Generally speaking, comedies don’t arrive on the small screen fully formed, and often take some time to find and establish their voice and tone. Just look at the first seasons for shows like “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons” or the American version of “The Office.” Those initial episodes, while showing flashes of the best they would have to offer, are uneven, with characters still taking shape, jokes missing as often as they land and the overall architecture still being built. But the remarkable thing in watching the premiere episode of Lena Dunham‘s “Girls” is how confidently it struts out of the gate, and how fully structured it seems right from the start.
The bulk of the season premiere — which stretches just over the half-hour mark — as expected, sets up the characters we’ll be spending time with over the season. As the show opens, Hannah (Dunham) is told by her parents (the always excellent Becky Ann Baker and a hilariously emasculated Peter Scolari) that they will no longer be supporting her financially while she interns in New York City, as she tries to finish her book. She breaks the news to her roommate Marnie (Allison Williams) who is currently evaluating her feelings for hey boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott) whose overwhelming sensitivity and love is turning her off.
While some pretty flimsy comparisons have been made to “Sex & The City,” it’s with the introduction of the bubbly Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and her British cousin Jessa (Jemima Kirke) that Dunham puts those to rest. An almost obnoxiously huge fan of ‘SATC,’ Shoshanna describes herself as a “Carrie at heart” with a mix of Samantha and a bit of Miranda. As for Jessa? She’s never even heard of the show or seen it. And it’s in this back and forth, which humorously ribs a generation of women who identify with those characters, that “Girls” firmly announces this is not just ‘SATC’ for twentysomethings.
And if that sequence doesn’t do it, then Hannah’s date with her semi-boyfried Adam (Adam Driver) does. Where ‘SATC’ presented sexual encounters as wild, nearly soft porn escapades, here it’s a bit uncomfortable, slightly unsatisfying and takes place on a thrift store sofa. Adam’s apartment is half bachelor pad, half workspace, and while his brutal honesty makes him kind of a dick, there is no question that Hannah knows exactly the kind of person he is (to a point: he routinely disappears for weeks at time without answering her calls or texts and she isn’t quite sure what he does for money, aside from the $800/month he gets from his grandmother). So it’s not exactly surprisingly that when it comes to fucking, Adam casually tries to introduce anal sex, only to be firmly rebuffed, making the rest of the already awkward encounter even worse. But the remarkable thing is that where ‘SATC’ would have build a whole episode around this issue, Dunham knows in real life, lots of couples don’t talk about it, prefering to sweep those moments under the rug and return to the preset and accepted established routine.
And while there is something to admire in Hannah’s confidence in the bedroom, dictating what is acceptable and what isn’t, when it comes to her own self-image and even her own life, that quality is missing. As the episode opens, she refers to herself as a “fat pig model” and tells Charlie to “avert your eyes.” And the show closes, in a funny, yet touching way, with a desperate, opium-fueled final plea to her parents to keep her financial lifeline going, which winds up with Hannah writhing on the floor, imploring her Mom and Dad, “Don’t look at me.” This self-doubt will be Hannah’s biggest obstacle to overcome as she enters the search for a new job (after she is effectively let go from her intern position for asking for a salary) and navigates the unbalanced relationship she has with Adam.
In putting the pieces into play, the first episode doesn’t leave a cliffhanger as much as a few strong plot threads that will unfold over the next few episodes. We learn that Jessa is possibly pregnant, wonder if Marnie will break up with Charlie and the final shot is of Hannah striding into the faceless maw of Manhattan as she looks to regain her footing having both her finances and her job pulled out from under her. It’s a strong start, both fresh and funny, with characters charmingly flawed and real. “Girls” is one to watch. [A]
Songs featured in the episode: Camera Obscura “French Navy”; Betty Davis “Shoo B Doop And Cop Him”; MGMT “Time To Pretend”; Feist “I Feel It All”; Jay-Z ft. Swizz Beats “On To The Next One” and Harper Simon “Wishes And Stars” (over the closing credits).