Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | 5:36 p.m.
Lena Dunham became an indie-movie sensation in 2010 when, at age 23, she wrote, directed and starred in Tiny Furniture, an amusingly narcissistic exploration of her own post-collegiate malaise, lightly fictionalized and featuring her own actual mother and sister in the roles of her character’s mother and sister. That movie caught the eye of producer Judd Apatow, who helped Dunham land her new HBO series Girls, which is executive-produced by Apatow and exists essentially as a weekly extension of Tiny Furniture.
The pathological self-obsession that was relatively entertaining in Tiny Furniture balloons to epic proportions in Girls, which features not one but four whiny, solipsistic young women in New York City trying to figure out their post-grad lives. Like Dunham, daughter of artist Laura Simmons, her co-stars are the children of famous people: Allison Williams, daughter of NBC News anchor Brian Williams, plays the roommate and best friend of Dunham’s character Hannah; Jemima Kirke, daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke (and also one of the co-stars of Tiny Furniture), plays Hannah’s free-spirited British friend Jessa; and Zosia Mamet, daughter of playwright and filmmaker David Mamet, plays Jessa’s timid cousin.
These actresses all have their own talents, but the legacy casting is indicative of the show’s overall aura of oblivious privilege, a kind of falsely humble sense of its own profound insight. There’s a joke in the first episode about Hannah claiming to be the voice of her generation, but the biggest problem with Girls is that Dunham seems to have bought into the idea that she really is the voice of her generation, and the show sags under the weight of trying to capture some youthful zeitgeist. Dunham is as blatantly clueless as her characters, whose vapidity is all the more annoying for the way it’s couched in disingenuous self-deprecation.
Of the three episodes available for review, the lighthearted, joke-filled third installment is by far the best, and Dunham would do well to take more cues from Apatow and let the jokes be her guiding force. Her sense of humor can be clever and pop-culture savvy, but it gets drowned out by the emotionally stunted whining.