After months of publicity, HBO's new sitcom "Girls," written and directed by and starring Lena Dunham, premiered tonight. Was it everything we were promised? Is it worth watching? Here's our take:
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: Hi guys
Lori Fradkin: Hi!
Lori Leibovich: hello
Lori Fradkin: Can I just say something first? I find it kind of incredible that a few months ago I thought I was going to be the "in the know" one about "Girls"
Like it would be this hidden gem that I would tell people about
Lori Leibovich: I know! I remember when you flagged it
and thinking oh so glad Lori told me about this!
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: Blame the SXSW rent-a-lady-bike campaign.
Lori Fradkin: The HBO publicity machine is on top of its game on this one
Like beyond its game if that's a thing
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I do think it's great that they were willing to invest that much in a show written and directed by such a young woman
But do we know the timing of Lena Dunham's pitch?
Were "New Girl" and "Don't Trust The B---- In Apt 23" and "2 Broke Girls" already in the works?
Did HBO seize on "Girls" as a way to get in the game?
and not be late to the party?
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: (even though they are a little late to the party, as Emily Nussbaum pointed out)
(in a possibly fortuitous way)
Lori Leibovich: I actually think they mishandled the publicity
over-did it completely
b.c there is no way anything can live up to that kind of hype
Lori Fradkin: Are you having Girls fatigue?
Lori Leibovich: as you know I was disappointed.
I mean, I liked it
but the way it had been heralded I thought this was going to be the Wire or My So Called Life or Six Feet Under or some other game changing show
and while I think it's clever and endearing and interesting
and while I'm thrilled that there is a smart show about young women and their friendships and sex lives
I was not blown away the way I expected I would be
given the fact that so many critics I truly admire -- Emily N., Ken Tucker -- were salivating over it
Lori Fradkin: I'm having a bit of fatigue with the think pieces -- which is why I loved Jessica Grose's tweet last week so much -- but it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the show
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I think it's always safer and wiser to let viewers decide that a show is game changing, but I have to say, I was impressed by Dunham
Lori Leibovich: I LOVED "Tiny Furniture"
Lori Fradkin: Me too!
Lori Leibovich: LOVED
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I found it brilliant but the navel-gazing also annoyed me
Lori Leibovich: It stuck me as way more original then the show
even the opening of the show -- at dinner with her parents -- seemed scripted and cliché in a way that none of the scenes in TF did
Lori Fradkin: Do you have specific issues with the show or just that it's not the game-changing show it's been billed as?
Lori Leibovich: I wish I had been able to see it without reading about it first
I think I would have appreciated it a lot more
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I agree with that.
There were moments in the pilot where I was like, that is supposed to be profound but isn't
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: like when Jessa arrives in the taxi and the taxi driver says, "We're here," and Jessa says, "Already?" Get it? Resisting adulthood?
Lori Leibovich: I think the characters in Tiny Furniture were a lot more authentic somehow. I find Shoshanna, for example, completely unbelievable
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: She's a caricature, agreed
Lori Fradkin: She's over-the-top, and yet Zosia Mamet is so good
I love seeing the contrast with her Mad Men character
Lori Leibovich: yes she's a great actress but c'mon -- that character does not exist in real life. and I don't think those other women would be friends with her if she did
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: Her main purpose in the pilot is to address the SATC issue, and it's waaaay too overt
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: (see the enormous SATC poster on her wall)
Lori Leibovich: right
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: Look, I think they had a lot to accomplish in the pilot
and some of it's not that artful
but the foundation is necessary for some of the more brilliant stuff that follows
Lori Leibovich: i guess i can't ask you what you think is brilliant
because we don't want to spoil it
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: not 'til next weeeeeek
but in the pilot, I liked the undoing of the romantic comedy morning after
where Allison Williams' boyfriend's adoration in the kitchen is bookended by Allison Williams waking up in her roommate's bed (not his)
and then Allison Williams saying she can't feel his love anymore
Lori Fradkin: in the tub (again with Hannah)
Lori Leibovich: I liked that too. The too nice boyfriend as turnoff is a great idea to explore
and really rings true for so many women
Lori Leibovich: (in my experience)
Lori Fradkin: I really liked their honest conversations about it too
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: and that that conversation takes place in a bathtub
with a cupcake
Lori Leibovich: that seemed over the top to me
Lori Leibovich: putting too fine a point on the idea that "we're so intimate that we bathe in front of each other! And I don't care about my body so I eat cupcakes -- even in the bath!"
