How does one begin to watch a show that has been hyped this much? There are billboards, and rapturous magazine features, and Girls-themed costume parties. (Okay, maybe not, but just you wait. It’s only a matter of time until every girl under 14th Street will be dressed as Jemima Kirke’s proto-boho Jessa.) One must begin cautiously, with the weight of the female residents of Brooklyn’s (of which I am firmly one) collective breath being held. But as the song goes — I’m paraphrasing here, and R.I.P. Whitney Houston — there comes a point when you will exhale. Because it really is as good as you want it to be.
It’s a sign of how devoted writer-director Lena Dunham is to real talk that Girls opens with food hanging out of her mouth. Hannah is eating at a restaurant with her parents, visiting from points unknown. Yes, this is glossy HBO, but Hannah eats more in this scene than Carrie Bradshaw and her buddies did in an entire season. Two early points for verisimilitude. Hannah and her parents talk about her writing — she’s working on a memoir, because fiction is clearly for losers — and then drop the hammer: No More Money. Mom uses the word “groovy lifestyle,” which is obviously humiliating for everyone involved. Hannah objects, saying that she could be a drug addict, or have had two abortions like her friend Sophie, and that they should know how lucky they are. This argument makes total sense to me. Think about what I could be doing.
The next morning, in Greenpoint, Hannah wakes up curled around her roommate, Marnie (Allison Williams), a pretty brunette in a retainer. Way to humanize the tall, skinny one! Marnie stumbles into the kitchen, to find her boyfriend, Charlie, making coffee. Waves of creepitude are coming off this Charlie — he’s a sweetheart, obviously in love with Marnie to a deranged degree, but she stiffens when he kisses her, and we the viewers stiffen, too. Later, she describes Charlie’s touch as that of “a weird uncle, putting his hand on my knee on Thanksgiving.” Eww. And also, yes. I love that the schmo is no match for these ladies. Charlie makes me think about a former flame whom my father will still refer to as “Poor X” in conversation, so shoddily did I treat him. Also, Charlie is gay. It’s only a matter of time.
Meanwhile, across the river in Nolita, Jessa, a blonde with a Mick Jagger mouth (Jemima Kirke) shows up with her Louis Vuitton duffel in tow on the doorstep of her baby-pink-sweatsuit-wearing cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, whom we should just all take a minute to appreciate, because she is simultaneously playing Peggy’s lesbian muckraker friend Joyce on Mad Men, a radically different role than the blabbermouth, slightly airhead-y person she plays here). The new roomies then discuss the various characteristics of the Sex and the City characters, all four of whom can be seen in a poster on the wall. Jessa, a worldly Brit who is so classy she isn’t even on Facebook, has never seen the series, let alone the movie. She’s come from France, and before that Amsterdam, and Bali. Zosia swoons, and we roll our eyes, just as Dunham wants us to.
It’s hard to watch Girls and not compare it to Sex and the City, and so I’m glad Dunham & Co. tackled this in the pilot episode. It’s a cute, tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the debt that any four-woman comedy must pay to that series and its subsequent cultural phenomenon. Unlike SATC, however, the hours that these girls spend together actually make sense (they live together, and don’t have real jobs), and the fact that they have to worry about making money and getting their shit together does, too. Yes, there’s the sweet and slightly dim one, the smart and organized one, the sexy, wordly one, and the writer. But my hope for Girls is that it gets less easy to categorize the characters as the series progresses.
So where does a girl of Hannah’s talents intern? At Melville House, judging from the books on the shelves, which makes me wonder how many Tao Lin books Hannah has had to read. Hannah confronts her boss (Whit Stillman regular Chris Eigeman, my pretend husband) about her need to get paid for work, and the blank look he gives her makes me want to see a cage-match between Hannah and Eigeman’s character from Metropolitan. When Hannah reminds him that he said he’d like to read her memoir manuscript, he replies, well, without you here, we wouldn’t have you here to read it for us, now would we? Oh snap, publishing joke.
Feeling bruised, Hannah calls Adam, her booty call, who has a Justin Long face and Justin Bieber hair. (Justin squared.) Adam is an actor who does woodworking, which he enjoys for its “honesty.” Brooklyn! You are hilarious. They sit on the couch and Hannah admits that, until yesterday, her parents supported her. She expects Adam to be horrified, but of course, he too gets money from his grandmother. They start to make out, and Hannah babbles, but Adam is all business, trying to maneuver Hannah into a new sexual position on the couch. She is instructed to strip off while he gets lube. When he comes back, he pulls her onto all fours, and threatens, for a moment, to have anal sex, which she quickly vetoes. This show is all about insecurities and vulnerability and the fact that how we act doesn’t always make sense, and so I will allow Hannah to do it with this lame weirdo.
Back at Hannah and Marnie’s apartment, where a dinner party is kind of taking place, Hannah shows up very late, but just in time to drink some opium tea, which she takes after mishearing someone say it would taste like “Twix” instead of “twigs.” When she leaves, Jessa turns to Marnie and says, “She seems like she’s in such a good place,” and Marnie is horrified. Oh God, I’m the Marnie.
She is also mad because Jessa was two hours late to a dinner party thrown in her honor (Marnie, I am here for you, girl. This makes me want to erase half the entries in my phone book), and Jessa, cool as ever, says that she thought 7 p.m. was “just a suggestion.” Jessa then admits the truth — she’s pregnant, and not “on purpose,” as Marnie asks. Charlie comes in, tells the girls they’re beautiful, and Marnie asks him to leave, her allegiance having shifted: Unrepentantly selfish and pregnant is better than creepy and devoted, at least for the moment. Given the mention of abortions earlier in the episode, I assume that’s not where this is going, but we’ll see.
Hannah goes straight to her parents’ hotel room, manuscript in hand. Her parents are in matching pajamas, and she sits down in a chair opposite the bed and says that they have to read it, right then, claiming to be the voice of her generation, or at least, the voice of a generation. (Great pull quote, but I’m afraid Lena will have that line attached to her for the next several decades, whether she likes it or not.)
In the hotel room, Hannah breaks it down: She wants $1100 a month for the next two years. Her mother laughs, calling the offer insane, and Hannah agrees — who can live on $1100 a month in New York! Hannah slumps over in her chair, the opium having taken its toll, and her parents begin to squabble — Mom wants a lake house, goddam it. How is this woman our dear Hannah’s mother? Mom is the only character who seems less than spot-on to me. She’s a cow and a half, and I want to recast her with Fran Drescher, or Margo Martindale, or Sarah Jessica Parker, someone who has charm to match their misery.
The next morning, Hannah wakes up in the dark, empty hotel room and is denied when she tries to order room service. She takes the money her parents have left for her as well as the money they’ve left for the housekeeper, and then she’s off, back onto the streets of New York, our girl on the go.
If I had to hazard a guess about the first draft of the Girls script, I would guess that Hannah was indeed a New Yorker from birth, as both Lena Dunham and I are. But I think changing that, as well as separating Hannah from her parents, was a good choice, as it marks the series as a real departure from her excellent film Tiny Furniture, where the protagonist (also played by Dunham) is almost surgically attached to her family. Having Hannah as a native New Yorker would have made the show more insular and in-jokey, instead of the we’re-all-in-this-together feeling that it has now.
I half expected Hannah to toss a hat in the air at the end of the episode, as a second shout-out to Mary Tyler Moore, everyone’s favorite Nick at Nite single career girl. Of course, she doesn’t, but the light skip in her step as she crosses the crowded street was enough for me. Like Mary Richards, Hannah is going to make us laugh and cry and stay up late. This is the beginning of something beautiful and complicated, and I can’t really wait to see what happens next.