There’s a smart, buzzy — and, yes, hilarious — HBO show debuting on April 15, and it’s called Girls. Not Women or Ladies, but Girls. And that title feels significant, because even though the story focuses on four New Yorkers in their 20s, these characters don’t quite act like adults. The show’s 25-year-old creator, Lena Dunham (see sidebar), plays Hannah, an aspiring writer who’s just learned that her parents will no longer pay her rent while she dreams of becoming ”the voice of my generation.” Then there’s Hannah’s friend Jessa (Jemima Kirke), who got pregnant while partying in Europe and is contemplating an abortion because she’s not ready to be a mom. Jessa’s cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) wants to lose her virginity like a grown-up, but that might be hard when she still keeps stuffed animals in her bedroom. Only Marnie (Allison Williams) actually has a real job and a serious boyfriend, but she often blows him off to take baths with Hannah, in that way that little kids do. Together, these self-proclaimed ”girls” offer a painfully funny and self-aware take on what the oldsters refer to as ”the Millennial Generation.” They also represent a new kind of character dotting the pop culture landscape these days, from other TV comedies with girl in the title (check Fox’s New Girl or CBS’ 2 Broke Girls) to girls-behaving-badly movies (Bridesmaids, Young Adult, and the upcoming Bachelorette, all of which were written by women). Call this new prototype the ”lady-child.” She’s the savvier counterpart to the man-boy, that overgrown teenager so often played by Adam Sandler or found in the movies of Judd Apatow, who also exec-produces Girls. (Because life’s unfair, the lady-child is usually much hotter than the man-boy, and much less likely to wear sweatpants.) She’s probably still living with her parents or with roommates, long after college is over. It’s likely that she doesn’t have a real career yet, but only because she’s waiting for a job that’s worthy of her liberal-arts-school education. She’s witty and dry, almost to the point of unlikability. She may or may not eat cupcakes for dinner. After watching so many Katherine Heigls play supermom to their immature boyfriends on screen, Dunham and her colleagues seem to be saying, Hey, girls have issues too.
But — sorry, Gloria Steinem — they’re not the issues you expect. There’s a scene in the Girls pilot where Shoshanna raves about Sex and the City — you know, that other HBO comedy about four women living in New York. Yet no matter how much she relates to the show, her girlfriends are worlds removed from the era when Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha were fighting for equal opportunities in the boardroom and the bedroom. The girls of Girls think the feminist revolution’s a done deal. (Perhaps that’s why they’re not concerned about the arguably sexist, dismissive connotations of the word girl.) With the job market tight, they’re happy to nurture their muse, rent-free, until their dream jobs open up. (A new report by the Pew Research Center found that 29 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 34 have lived at home at some point during the recent recession, and most said they were pleased with that arrangement.) They seem almost delusionally confident that, eventually, they’ll get the whole career thing down. And they’re not wrong: According to the new book The Richer Sex, women will soon be the primary breadwinners in a majority of American families. All of which is to say, the lady-child has access to all the fun parts of being an adult — the money, the sex — but without all the sad grown-up responsibilities like diapers and electric bills. And maybe that’s what makes Girls so provocative. It’s not all the frank talk about abortion or entitlement. It’s that the usual work/marriage/babies/death checklist has given way to a much more ambitious goal: finally giving women a chance to honestly answer the age-old question, What do you want to do when you grow up?
Girls from good families
Girls’ creator and star was raised by two successful artists, painter Carroll Dunham and photographer Laurie Simmons.
Her father is the playwright-director David Mamet. Her mother is the actress Lindsay Crouse (The Insider, House of Games).
She’s the daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke and fashion designer Lorraine Kirke, who runs a boutique in NYC.
Her parents are NBC Nightly News and Rock Center anchor Brian Williams and TV producer Jane Stoddard.