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I think she does care about her body
Lori Fradkin: Lena Dunham has said she's eaten a loaf of bread in the shower
Lori Fradkin: So maybe it's not so unrealistic
Lori Leibovich: sorry to be so cynical
Lori Fradkin: OK, maybe bathing is a lot. But the peeing together -- it happens
Lori Leibovich: i don't hate the show as much as it sounds like i do
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I think your disappointment is justified
Lori Leibovich: thank you!
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: but I think there's interesting stuff to come
And I guess I appreciate the ambition of it
Lori Leibovich: I think the best part of the series so far is... the men.
they are fantastic actors.
Lori Fradkin: Yes, I love Adam Driver -- even if I don't love his character
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: That character is wonderfully awful
and rings really true
Lori Fradkin: Let me ask you guys about something that I've heard come up a lot:
Are these women too privileged to be sympathetic?
Lori Leibovich: Their privilege is problematic
in that it's hard to have a lot of empathy for them
on the other hand, as anyone who has lived in NY after college knows, the vast majority of people trying to be writers or work in galleries get help from their parents
and so I liked that they were so honest about that
Lori Fradkin: I think I found her entitlement a bit much -- "it's only $1,100 a month" -- but I didn't mind that they could be privileged and still struggle
Lori Fradkin: Though if you want to take it back to the beginning, it was a little weird that this conversation of cutting her off was out of the blue
Wouldn't they have been having ongoing discussions of it?
I know that's the premise, though, so...
Lori Fradkin: I just don't think they would have suddenly said, "No more money!" It would have been more subtle.
Lori Fradkin: Unless she was tuning it out
Lori Leibovich: did either of you watch Freaks and Geeks?
Her mom is the mom from Freaks and Geeks
Lori Fradkin: No, but it's on my to-watch list
Lori Leibovich: as it should be
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I liked the mother. I believed her totally
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: and I think that scene was supposed to be Lena Dunham, Millennial, acknowledging Millennial ridiculousness
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: which made Hannah likeable to me
Lori Fradkin: I did love the fact that she was "trying to be who I am"
Lori Leibovich: The scene was definitely important in establishing how ridiculously privileged her existence was
Lori Leibovich: and was confirmed when Jessa made the Flaubert comment
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: also by Jessa's Louis Vuitton
Lori Fradkin: That scene with the Flaubert comment was so good angel-bad angel
With Marnie and Jessa
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I loved the incorporation of therapy language of a group likely brought up on therapy: "in a really good place" ; "mothering her"
Lori Fradkin: To take it back to the Sex and the City comparison, do you think you people will start saying, "I'm a Marnie!" "I'm such a Jessa"?
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: Maybe, but with immediate, self-conscious regret
Lori Leibovich: i think these characters are more complex than SATC ones
can't be easily characterized as the slut, the good girl, the wild writer, the buttoned-up lawyer
to continue the comparison
i think the SATC girls liked sex more
these girls don't seem to.
Lori Leibovich: i know that's a sweeping and over-simplified statement but it seems bleakly realistic
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I'm inclined to agree.
Lori Fradkin: One of the things I found realistic was how nerve-wracking it can be -- like how Hannah kept making small talk
Lori Fradkin: Like sex can be sexy, but it's not always sexy
Lori Leibovich: here's what I thought was really interesting about the sex
how pornified it was
how the guys are so clearly trying to re-enact with real life women what they see online
Lori Leibovich: and how unsatisfying that seems to be for the women
who are really just means to an end
Lori Leibovich: and i think that this generation of women is the first one to deal with this on this scale
Lori Leibovich: and how problematic that is for women and their pleasure and sense of agency
Lori Fradkin: The line "you're doing great" from Adam Driver
It just felt like those three words said so much about that relationship
Lori Leibovich: yeah, "you're doing great playing out MY fantasy. Keep doing it and shut up."
