With all the fanfare surrounding Lena Dunham's Girls, last night's premiere came as a bit of a surprise. You mean this show hasn't been on for ages? We've been talking about it for that long and everybody already seems to have a hardened opinion as to whether they love it or hate it. As a fan of Tiny Furniture, Judd Apatow and being young in New York City, I was pretty firmly in the pro-Girls camp and was disheartened by the way people rushed to shit all over Dunham simply because she was born into privilege and dared to have an artistic point of view. On the other hand, all of the debate surrounding her and the project only proved to be a great marketing campaign. Did you sign into to Twitter last night? It was like a goddamn Motley Crue song. "GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS. Our persuasion can build a nation. Are you watching it? GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRLS!"
So how did a show that everyone already knew how to feel about hold up now that it's actually aired? Let's recap and decide together.
Girls opens with 24-year-old Hannah (played by Dunham) out for dinner at a fancy restaurant with her parents where she's hunkering down on a plate of spaghetti like there's no tomorrow. Later, she eats a cupcake in the bathtub. Maybe, you think, that Hannah was raised in the wild, like Nell, but no. Her parents are professors that just couldn't be bothered to teach her how to eat at a table. I could talk about the spaghetti-eating all day, but, sadly, Girls is not a show about spaghetti (don't worry — I'm shopping my pilot Spaghetti College around to some pretty major networks, so our time will come). The real reason that Hannah is at this lovely restaurant, eating that lovely plate of spaghetti is that her parents need to break the news that they're cutting her off financially after supporting her for the last two years that she's been living and interning in the city. Hannah's response is pretty bratty and ungrateful, but that's okay. Being bratty and ungrateful (at least some of the time) is a pretty big part of being in your 20s. Dunham's willingness to be shitty and unlikeable is, I think, one of the main reasons people have responded to her work, but that doesn't mean it isn't cringeworthy to watch an adult woman throw a tantrum and tell her parents that she doesn't want to see them again because she refuses to get a job.
Hannah's luck continues to go down from there. She is fired from her internship after asking to get paid then consoles herself with some truly awful-looking sex with one of the grossest, most self-involved partners ever. Adam (his name is Adam), like Hannah, takes pride in not having a job, is bankrolled by his grandmother and goes on and on about how honest the art of wood work is. Oh, he also practically tells her that she's fat and tries to sneakily have anal sex with her as if she's too stupid to realize that he put his dick in the wrong hole.
Thanks to her awkward couch bang-a-rang, Hannah is over two hours late for the dinner party she harangued her roommate Marnie into throwing for Jessa, a boneless bohemian wisp who is currently taking a break from traveling the world to be in New York while wearing men's hats and looking bored. There's no real repercussions for Hannah's shittiness — Marnie is annoyed, but seems more concerned that Hannah won't be able to find a job, pay the rent and continue living in the city. Jessa, on the other hand, thinks that Hannah should refuse to get a job and insist that her parents continue to fund her as an artist.
Fueled by opium tea, Hannah does precisely that, interrupting her parents' sleep in the middle of the night to read the collection of essays that she thinks will one day make up her memoir. Her folks remain unconvinced then take off in the morning without saying goodbye (what a lovely family). In lieu of, I don't know, a hug or words of encouragement, her parents leave behind $40, $20 for Hannah and $20 for hotel housekeeping. Guess how much Hannah takes? All of it! Because she, the voice of a fucking generation, deserves more money than the maid who is actually earning a living by cleaning up after rich people.
And good news for the viewers who were worried that Dunham would present a whitewashed version of New York. Hannah gets shouted at by a black homeless man as she walks down the street. Yay, diversity.
So what is there to come away with from the series premiere of Girls? As much as people say that Dunham is representing a group of urban young people (as a white, middle class, 25-year-old, New York transplant, I consider myself her target audience), the show felt oddly alienating, managing to be both too broad and too niche all at the same time. Many of the jokes would not seem out of place on an episode of 2 Broke Girls — Jessa's cousin is a pink sweatsuit-wearing fan of Sex and the City who prattles on and on about whether she's a Carrie or a Samantha (people who like that show are dumb, get it?) and they paint youth Brooklyn culture with such broad strokes that you'd think we're all a bunch of monster people with no feelings or compassion for anyone around us.
Granted, this was only the first 35-minute episode. There's room to grow, the show is well acted and sometimes patience is rewarded, but there is a niggling worry that Dunham and crew will get so caught up in showing the gritty reality of being young, selfish and broke that it will cease to become real at all. Already, the jokes feel too ham-fisted and the characters too cartoonish. Will they pull back and realize that being likable and thoughtful is as much a part of being human as being a narcissist and cruel?