‘Girls’ – ‘Pilot’: A voice of a generation?

Senior Television Writer
04.15.12 113 Comments


The first episode of “Girls” just debuted. I offered a review of the start of the season as a whole on Thursday, and I have some specific thoughts on the pilot coming up just as soon as we play the quiet game…

The “I may be the voice of my generation” line near the end of the pilot is one that I and most everyone writing about “Girls” has focused on. As Lena Dunham told me in January, it’s a line that’s not meant to be taken seriously, as it’s uttered by someone high on opium, moments away from collapse, desperately trying to convince her parents to keep paying all of her bills.

And I don’t look at “Girls” as any kind of generational manifesto. I think any artist gets into trouble when he or she tries to present their truth as a universal one. This is a very specific story about these four young, white women, each of them crafted out of Dunham’s own experiences and those of her friends and writers. There’s only so much it can say.

Yet at the same time, what impressed me about the pilot, and even more about the two episodes that followed it, was how much “Girls” has on its mind. It’s not just about the sex lives of four Brooklyn girls in their early 20s. It’s about that, sure – and we get our first glimpse of some really lousy sex when Hannah lets her fuckbuddy Adam take charge of the session and not even make clear whether he’s really wearing a condom – but it’s also about their personal and professional ambitions, and how those are taking a beating in the worst economy of our lifetimes. Hannah and her friends were born into plenty and now, like the rest of us, have to get used to frequent disappointment.

I loved the choice of Chris Eigeman as Allistair, Hannah’s boss at the publishing house. Not only is Eigeman a very funny performer – love how quickly Allistair accepts that Hannah’s usefulness to him is at an end and that it’s time to move on to the next slave unpaid intern – who doesn’t work nearly enough anymore, but he was one of the stars of Noah Baumbach’s “Kicking and Screaming.” That movie feels in a way like a male, mid-’90s version of the same story Dunham and company are telling about the difficulty in finding direction in the years after college.

What we see of Hannah in this premiere, and of her friend Marnie (Jessa and Shoshanna, the other members of our quartet, are less fully-defined in the pilot), is that they’re happy with each other, but largely unsatisfied with the rest of the world. Marnie can barely stand the sight and touch of her seemingly-acceptable boyfriend Charlie, even as she recognizes that it makes her feel like a bitch. Hannah’s with the self-satisfied hipster Adam (whose woodworking is “just more honest”),  sort of, but she seems to leave their encounter feeling worse than when she arrived. And whatever professional dreams she had seem to be closing up due to the economy and her parents’ understandable impatience with her.

As I said in my earlier review, “Girls” doesn’t tell you to like these women. If anything, it opens by presenting plenty of reasons not to. Hannah is spoiled and entitled. Jessa couldn’t be smugger with her worldiness. Etc. But I found Hannah – or maybe Dunham herself – incredibly appealing despite all the obvious flaws, all of which the show is very much aware of and willing to use as fodder for humor.   

A very good start, and it gets better from here.

Some other thoughts:

* I also loved Becky Ann Baker (who played the Weir family matriarch on Apatow’s “Freaks and Geeks”) and Peter Scolari as Hannah’s parents, though between this show and “Smash,” Baker is starting to become typecast as the Midwestern mom who comes to New York to express concern about her daughter’s life choices.

* Not only is Dunham unafraid to show off her naked body and make her figure a topic of conversation, but she can convincingly eat a cupcake, where the Kryptonite of many skinny actresses is having to convincingly eat anything on-camera, let alone something that delicious but fattening.

* Dunham is a huge “Sex and the City” fan, and the scene with the movie poster seems both an acknowledgment of the debt “Girls” owes and a way to head off the comparisons. Yet by putting all the dialogue about the show in the mouth of Shoshanna – who, in the pilot, is the one character the show seems on the verge of laughing at, rather than with – it comes across as more dismissive of “SATC” than Dunham may have intended. (Though that may just be my bias as someone who grew to retroactively hate the show.)

* As someone born even before Britta Perry – and who not only uses his phone as a phone, but has a landline – I’m curious what those of you closer to Hannah and Marnie’s age think of their rankings of “the totem of chat.” 

* For the handful of “Tiny Furniture” fans, not only do Dunham and Jemima Kirke team up again, but Alex Karpovsky, who was the closest thing that movie had to a male lead, begins a recurring role here as Ray, the guy who provides the opium tea, sings the praises of McDonald’s, and refuses to date any woman who’s under 25 or has at one point “been penetrated by a drummer.”

What did everybody else think?

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