Lori Fradkin: And then he actually says "let's play the quiet game"
Lori Leibovich: that felt so sadly true
Lori Leibovich: i kept wishing that she'd take some control and say "this sucks for me. let's do it THIS way"
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: So we're saying sex for real young women is this bad
Lori Leibovich: I don't want to say it's realistic for everyone
Lori Fradkin: I think realistic, but not necessarily representative?
Like it happens, but not always like that?
Lori Leibovich: but for casual sexual relationships i think it seems to be, yes.
Lori Fradkin: What I found so sad about that scene was when at the end she says "that was really, really nice"
Lori Fradkin: No, it wasn't!
Lori Fradkin: So I agree -- she needs the warmth more than the control
Lori Leibovich: yes.
that was heartbreaking
Lori Leibovich: like, cmon! you went to oberlin! this is NOT the way it's supposed to be!
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: but are we supposed to believe she believes that it was nice? or just that she wants to believe that?
Lori Fradkin: I think she wants to believe it. I think she probably deep down knows it's not right
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: It's interesting to contrast Hannah's experience with Marnie's
Marnie seems to want less control
Lori Fradkin: Right -- I think that's realistic too
Lori Leibovich: do you think Hannah wants more control?
I think she just wants more pleasure.
not necessarily control
she's aware that she's essentially invisible during sex
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I think she's trying to gain some control over the situation -- get him to use a condom and not to have anal sex with her --
to keep it from going from bad to really bad
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: but ideally, yes, she wants more pleasure, and then she wouldn't need control
Lori Leibovich: huh. I didn't get that sense
Lori Leibovich: i sense that Marnie wants someone who is going to, yes, boss her around a little in bed but not in a humiliating way
Lori Leibovich: let's talk about Hannah's body
it's amazing to me how much discussion has taken place around it
it's so depressing that an actress with a perfectly normal body is being scrutinized this way.
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: but I think she invited it by putting her own body in the show, a body she knew didn't match the insane ideal out there. I think it's part of her commentary.
"here is a normal body. on tv. deal with it"
Lori Leibovich: yes, and god bless her for doing it
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: she's my body image hero
Lori Leibovich: i think that may turn out to be the most important thing to come out of this show
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: which is why I say, I think she -- Lena, Hannah, both -- does care about her body.
and a lot of other people's
that aren't usually represented onscreen
Lori Fradkin: I also have to say that I am just rooting for her in general -- like I like Lena so much that I want her show to do well
I do like the show, but it's also a personal thing
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: I feel that, too. It's sort of like, if this passionate, creative person who is so articulate and has clearly poured her soul into this thing and put herself out there in every way
can't win, who can?
Lori Leibovich: or, rather, she SHOULD win
and she is!
if the conversation around the show is any indication
so yay. go lena. I mean that.
and now I must go. bye guys.
Lori Fradkin: Bye! Fun chatting with you!
Margaret Wheeler Johnson: Bye!
Haven't gotten your fill of "Girls" commentary? Take our "Girls" Hype Quiz:
QUIZ: Are These Quotes About "Sex and the City" Or "Girls"?
(Scroll down for attribution of each quote.)
Slide 1: Caryn James, New York Times, 1999
Slide 3: Emily Nussbaum, New York Magazine, 2012
Slide 5: Kara Warner, MTV's "Hollywood Crush" Blog, 2012
Slide 7: Caryn James, New York Times, 1999
Slide 9: Leah Beckmann, Gawker, 2012
Slide 11:John Tierney, New York Times, 1999
Slide 13: John Tierney, New York Times, 1999
Slide 15: Leah Beckmann, Gawker, 2012
Slide 17: Jason Bailey, Flavorwire, 2012
Slide 19: Matthew Gilbert, The Boston Globe, 1998
Slide 21: The Toronto Star, 1998, "The Best Chickcom Since Ally McBeal"
Slide 23: Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, 2012