'Girls' on HBO is raunchy, and real

From left, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham

From left, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet star in HBO's new dramedy "Girls." (Credit: MCT)

THE SHOW "Girls," HBO, 10:30 p.m. Sunday

REASON TO WATCH Lena Dunham comes to TV; produced by Judd Apatow.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The bad news comes over dinner. Mom and dad -- well, mom, to be exact, has decided to cut the purse strings to her daughter, Hannah (Lena Dunham), two years out of college and still without a job in New York. The parents declare they will no longer support her "groovy" lifestyle. So Hannah is on her own. But, she argues, she needs more time -- to find that job and write the book that will establish her as "the voice of my generation, or a voice of a generation." She shares an apartment with poised/employed Marnie Michaels (Allison Williams, daughter of Brian) and -- occasionally -- a bed with loutish Adam (Adam Driver). The former is her BFF, the latter a man/child with delusions of sexual prowess. Meanwhile, another pal, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, daughter of David Mamet and Lindsay Crouse) gets a visitor: Jessa Johansson (Jemima Kirke, essentially reprising her role from Dunham's 2010 film "Tiny Furniture"), her extreme free spirit of a British cousin, back from France. The lives of Hannah and her sisters are about to change.

MY SAY For those who've never heard of Dunham or may be puzzled as to why "Girls" is one of TV's most anticipated launches of the year, a few words of explanation are in order. Dunham, 25, wrote and starred in "Tiny Furniture," a roman à clef that also starred her mother, visual artist Laurie Simmons, about a young woman just out of college, returning home to Brooklyn. The film was an award-winning sensation, and Dunham became a star in the indie community.

Enter "Girls," like "Furniture" a portrait of a city (still largely Brooklyn) filled with unemployed, overeducated 24-year-olds fixated on sex, drugs and pop culture. The series plays squarely against a zeitgeist of TV, Facebook, Twitter and especially music -- Jay-Z's "On to the Next One" is deployed perfectly in one scene, and The Troggs and Robyn track as well. The characters are all smart enough to know their lives are like an extended Stoppard play but don't care much whether it ends or just keeps on going. The humor is genial and observant -- like "Furniture" -- but you wouldn't always know it.

Dunham's Hannah, the series' POV, is wise but clueless, whimsical but neurotic, innocent but experienced. She's a bundle of exposed nerve endings that feel the manifest absurdities of her life but that don't quite know how to make sense of them either. Hannah and the show are all about internal conflict and so is the humor, while sex -- and fair warning, it's pretty graphic here, which may be the handiwork of Apatow -- is the metaphor for all that conflict. It's grotesque, malignant, unpleasurable and a particularly devious torture chamber, at least for the women, who still submit to it. As with "Furniture," the men are chronic dolts, wimps, hound dogs, hipsters, poseurs and especially comic props. But Dunham, something of an equal-opportunity humorist, isn't all that much kinder to her female characters -- or to herself.

BOTTOM LINE Extremely funny and extremely raunchy (consider yourself warned), but Dunham's a major talent.

GRADE A-

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