Sunday, April 15 is a momentous day on the calendar this year. Not because of taxes. Not because we appear to be trembling on the precipice of spring. Because a program called GIRLS premieres on HBO that night at 10:30 p.m. written, directed by, and starring Lena Dunham, that tells the honest truth about female friendship when we're in our 20s; a truly unvarnished look at all the blood, sweat, and tears incumbent in such relationships. Make no mistake -- all three bodily fluids are there.
Judd Apatow (whose producing credits include Bridesmaids, Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Jenni Konner (In the Motherhood, Help Me Help You) are co-producers. Bruce Eric Kaplan (writer and co-executive producer on Six Feet Under) and Ilene S. Landress (executive producer of a little show called The Sopranos and also of Mildred Pierce) are co-executive producers. In addition to Dunham herself, the cast includes Zosia Mamet (daughter of playwright David Mamet -- and most recently seen on Mad Men), Allison Williams (daughter of NBC News' Brian Williams; acting credits include appearances on the TV series American Dreams) and Jemima Kirke (who starred in Dunham's sophomore feature Tiny Furniture along with Dunham herself).
The series (10 episodes) revolves around four friends: Hannah (played by Dunham), Marnie (her best friend and roommate, played by Williams), Shoshanna (played by Mamet), and Jessa (Shoshanna's world-weary British cousin, played by Kirke). As the show begins, Hannah's parents (brilliantly played by Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari) are visiting her in New York and have taken her out to dinner to drop the considerable bombshell that they're cutting her off after supporting her since she graduated from college two years prior. Hannah has been working as an unpaid intern at a book publishing company -- and freaks out. "We can't keep bankrolling your groovy lifestyle," her mother frowns.
In typical parental fashion they then ask what she's doing the following night since they're leaving to go home the next morning. "I don't want to see you tomorrow," Hannah grouses. "I have work and then I have a dinner thing and then I am busy trying to become who I am." (You remember age 24, right? That's just about the number one thing 24 year-olds are working on -- trying to become who they are.) Hannah is in shock that suddenly the safety net has been yanked out from under her and goes home to her roommate Marnie. Marnie has both a real job and a real boyfriend -- only she is skeeved by the boyfriend ("His touch now feels like a weird uncle putting his hand on me at Thanksgiving," she confides to Hannah).
The dialogue is so smart and vivid you want to watch it over and over again to catch it, like I did several times during a scene where Marnie and Hannah are walking down the street discussing Hannah's f**kbuddy Adam (played by Adam Driver) who never responds to her texts. "Maybe I should call him," muses Hannah. "Didn't you say that texting is the lowest form of communication on the pillar of chat?" To which Marnie responds: "No, the lowest -- that would be Facebook, followed by Gchat, then texting, then email, then phone. Face to face is of course ideal but it's not of this time."
Meanwhile Jessa, the fascinating British girl who's just arrived on her cousin Shoshanna's doorstep from Bali or someplace, is the girl Serena Van der Woodsen wishes she could be. Shoshanna welcomes her in to her apartment and examines her like an exotic jewel. When Jessa says she's never seen Sex and the City (because a huge poster of the show is hanging on Shoshanna's wall) and isn't on Facebook, either, Shoshanna remarks, "You're so fucking classy," absolutely starry-eyed.
You get the idea by now... this is no ordinary television show. Among other things, it veers dangerously close to my actual experiences when I first moved to Manhattan at 23 years of age. When friendship was a life or death affair, and you alternately gushed over things or froze them out completely. When your relationships with your girlfriends were far more deep and sustaining than anything you could share with a one night stand or with a guy who tells you, like Hannah's f**kbuddy Adam does, that he wants her to play the quiet game to shut her up during sex. Her over-analyzing is ruining his concentration.
Apparently the sex, which is often, graphic, and hideous, has been getting a lot of attention on GIRLS. Because this is not the kind of sex that angels sing about in romantic movies -- or even the kind that Samantha in the aforementioned (and completely disparate) Sex and the City enjoyed so much. This is the real deal, the unadorned, unglamorous, desperately sad, I-can't-get-my-tights-off kind of sex. When you end up on the wet spot while he's in the shower. Nothing romantic about it.
And by the way -- the only thing that GIRLS has in common with Sex and the City is this: both TV series were born on HBO, and dealt with four women in Manhattan. That's it.
GIRLS has depth and raw beauty, and is terribly, terribly real. We know these four women. Some of us are these four women, or were once. One of the most arresting scenes in modern television memory occurs at the end of the third episode, where Hannah goes home after a devastating encounter with her ex-boyfriend from college. She sits on her bed and turns to Twitter to try and write pithily about the evening. When Marnie gets home she finds Hannah blasting "Dancing on My Own" and unselfconsciously dancing around her bedroom. Like you do, when you're 24 years-old. Marnie joins her and the show ends as they're both wildly gyrating.
To paraphrase a pivotal scene in the pilot episode, as Hannah urges her parents to read her book right then and there while she watches, trying to prove to them how important it is that they give her a monthly stipend so she can finish her novel: I don't want to freak you out but I think that Lena Dunham may be the voice of her generation... or at least A voice of A generation.
Watch the trailer here.
"GIRLS" airs on HBO Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m., beginning April 15.
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