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TV Recap: GIRLS, “Pilot”

This generation of young people exiting college and being tossed out into the real world is largely misunderstood. Even I, as a member of this group/club/cult, cannot bolt down exactly what our deal is. We don’t even have a proper name like the Baby Boomers or Generation X had. The Millennials? Generation Y? The Twitter Age?

Luckily for us, Lena Dunham understands that this lack of strong identity is no accident and that growing up in this world is wrought  with ambiguity and confusion. She presented many of these ideals in her 2010 film Tiny Furniture, and she only expounds on them in her new HBO series Girls.

The series’ protagonist is Hannah (played by Dunham, who’s also the head writer and director), who has been living in Brooklyn for two years post college graduation trying to make it as a writer, compiling a series of personal essays that she is calling her memoirs, all while working as an unpaid intern at a publishing company. The pilot throws the audience right into the main conflict with the very first scene, as Hannah is told by her parents at a fancy dinner that she is being cut off financially.

Hannah doesn’t respond well to her parents’ decision, and frankly, she’s being a brat about the whole thing. “I can be a drug addict — do you realize how lucky you are?” she proclaims, as if that’s enough of a reason to continue a generous stream of cash coming her way. In a bold move, Dunham sets up Hannah to be entitled, spoiled, and completely naive.

Back at her apartment the next morning, Hannah shares the news with her roommate and best friend Marnie (played by Allison Williams, daughter of Rock Center‘s Brian Williams). Marnie is a supportive ear, telling Hannah to ask for a promotion at her internship. She also expresses how she is growing more and more repulsed by her seemingly-nice boyfriend, but more on that later.

At work, Hannah gathers the courage to ask for that promotion but is all but laughed at by her boss, who “practically routes resumes into his spam folder,” (except for Joy-Lynn’s. She knows Photoshop). Hannah subsequently gets fired/quits (as if it matters which) and heads to her friend Adam’s house. With her stilted world view, it’s no surprise that she sees him as a romantic possibility, even though he’s an insufferable douche who’s acting career oftentimes takes a back seat to his “more honest” woodworking. Adam sees Hannah as a sex buddy and nothing more, and their “love” scene  was one of the most awkward I can ever remember watching, which is exactly the point here. Hannah’s sex life is sad and humiliating and unfulfilling, and this show has no problem exploring that.

Hannah’s sexcapades cause her to be late to a dinner that Marnie is hosting, which escalates further into an opium tea-drinking party, and of course a distraught Hannah partakes. Her tripping causes for some of the funniest moments of the episode, including an unannounced appearance at her parent’s hotel room, complete with a mini-nervous breakdown on the floor and a screaming match which includes dad demanding Hannah drink a strong cup of coffee to get over a high that is “about as strong as smoking banana peels.”

Hannah wakes up in the morning after a day full of humiliations and mistakes having not learned much as of yet (she attempts to order room service on her parents’ tab and steals the 20 dollar tip left for housekeeping), but she is perhaps a bit relieved and ready to start the next stage of her life (as indicated by her interaction with the homeless man on her walk home: “Girl, when I look at you, I just wanna say ‘Helloooo New York'”). Hannah is incredibly flawed, and even unlikable at times, but Girls handles her issues with a great self-aware attitude that leaves plenty of room for growth.

The Girls universe is well laid out so far, and while some characters and more well-defined than others in the early going, everyone feels very real. There are things to like and hate about everyone, and the show won’t (nor should it) apologize for it. Even though Hannah is in crisis mode and may believe she’s entitled to more than she deserves, she still retains an inherent sweetness and charm that is nearly irresistible. And while Marnie seems to have a good head on her shoulders, she can barely explain why she’s no longer in love with her boyfriend. Jessa leads a seemingly too-good-to-be-true life of worldly drifting before we learn that she is pregnant. Hannah’s dad is firm with his decision to cut Hannah off but still hates himself knowing that that his little girl is struggling. Nothing is ever cut-and-dry and Girls nails this with incredible precision.

When Hannah proclaims to her parents towards the end of the episode that she thinks she may be “the voice of my generation…or at least a voice, of a generation,” it was clearly meant to be a facetious and misguided remark by an incredibly high person who doesn’t really know how the world works. But in Dunham’s case, so far she has perfected the voice and tone of her contemporaries, and I’m excited to see how Girls is able to roll with this momentum.


Odds and Ends

– Of the main cast, Marnie was the only one other than Hannah to get a relatively fleshed-out arc in this episode. She’s loving towards Hannah and is seeming responsible and successful in her professional life, but for reasons she can’t explain, she simply “can’t feel it anymore” with her boyfriend. Personally, I don’t blame her. I’m suspicious of how sweet he is and he looks like a Jonas Brother.

-Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is Hannah’s free-spirited and worldly friend who has just returned from overseas to discover that she is pregnant. She clearly plays to Hannah’s more carefree side (she shits her pants every time she does coke), and it will be fun to watch her and Marnie play off each other as the devil and angel on Hannah’s shoulders, but aside from a few good lines, she wasn’t given much to work with in the first episode.

– Even less fleshed out was Jessa’s cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet). We know that she is a Sex and the City fanatic — effectively giving the show a nod for its influence — and that she is the only one of her friends to have a British cousin, but not much else.

-Ray, the proprietor of the Opium tea, gets the best rant of the night in supporting why Hannah should work for an incredible company like McDonald’s.

– I should probably mention that comedy juggernaut Judd Apatow acts as one of the executive producers, and his Apatowian touch is undeniable.

– We should all consider eating cupcakes in the bathtub during times of crisis.

– It’s good to know that invaluable means very valuable, as apposed to not valuable at all.

– Soundtrack for the apartment party: Camera Obscura, MGMT, Feist, and Jay-Z.

– The Totem of Chat: In person (of course ideal), over the phone (with voices), e-mail, texting, G-chat, Facebook (don’t do it).

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Nicholas DeLorenzo

Nicholas DeLorenzo

television writer/social assassin