HBO features a fresh new comedy with ‘Girls’

By Kevin Romani

Executive producer Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) returns his attention to television with “Girls,” a very modern and appropriate comedy for upcoming college graduates.

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“Girls” comes from creator Lena Dunham, who serves as the star of the series as well as the writer and director of the pilot episode. Dunham showcases all of her talents with a charming performance, a clever script and in visually shaping the atmosphere of her story.

While Apatow does not appear to have too much creative involvement in this series thus far, his style – particularly in television – can certainly be felt in “Girls.” Apatow served as executive producer of “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” two popular programs that were cancelled early despite cult-like followings. The characters in “Girls” are often armed with a witty response, and find themselves in several uncomfortable circumstances. The impeccable fusion of comedy and drama found in “Girls” is another Apatow staple.

Dunham’s Hannah is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer who is unexpectedly informed by her parents that she can no longer depend on them financially. Her mother – played brilliantly by Apatow alum Becky Ann Baker (“Freaks and Geeks”) – is the bad cop when it comes to the decision.

“I’ve worked hard, I deserve a lake house!” declares Hannah’s mother later in the episode. Dad (Peter Scolari), on the other hand, is much less harsh and didn’t want to break the news to her so coldly. It’s clear early on who wears the pants in this household.

The series begins with Hannah receiving this news while dining out with her parents and the mood of the entire episode was perfectly captured in those opening minutes. There were several quick comedic lines like Hannah’s “Do you know how crazy the economy is now?” But the feeling of remorse and compassion felt towards Hannah is also present.

More bad news follows Hannah as she is fired from her unpaid internship for simply asking for a position. She then finds herself at her on-again off-again boyfriend’s house, and a painfully awkward sexual encounter ensues. This is a relatable story for college students and parents alike. Hannah is now alone in a world that she has not yet found herself in.

Hannah finds solace in her best friend and roommate, Marnie (Allison Williams). Marnie looks out for Hannah to the best of her ability, but is facing her own issues with her obsessive boyfriend. Their dynamic duo is threatened and complicated by the arrival of their British friend Jessa (Jemima Kirke), who is a sporadic traveler and beyond irresponsible. Marnie sees past her faux stories and wants her gone, while Hannah adores her and takes her unwise advice. Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) rounds up the group, though she only appears in scenes with Jessa in this first episode. It appears Shoshanna will be the most fun in the group, as she plays an unintelligent valley-girl-esque character.

Someone hearing wind of a series from HBO called “Girls” featuring four main female characters may instantly think of “Sex and the City,” and that “Girls” will be in a sense a rip-off of that earlier program. Dunham may have expected this type of reaction, as one of the better jokes from the episode revolves around Shoshanna over-explaining which of the “City” characters she and Jessa were most like. “Girls” in reality bares little-to-no similarities to “City,” as the glamour and melodrama is replaced with financial burdens and sophisticated relationships.  The differences between the two series’ reflect how much has changed in the world, especially in television. Series which focus on thought-provoking ideas and characters based in reality now trump over familiar and extravagant narratives.

While “Girls” is classified as a comedy and is certainly humorous, the viewer is not left with the happiest feeling once the credits role. The funny moments are mostly centered on sarcasm and wit. The rest of “Girls” is comprised of joyless people in a bleak setting. If there is one area “Girls” might need to work on, it is in this morose style. Viewers will still laugh, but the melancholy may overwhelm them from consistently returning on a week-to-week basis. This issue may be addressed in the coming weeks, but if the pilot is any indication, “Girls” will not be labeled “the feel good comedy of the year.”

Overall, “Girls” works because of the commitment from Dunham in both her writing and acting. Dunham has crafted a narrative with characters that everyone will feel they are or know immediately, and places them in scenarios and settings that mirrors contemporary society. “Girls” will make one laugh and think, but don’t expect to leave the couch with an optimistic disposition.

Girls airs on HBO Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m.

Kevin Romani can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @KevinRomani.