The summer after I graduated from college, I watched all of Sex and the City as reassurance that I wouldn’t be sexmurdered, as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit seemed determined to tell me, and after 30 Rock premiered that fall, as reassurance that, short and bespectacled though I might have been and remain, there were options beyond Liz Lemonhood. I say all of this not to let you know that you will only like Girls, Lena Dunham’s brilliant new comedy for HBO about four young women fumbling through their early lives in New York if you liked Sex and the City. Quite the reverse. Those of us who love Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha will see ourselves, and be able to laugh at ourselves in Girls. But there’s an enormous amount there for those of you who didn’t. And while the show is unfortunately really, really white for a show set in New York City, on all other counts, it’s a show so good it’s almost implausible to me that it was made at all. Need specifics other than my good word, which appears at great length here in an essay for The Atlantic based on a long interview with Dunham? Here are five reasons to watch Girls after you get your dose of Game of Thrones on Sunday:
1. It’s hilarious: “The totem of chat. The lowest, that would be Facebook, followed by Gchat, then texting, then email, then phone. Face to face would be ideal, but it’s not of this time.” “I wouldn’t take shit from my parents. They’re buffoons. But my grandma gives me $800 a month…I supplement. But it gives me the freedom to not have to be anyone’s slave. You should never have to be anyone’s fucking slave. Except mine.” “I was live-in educator to these three children, and they all sang, and their father was a brilliant pacifist thinker.” These three lines from the pilot aren’t even close to the funniest things the characters say in that half-hour alone. And it gets funnier from there.
2. It’s delightfully progressive about sex and sexual health: Girls is one of the only shows on television where people talk about sexual health and reproductive rights like actual people in real life do. “What was she going to do? Have a baby and take it to her babysitting job? That’s not realistic,” Dunham’s character Hannah says when her friend Jessa (Jemima Kirke) gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion. In a delightful parody of oversoberness about reproductive choice, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) tells Jessa, who is smoking a joint the night before her procedure, “What you’re going through is like really, really hard for any young woman, and it totally makes sense that you would want to escape through drug use. But you have to know, you’re not just my cousin. you’re my friend. And I could not be more proud of you for getting this abortion.” When Hannah heads in for an STD test and one of her friends makes fun of her obsessive fear of AIDS, Hannah grumbles “I have obsessive fear of HIV that turns into AIDS. I’m not a fool.” And Dunham told me that she worked extremely hard to make sure a subplot in which her character is diagnosed with HPV and tries to find out how she could have gotten it medically accurate. That accuracy and frankness goes hand-in-hand with well-developed plots and very funny dialogue.
3. Lena Dunham is basically the female Louis C.K.: Emily Nussbaum made the comparison explicit in her New York Magazine cover story — and reports that Dunham once dressed up as C.K. for Halloween. The comparison is apt: whether it’s Dunham’s bodily frankness, the relentless and hilarious chronicle of failure and self-criticism, or even masturbation, Lena Dunham is a younger, more hopeful version of Louis C.K.
4. It’s one of the only shows on television where the characters have realistic wardrobes and apartments: Dunham turned down the larger sets HBO offered her to make it easier for the cameras and crew to get around in favor of making sure her characters would live in reasonably-sized apartments — she told me of New Girl, “I love that show, by the way, but every week there’s a new room I didn’t know was there! It’s like that real estate dream you have in New York, where it’s like over there! Over there! Over there! It’s really wild, that New Girl apartment.” And she fit her costumes with Spanx on, but didn’t wear them she was shooting so Hannah’s clothes would look like they didn’t fit, a symptom both of her lack of money and of the way the character hasn’t quite settled into her body.
5. The friendships are wonderful: Rebecca Traister expounds on this theme at length in Salon, reveling in the way that Girls shows that friends can be your true partners. That larger point aside, it’s just fun to see the characters go through what seem like well-worn conversational paces — “Sex from behind is degrading. point blank. You deserve someone who wants to look in your beautiful face, ladies,” Shoshanna reads from an advice book, only to have Jessa snap at her “What if I want to focus on something else?” — curl up in each other’s beds, rock out to Robyn. Speaking of which…
6. The show’s sense of pop culture is spot-on: This may seem like a little thing. But Girls does a tremendous job of actually populating the show with references, conversations, and music playing in rooms that the characters would actually watch and listen to. Whether it’s Robyn, or Kelly Clarkson, or a game show hosted by Jerry Springer called Baggage, in which people reveal their worst secrets (Hannah says of hers: “My littlest baggage is probably that I am unfit for any and all paying jobs. My medium baggage is that I bought four cupcakes and ate one in your bathroom just now. And my biggest baggage would be my HPV.”) Culture is a way we communicate with each other, and find the people we like. That Girls gets this right is just another indicator of its commitment to creating scenarios that are wonderfully emotionally true.