Lena Dunham may just be the future of television. If not, she comes thrillingly close with Sunday's premiere of her groundbreaking sitcom Girls on HBO.
Dunham is the impossibly young (26 next month) creator, writer, director and star of the Judd Apatow-produced series, which is unlike anything else on TV and suggests what young female voices can contribute to the future of the medium. Dunham wrote, directed and starred in the 2010 indie film Tiny Furniture, which won honors at the Independent Spirit Awards and South by Southwest.
Meeting with HBO to talk about developing a series, she said she didn't see any women on TV she recognized from her own life. With the backing of Apatow and HBO, she remedies that situation with a series that's not only smart and good, but so realistic that it seems like a documentary.
The subject matter and characters of Girls are similar to those of Tiny Furniture: women navigating young adulthood, including trying to understand the nature of intimacy and friendship when interpersonal communication is so refracted by social media and electronic devices.
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Dunham plays recent college graduate Hannah, who has an unpaid internship at a publishing house and is trying to finish a book of essays. At the start of Sunday's premiere, she is told by her college professor parents that they've supported her long enough and are cutting her off.
The so-called plot of Girls becomes less a structured series of events and more "stuff that really happens in life." Hannah interacts with her friends, who include best friend Marnie (Allison Williams), in a long-standing, uninspiring relationship with Charlie (Christopher Abbott); British jet-setter-in-training Jessa (Jemima Kirke); and almost annoyingly sunny Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet).
She also hooks up with her sort-of boyfriend, acting hopeful Adam (Adam Driver), who's more interested in physical connections than the emotional variety, although he knows how to fake concern when it's called for.
Girls isn't a standard sitcom, because it lacks a weekly situation that somehow resolves itself after 22 minutes, leaving time for commercial breaks.
Funny things certainly happen, but not in such a predictably self-contained, episodic way. Each show comes to an end when it comes to an end. Not surprisingly, Hannah is the show's dominant presence, and she's nothing like most main characters in TV sitcoms. She's very smart, self-deprecating, very funny, a keen observer and commentator about modern life, but she's not, at first, attractive -- at least not in the traditional Hollywood way.
Men don't come off all that well in the show. There's Adam, the "animal," as Hannah's roommate calls him, who launches into hysterically inappropriate fantasy scenes when he's having sex.
Then there's Charlie, who is such an "evolved" male that it's no wonder Marnie is bored with the relationship. And let's not forget Elijah (Andrew Rannells), Hannah's college boyfriend, who stuns her with some personal news of his own when she reconnects with him to let him know she has an STD. Elijah is now gay, he announces.
While the casual nature of sex in Girls may dismay some viewers, it is nonetheless representative of the detachment of the young men and women of Hannah's generation. It's also notable than there isn't the slightest hint of romance or even longing for romance in any of the relationships depicted in the first three episodes.
Girls represents an exciting moment in television history because, like a handful of other shows (MTV's Awkward, most notably), it not only makes great use of the medium but also has the creative guts to realign it for a new century and a new generation.