Friday, June 22, 2012

Television Review: "Girls" Season 1 (****)

For about five years it's been common knowledge that "Mad Men" is the best show on television, but I think that instantly changed the moment "Girls" premiered on HBO. Within a single episode, all the angst and insecurities of a current generation rose to the surface. What's more is that it all comes from a particularly unexpected source, Lena Dunham whose previous experience mostly amounts to the 2010 indie film "Tiny Furniture". That film trudged along similar emotional and physical landscapes, but in a less gender-centric manner and with something of a stale mannerism. That is somewhat attributable to the low-budget it was filmed on.

"Girls" has budget enough to erase that still quality, and actors a plenty to pull off Dunham's witty dialogue. The film's circulating ensemble of characters is led by none less than Dunham herself, who's confident enough to not only direct herself, but genuinely excel in her self-deprecating performance. Not ignorant of the story-of-my-life aspect of her show, Dunham plays Hannah, an aspiring writer who is thrust into the real world by her parents cutting her off of financial support, as parents often do. Hannah responds to this as most probably would, which is to panic, complain, and beg their parents forgiveness.

Hannah would so like to believe that the world revolves around her, but it obviously doesn't as the show has a wider focus than that. Her roommate and best friend, Marnie, is in a stable job situation and knows where she's going with that. It's her dulling relationship with longtime boyfriend Charlie that is eating up inside her, and it's not something as simple as cheating. Marnie is more sheltered and young inside than she'd like to admit to herself, expecting everybody to be all together and cute, but not-so-secretly desperate for something other. Allison Williams really milks both the emotion in the dialogue and every slight expression she gives. She doesn't even need a one-liner to get across a point she can distill to a glare or head tilt.

They really are the lost generation of characters, and the only one who is absolutely fine with that is Jessa, Hannah's British friend who doesn't have anything together, and is quite fine with that. She's far from ultimate wisdom, but she's not about to jam herself into a corner by defying her own logic. She is absolutely honest in her manipulation of people who she wants to feel guilty for what she represents to them. One such instance comes across in the fifth episode of the season, when a geisha-costume infused encounter with an old flame takes an unexpectedly unexpected turn for the hilarious, simply because Lena Dunham can't find a reason not to have it happen that way.

Jessa is brought into the fold through her American cousin Shoshanna, who is so precious in the most adorable and innocent of ways. She's just not introduced to the trials of the world, and so inexperienced sexually that you just want to give her a hug. She really represents that breed of "Sex and the City" inspired students who wish their lives were as great as in television. There's simply the problem of getting there, which is a problem for her because she has ambition, but certainly not the confidence to do anything about it. It makes her such a lovable character, and perhaps the most so of the entire show. Having growing comedic icon Zosia Mamet in the role is just icing on the cake.

A strong fixture in the first season of the show is Adam, Hannah's sorta-boyfriend who rings semi-abusive, extremely weird, but mostly just plain confident. "When I commit to something, I really fucking commit!" That's something so perfect about him, is that he knows who he is and what he wants to be. He has no qualms with it not being the next big thing. He's fine being the strange and somewhat disturbing off-the-carpet fare. The best way I can describe him is as the Nicolas Winding Refn of boyfriends. It wouldn't come off if it weren't for Adam Driver's aggressive and perversely brilliant performance. He deserves any Emmy nomination he's not likely to get. The man is rather perfect.

Then there are a lot of rotating characters in the show, like Hannah's parents who appear at first in just the premiere, but later return at the midsection of the season to really give a further dimensionality to their characters. There are things that people really don't want to think about in terms of their parents. Lena Dunham isn't too afraid to cross those lines, and those parents are more human because of it. Marnie's aforementioned boyfriend Charlie is given something of an arc this season, but the show really isn't about the guys. There's an uninformed feeling about some of the men, and it doesn't detract from the show. It actually enhances it. Charlie's friend Ray is such a singular mooded character, and for the present now that's all he needs to be.

What sets "Girls" apart is that it makes the choices other shows aren't cruel enough to do. I think Lena has found a way to separate herself from those characters in a way that makes the mistakes they make all on them. This show is remarkably honest and passionate, which really makes all the difference in the world. As a guy, how does this show make me feel? Am I simply a man who thinks these girls are funny? Absolutely not. I often find male characters to be less intriguing than female ones, who I often really connect with on a deeper level. Maybe that says something about my own orientation. Maybe I'm just weird that way. What goes without saying is that "Girls" has touched, shaken, and affected me more significantly than any male drama on television, maybe ever. And that's just the first season!

Best Series (Comedy): "All Adventurous Women Do"
Best Actress: Lena Dunham ("She Did")
Best Supporting Actress: Jemima Kirke ("Vagina Panic")
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Williams ("Hard Being Easy")
Best Supporting Actress: Zosia Mamet ("Hannah's Diary")
Best Supporting Actor: Adam Driver ("She Did")
Best Directing: Jody Lee Lipes ("Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident")
Best Screenplay: Lena Dunham & Judd Apatow ("The Return")

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