Girl Talk

(Ethan Gates)– I was intrigued by the idea of HBO’s new comedy “Girls,” but honestly I didn’t think I would ever watch it. That’s no knock on series creator Lena Dunham, whose super-indie critical darling “Tiny Furniture” I desperately want to watch. It was more thanks to HBO’s infuriating decision to make it basically impossible to legally watch any of its shows streaming online. The reason I love Hulu and Spotify is that I really don’t mind ads that much. I want to support my the artists I like, and if it means ads or paying a small fee for streaming, fine. I can put up with 30-second ads or $10 a month, especially considering the quality of the product HBO is putting out. So why can’t I use HBO GO unless I already have HBO included on my cable package? It’s not MY fault that Amherst doesn’t pay for us to have HBO. This is how you drive completely supportive, legitimate viewers to illegitimate actions like torrenting, HBO.

I’ve careened off the point here, which is that I just discovered yesterday that HBO decided to put the pilot for “Girls” on YouTube, I presume to stir up anticipation and snag a few more subscribers (a smart move). If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend going to YouTube right now – God knows how long it will be before HBO decides to take the video down again.

I for one am completely hooked. This is an absolutely fantastic pilot. It’s not like “Community” or “Parks and Recreation,” which showed a lot of potential in their early days but admittedly stumbled around quite a bit first. This is not a show that is going to be funny; this show is funny, NOW. The characters already feel like rounded, complete creatures; Dunham won’t have to create new wrinkles to make them interesting, she just needs to explore the wrinkles that are already there in this pilot. You don’t entirely like or dislike any of them – with each of the three main girls (Hannah, Jessa and Marnie) there were moments where I sympathized with them and moments where I wanted to punch them in the face. That feels about right.

And while it pains me a little to say this, I have to give Judd Apatow credit for providing Dunham the cash to make this project happen. With “Bridesmaids,” it was really difficult to say if Apatow, the man responsible for basically every whiny immature man-child comedy of the past 5-10 years, was truly dedicated to giving women a voice in the American comedy scene. I thought that “Bridesmaids” would end up more a brick wall than a stepping stone, but I was wrong: “Girls” is the logical next step. “Bridesmaids” was girl talk for boys (“See, women can make fart jokes too!”); “Girls” is just girl talk. Maybe there are some men who needed that “Bridesmaids” link to accept that yes, it’s OK to watch a movie or TV show that focuses on women and still be entertained – whatever it takes to get them watching “Girls,” I don’t much care.

Not that there aren’t a few problems with the pilot. While the three main characters are all properly nuanced, Dunham can’t resist broad comedy with a few of the peripheral players: namely Hannah’s mother, who’s just a little too unreasonably shrill, and Shoshanna, Jessa’s spacey up-talking cousin/roommate. The former might be explained by the generational gap between Dunham and the middle-aged characters she’s writing – she obviously has a firm grasp of what motivates twenty-somethings and how they talk to each other, but these older characters are a little fuzzier (although I loved Hannah’s father, and in particular the way the show so casually addressed his knowledge of drugs). Shoshanna’s a trickier problem, and while Zosia Mamet’s wonderful line readings are covering that for the moment, I hope Dunham finds a way to make the character less of a stereotype.

In fact, as comparisons to “Sex and the City” run rampant, Dunham will have a lot of stereotype avoidance to do. She’s not really doing herself any favors by referencing that earlier show so explicitly (although, again, Mamet’s energy makes that joke soar), but I feel pretty confident that Dunham can take the “four women living in New York” formula and show us something completely new, mostly because she’s working with a slightly different demographic. Yes, these are still upper-class, privileged white women, but they’re younger, and I think that’s a big point that’s getting lost in all the brouhaha over “Girls.” It’s not just that Dunham is giving us a show focused on women, a sorely-needed rarity, but she’s giving us a show about twenty-somethings, a demographic that is surprisingly underrepresented when it comes to serious-minded films and TV shows (sure, “Girls” is a comedy, but unlike, say, “Community,” it approaches the lives of these young people with a highly realistic, non-ironic approach). I’m not a girl, but I identified pretty strongly with these characters because of the general malaise and uncertainty hanging over them all, especially (all together now) in this economy. My favorite moment in the whole pilot might have been Hannah’s confusion over the word “invaluable.” As someone about to graduate from college with a liberal arts degree, I’m struggling pretty much every day with the question: are my skills valued, or not? Why don’t I know Photoshop?

One final note: Dunham really is coming under fire for writing another show about privileged white folk. I don’t get this argument, and genuinely don’t think it would be happening if Dunham (or her characters) were male. When Aaron Sorkin’s show debuts this summer, will anyone say, “Oh no, not another show about a privileged white man?” No. Dunham is writing what she knows because she’s 24 and probably just doesn’t have the life experience to feel comfortable doing anything else (my entire screenwriting class is struggling with this same issue). It’s not fair to attack an individual show for a trend that TV network executives are responsible for – if we want more shows about lower-class, non-white people, then HBO or FOX or ABC or whoever should hire some lower-class, non-white writers. It’s not that hard. Sure, Dunham can do a better job of representing New York demographics by bringing in more lower-class, non-white characters, but she’s had ONE EPISODE to work with so far; how about we give her some time before making that criticism?