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Critic's Notebook: Amy Taubin on the 'Defiant Immodesty' of Lena Dunham's 'Girls'

By Amy Taubin | Indiewire April 13, 2012 at 9:02AM

Modestly entertaining in its defiant immodesty, Lena Durham’s "Girls," a ten-part comedy series for HBO, nails the way that women -- make that "girls," no, make that white, upper-middle class, well-educated, and, as far as they know, heterosexual persons with vaginas -- talk about sex.
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Girls Bench

As an actor, Dunham does two things very well. The first is to toss off funny one-liners that are usually inappropriate and self-sabotaging, as when Hannah goes on a job interview and suggests to her potential boss that he’s a date rapist. The second involves her reaction to rejection, whether from her parents or the pompous publisher for whom she’s been an unpaid intern for two years, or the non-boyfriend (Adam Driver, fabulous because he makes the character so boorishly unappealing) who behaves as if he’s doing her a favor by allowing her to have sex with him.  At those moments, you can feel the sinking sensation in Hannah’s stomach and the mix of heartbreak and rage that locks her jaw and paralyses her body.

Not that Hannah is a wimp or a pushover. Doggie-style, okay; ass-fucking not! "Are you wearing a condom" is her mantra. She’s AIDS-phobic, which may partly account for her having had sex only with two men in her entire life. Having gone to a women’s health clinic to support Jessa (Jemima Kirk), a globe-trotting friend who has returned to New York to get an abortion, Hannah seizes the opportunity to be tested for STDs, telling the female gynecologist that the advantage of testing positive for HIV would be that no one would bother her anymore about getting a job. It’s the only moment in the three episodes I previewed where we see Hannah through the eyes of someone who deals with underprivileged, seriously ill women every day and who therefore finds Hannah’s sophistry beneath contempt.

As for the supposedly pregnant Jessa, she blows off her health clinic appointment by getting drunk and picking up a guy at a bar instead. "Put your hands down my pants," she orders him. He obeys, and then, looking down at his fingers says, "You’re bleeding." His confusion is so funny and touching that I almost forgave Dunham for engaging and then slickly side stepping the abortion issue.

I bet it never resurfaces this season. I also bet that before the end of the tenth episode, someone will offer to publish Hannah’s autobiographical essays and that her non-boyfriend will realize that he needs her as much as she thought she needed him, but only after she’s found someone more interesting. And I hope, but do not entirely expect, that some important non-Caucasian character will enter the narrative.

"Girls" is as innovative as it’s predictable. Most people will tune in for the sex that’s been over-hyped to the show’s detriment. What they will quickly discover is that the sex is not so hot. But unsatisfying sex can be as addicting as good sex -- because you always hope that if you do things just a little bit differently, it will turn into great sex. You could say the same about "Girls."

This article is related to: Television, Amy Taubin, Girls, HBO , Lena Dunham, TV Reviews







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