a large portion of the viewing audience doesn't consist strictly of frustrated millennials watching the series in their parents' basements or downloading it online like television buccaneers, where are its ratings going to come from? Sex and the City, which seems to be a popular comparison, featured an older cast of characters and so also played to an older audience with premium cable purchasing power — Girls' biggest hurdle in staying on the air might be strictly titular.
‘Girls' a potent force but it's hard to love [L.A. Times]