Critics praise HBO show while questioning whether it will connect beyond urban audiences.
By John Mitchell
HBO’s new comedy “Girls” is easily the most buzzed-about series debut so far this year. From the almost uncomfortably realistic sex scenes and sharp dialogue to series creator/producer/writer/star Lena Dunham’s Louis C.K.-style multitasking — not to mention the show’s similarities to and differences from that other landmark show about four single females in New York — people cannot stop talking about “Girls.” Luckily for everyone involved, most of the things being said range from good to rave.
“Girls,” which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO, has critics using words like “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary” to describe the series, about four friends (Dunham and co-stars Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke and Zosia Mamet) in their early 20s trying to get their lives off the ground in NYC.
Here in the MTV Newsroom, we’re as enraptured with the show as everyone else seems to be, but in her otherwise rave review in Salon, Willa Paskin makes an observation about “Girls” that has come up often during chatter about the new series: that its specificity, minus the fantasy element that made middle America fall in love with “Sex and the City,” may make the show unrelatable to those outside East Coast urban centers.
“My concern was that ‘Girls’ speaks so specifically and accurately to the experience of me and my census buddies — and to be clear, that’s urban white girls with safety nets; have at us in the comments — that people would either write it off as navel-gazing, snark at the innate privilege undergirding the whole thing, or find it unrelatable,” Paskin writes.
That concern doesn’t diminish the show’s quality, though, and the site goes on to call the show “smart, bracing, funny, accurately absurd, confessional yet self-aware.”
“Few series come out of the box as brilliant as ‘Girls’ does,” Tim Goodman rhapsodizes in The Hollywood Reporter. “The new HBO series from Lena Dunham (‘Tiny Furniture’) is one of the most original, spot-on, no-missed-steps series in recent memory. For her part, Dunham, who writes, directs, stars in, created and executive produces the series, is a talent as unique and refreshing to the medium as Louis C.K. — high praise indeed, as FX’s ‘Louie’ is one of the most critically acclaimed series on television.”
Sex factors heavily in “Girls,” but unlike the glamorized romps we saw on its HBO foremother “SATC,” the sex acts depicted here are graphic, button-pushing and realistic but not gratuitous. According to Verne Gay in Newsday, the sex serves as a visual manifestation of the characters’ internal issues. In a four-star review, Gay writes, “Hannah [Dunham’s character] and the show are all about internal conflict and so is the humor, while sex — and fair warning, it’s pretty graphic here, which may be the handiwork of Apatow — is the metaphor for all that conflict. It’s grotesque, malignant, unpleasurable and a particularly devious torture chamber, at least for the women, who still submit to it.”
The Los Angeles Times isn’t as unconditional in its praise, calling the show “nothing short of revolutionary” but “hard to love.” “There is a cool cleverness to the show that is both attractive and off-putting,” Mary McNamara writes. “The characters are flawed and hyper-aware of their flaws, the stories so bent on covering every angle of self-examination that there is no real role for the viewer to play. Which makes watching it an intellectual rather than emotional experience.”
The show positions itself as being a far more realistic version of the girls in the big city trope that “SATC” glamorized, which the Atlantic Wire‘s Richard Lawson sees as a reflection of the times the two shows premiered in. ” ‘SATC’ was fantasy and fable, with a few bits of relatable relationship stuff thrown to the commoners like chum. ‘Girls’ is something else; it’s a very particular, very of the moment dissection of mundanely funny minutiae, of boredom and anxiety in these brownly grim times,” Lawson writes. “Though I guess it’s possible the difference really is merely generational — the rich late ’90s gave us Sex, while the wobbly ’10s give us Girls, a witty and occasionally touching glimpse into our immediate neighbors’ lives. They’ve got something here, it just remains to be seen how big a thing it is.”
That “Girls” could be the next big things seems like the consensus opinion of critics, but will this story of a group of friends struggling to discover themselves and succeed in the big city connect with audiences in Peoria, Illinois? Lawson seems to think it may. “Who knows, it could be that soon enough young women the nation over will be saying they’re ‘such a Hannah’ or ‘totally a Marnie,’ ” he writes. “Maybe fabulous is officially out. Maybe the new aspiration in these punishing times is, simply, to aspire.”
Are you excited for the series premiere of “Girls” Sunday on HBO? Let us know if you’ll be watching in the comments below!