Full disclosure: I watched “Pilot” through questionable, illegal means. But voluntarily writing a blog review of a show on a network I don’t have because I don’t own a TV or access to the network’s subscription service feels like both a fun challenge and connective tissue to Girls‘ lead character of Hannah (Lena Dunham), the broke, unpaid intern who’s still convinced that her viewpoint matters. “I’m busy, trying to become who I am” is Hannah’s blowoff to her folks after they announce that they’re cutting off her mid-20s subsidizing. That turn of phrase speaks knowingly to the Wonderful World of Freelancing, in which one must frequently ask, “Am I a ________ if I’m getting paid nothing or next-to-nothing to do it? I laughed out loud at Hannah’s admission to her boss – at some place that keeps a ton of Melville House laying around – that she recently learned that the word invaluable means very valuable instead of not valuable at all. We are in the company of a protagonist who is fundamentally intelligent and driven by smart pursuits, but still reveals embarrassing gaps and gaffs that lesser writing on a more bombastic sitcom would not allow. What I’m suggesting is that you have to be damned smart to at times sound this dumb.
Recent web-hype pre-reviews that have branded Hannah (and Dunham by proxy) as a spoiled, vulgar brat tend to forget that most comedians and their characters are exactly that. Moreover, this character has a lot more heart-upon-sleeve than the last ten Adam Sandler vehicles. She won’t go rogue like Dennis Miller, or soft like the cast of How I Met Your Mother. Showing your warts and all is effective only when you’re funny to boot, and Dunham absolutely gets some real zingers in here. Her choice to steal money intended for housekeeping no doubt garnered a kind of shock or even jeers from viewers, but is it not what Kenny Powers, Bobby Dupea, or any of Elliott Gould’s best characters would do in the same situation?
As the representative Male of this review tandem squadron, a word or two on the gentleman of the show: I found the character of Charlie (Christopher Abbott) to be on point, as was the candid discussion of his character’s niceness being gross and undesirable. Meanwhile, Hannah’s actor/woodworker fuck buddy Adam (Adam Driver) is the kind of dude I consciously strive to not be, only to find myself wearing his haircut, jeans, and cadence. He is sour enough to make me wince more than once, in his constant interruptions and use of stilted bro-cabulary for lack of any other terms. You can smell the rotting takeout carton stuck under his box spring, and his trite idea that he accepts $800 a month from his grandmother because “you should never be anyone’s slave” is the kind of clueless white privilege that is going to turn a lot of people off of this show, either because they don’t want to spend free time with the sorts of people they dislike in real life, or because it hits too close to home.
Choosing Paul Simon’s son for the end music to “Pilot” is pretty inspired, and altogether meta on a show whose four leads are all the children of someone famous. The song, “Wishes and Stars” by Harper Simon, contains the cloying if apt lines “Everyone seems so certain, everyone knows who they are” and “Their whole lives have been blessed, but it doesn’t matter”, assuring us that even the semi-affluent can in their own ways struggle, even if it is at times a whiny and pithy climb compared to those around the world who starve or face unspeakable wartime horrors. For what it’s worth, I’m willing to bet there are some twenty-five year old women living in Kandahar who are just as funny as Dunham, if not funnier. But they don’t get to direct the National Geographic special that comes to town. Knowing all that and promising to watch it when they finally do doesn’t change a thing. And the media’s final assessment of Girls‘ first season will likely come down, fairly and unfairly, to how it approaches its queasy topics of recession-era blues and entitlement. To her credit, Dunham is risking critical crucifixion while presenting something novel: deeply flawed female characters who can be as simultaneously oblivious and redeeming as their male counterparts.