"Girls, the show about four twenty-something women navigating their lives “one mistake at a time” in New York City, is a cultural phenomenon in its home country and is set to be huge here, too.
It’s the creation of 26-year-old Lena Dunham, a person for whom the term ‘wunderkind’ seems regrettably underpowered. She put it together after her self-financed first film, Tiny Furniture, won best narrative feature at the 2010 South by Southwest film festival and brought her to the attention of Judd Apatow. He commissioned the show and, with Dunham, co-executive produces it. She not only writes and directs most of the episodes but also plays the lead character Hannah Horvath (and was nominated for Emmys in all three categories this year).
The show itself is so brutally realistic that it takes a second viewing before you can bear to drop your hands from your eyes and look properly, or start to laugh as hard as the writing deserves. To those of us – which is to say, all of us – reared on glossy, perfectly lit, gorgeously shot Hollywood couplings on the big screen and the more explicit but hardly more naturalistic small-screen versions in Sex And The City, the sex scenes are astonishing. And agonising. Almost every one of them shows the two rarest of all the televisual beasts – the realistic female body, and the unsatisfactory shag.
“What do you like?” pants Hannah’s on-off boyfriend Adam as he pounds away while she lies, faintly bored, faintly bewildered underneath him. “I like everything,” she replies, still clearly hoping that polite untruth will salvage actual intercourse as well as it generally does social intercourse. And if that exchange doesn't yank you back to your early years of sexual misadventure, naivety and mentally crucifying humiliations, the next one surely will. “Where do you want me to come?” gasps Adam. “What,” asks Hannah after a fractional pause, “are the choices?” Anyone further on in their carnal careers than Hannah at this point wants to throw herself prostrate on the floor and thank a benevolent god she never has to embark on that learning curve again.
After SATC the sex scenes are astonishing and agonising.
Between sex scenes, we follow Hannah and her friends worrying about the STD-carrying properties of “the stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms”, booking terminations, having vaginal examinations and doing lots of other, less genital-based stuff, in the meantime – tweeting, getting high, dancing like idiots, ballsing up interviews and just generally doing what you do in your early 20s; filling up the time before the world and its woes start beating down your door and demanding that you let them in. But what strikes you as the episodes unfold is how bizarre it seems to be seeing normal female bodies doing normal female things. At one point, Hannah is on the phone and pulls up her (cheap, drab) skirt in order to pull down her (cheap, drab) shirt. It’s the antithesis of the SAT C aesthetic that, you realise, your subconscious has started accepting as reality.
It’s bizarre to see women not enjoying sex, female characters not primarily designed to be likeable or ever-so-carefully constructed to appeal to key marketing demographics and to see them demonstrate more than one characteristic each. Hannah is by turns clever, petulant, witty, ignorant, neurotic, scared, confident and insecure, and it is wonderful.
This rare experience of course comes about because it is, more than any other creation in recent memory, the product of one woman’s talent. It is a female vision. And because there are so few women in powerful enough positions to render, undiluted, their experience of the world for a wider audience, it looks and feels incredibly strange to us. It’s not perfect, of course – Dunham has been criticised for her concentration on an undeniably privileged and white ensemble of characters and actors (and says she will be trying to address this in the second series) – but Girls remains both a thrilling experience and a salutary reminder of how long its kind has taken to come to our screens."
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