If you watch TV, you've probably heard the buzz about a new HBO series, created by 25-year-old filmmaker Lena Dunham. Girls, which premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m. ET., is a raw, unflinching look at the lives of four 20-something women living in New York City. And while the show itself may not flinch, viewers might be tempted to.
Dunham plays the main character, Hannah. You might call her the "Carrie" of the clique. But this is not Sex & the City, and Dunham certainly isn't Sarah Jessica Parker. She's socially awkward; her body is painfully realistic (i.e. more zaftig than sample-size ready); and her encounters with men -- especially the sexual ones -- are usually humiliating. And this excruciatingly honest portrayal is, in large part, why some critics are hailing Girls as the next great feminist TV show. Watch the teaser here:
Hannah and her friends, Marnie (Allison Williams, NBC anchor Brian Williams' daughter!), Jessa (Jemima Kirke), and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), must navigate their girl-centric, modern life, with all of its sexual conundrums, financial woes and the mandate to make something of themselves. Some critics have suggested that, unlike most TV shows, this series is actually telling it like it is. The Los Angeles Times referred to Dunham as "the uncomfortably true voice of millennial women."
Based on the buzz the provocative series is garnering, it sounds like Dunham is reaching her fellow 20-somethings as planned. "We’re so used to seeing ourselves portrayed in basic, often degrading ways, that when a developed, woman-written female character emerges, it feels like we’re able to come up for air," writes blogger, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, who describes herself as "within the target demographic", in her essay on Alternet.org.
She commends Dunham for her "willingness to exhibit her non-model-esque body on film, a very welcome counterpoint to the unrelenting deluge of unrealistic body characters onscreen to whom we can actually relate." There is a feminist message implicit in Girls: We women really shouldn't have to aspire to those unreasonable standards.
Dunham has mined feminist themes before. She broke into Hollywood on the success of her indie film, Tiny Furniture, basically about a young, urban woman learning to value herself. And she's not the only one writing female-centric narratives these days. A woman's perspective leads the way in the current blockbuster, Hunger Games, and several girl-tastic tales are emerging from TV shows like 2 Broke Girls and New Girl.
"When we see ourselves in [New Girl's] Zooey Deschanel or Lena Dunham, it’s an affirmation that the world at large is picking up on the fact that girls like us exist at all -- and that our existence is meaningful, even if it doesn’t always make sense or come with clear instructions," writes 20-something Caitlin Abberin an essay on Thought Catalog. "The 20-something urban-dwelling woman is not a new experiment, but it does look and feel different than it did ten or 20 years ago. Part of that has to do with the fact that we are now telling our own stories, and can take ownership over what is being said, written, and produced about us."
Granted, Dunham didn't write and produce Girls all by herself. Her partner in this project is Judd Apatow, whose gross-out, male-oriented movies like Superbad and Knocked Up have made millions laugh, but also provoked accusations of sexism. And not eveyone is besotted by Girls. Mother Jones calls Hannah "an unsympathetic victim of First World Problems who mumbles her way through a Brooklynite's perdition of unpaid internships and missed orgasms."
And despite her appreciation for Dunham, blogger Julianne Escobedo Shepherd expresses skepticism of the idea that Girls is the next great feminist hope. She points out that in a recent Hollywood Reporter interview, Apatow doesn't exactly stay on message. Actually, he was never on it. Asked if his latest projects, Bridesmaids and Girls, signaled a conscious change to female-oriented material, he said no. "I just like immaturity," he explained. "I like to show people struggle and try to figure out who they are. I'm a guy, and so it leaned guy for a while."
But maybe that statement in itself signifies a small step forward for feminism. Neither gender corners the market on embarrassing situations. So...hooray for equal opportunity humiliation?