It's just that there were just as many people who jumped up to condemn her – for her low-rent mumblecore aesthetic, her privileged upbringing, and (shallowly) her physical appearance. But that didn't stop her, or even slow her down. She's got a brand new HBO series debuting in mid-April called "Girls," produced by Apatow (and his "Freaks and Geeks" co-conspirator Jenni Konner), and the first three episodes were screened today as a kind of SXSW homecoming. As far as homecomings go, this one was pretty spectacular.
The main thrust of "Girls" (and just to be clear on the format, it's a 30-minute sitcom-ish thing, no dead bodies are discovered and, from what we saw, no sexy vampires are present) is established in the opening sequence, wherein Hannah (Dunham)'s parents inform her that they will no longer be offering their financial support. And before you can type #firstworldproblems, she's delivering an awkward spiel about the importance of her unpaid job as a publishing intern and the progress she's making on her first collection of personal essays. It sets the tone for the series well – smart, snappily written, poignant, and wonderfully uncomfortable (the whole series seems to exist in the jams of awkwardness most shows typically avoid). This isn't exactly a plane crash standing a group of disparate survivors on a mysterious jungle island, but it does make for a pretty nifty set-up, with elements of comedy and drama able to sneak in and intermingle nicely.
And that's the main impression you're left with after watching the first three episodes of "Girls" – what a tremendous leap forward it is from "Tiny Furniture." On a technical level, it's akin to the difference between a bottle rocket being set off in a dusty backyard and the first manned mission to the moon. This probably has to do with its Apatow-enhanced budget (per episode it probably costs more than ten "Tiny Furnitures"), but the cluster of episodes we saw were both written and directed by Dunham, and her proficiency behind the camera is shocking. (Maybe she was taking night classes?) There's a moment in the third episode where we follow Marnie from behind as she attends a swanky art world party, and the shot is scored to LCD Soundsystem's "I Can Change" (metaphor alert), and the shot is so outrageously gorgeous that you really cannot believe it's the same person who made the generously grubby "Tiny Furniture."
The sensation you feel at the end of watching "Girls," though (if you aren't a little choked up – the last scene of episode 3 is a doozy), is one of discovery. Lena Dunham, for all the shit that's been talked on the Internet (sort of amazing given the postage-stamp size of the movie, maybe her canonization in the Criterion Collection is controversial?), is a bold new voice in the American comedy landscape. And while the screening of "Girls" episodes was supposed to be a homecoming, it felt more like a coming-out party. The series is beautiful and brilliant and, in a few weeks, all of American will join in the Lena Dunham discussion, only this time, it will be hard to argue her faults. [A]