The amount of demimonde-establishment crammed into virtually every line of dialogue in the premiere episode of Girls makes Game of Thrones‘s worldbuilding look dashed off and noncommittal. Perhaps it’s the shock of recognition talking here, the fact that I instantly grokked nearly every deployment of descriptive specificity because these lives are, if not my own life per se, at the very least visible from the one I’m living. But holy jeez, from “He was in Prague that semester” to “Will you get me a Luna bar and a SmartWater and a Vitamin Water?” (did they steal my wife’s shopping list?), I suddenly understood everyone who complained about actors being made to cough up Baratheons and Winterfells and Khal Drogos every time they spoke to one another. Writer/director/producer/star Lena Dunham could literally have animated comic-book word balloons reading “NEW YORK CITY, PRESENT DAY” emerging everyone’s mouths and it wouldn’t have been more utilitarian than what we actually got.
But Girls‘s pilot is hardly the first to creak under the weight of its own need to serve the purpose of communicating What This Show Will Be About. Mad Men‘s period references were never clunkier than in its first ep — I remember the very smart writer Zak Smith/Sabbath wondering aloud on twitter if every episode was going to be characters shouting “IT’S THE SIXTIES!” — while both The Sopranos and Breaking Bad played as broad black comedy the blend of irony and violence they’d later refine into something far more vicious and terrifying and unpredictable. Girls‘s avalanche of detail may have been suffocating, but there were flashes of Interesting twinkling throughout that vast Brooklyn-twentysomething landslide.
The casting, for one thing, in which everyone felt…achievable, if that’s the right word for it. Jemima Kirke played the superhumanly worldly “British cousin” Jessa like a dressed-down version of Gossip Girl‘s Serena Van Der Woodsen, her bohemian-branded effortless perfection tempered/complicated/enriched/take-yer-pick by a less superhuman physique, and cast-off clothing the knowingly awkward fit of which was still, y’know, awkward. (Plus peeing, plus pregnancy, plus shitting her pants on coke.) Adam Driver, playing Hannah’s crush/fuckbuddy Adam (the inevitability of Adams being another pointedly true Brooklyn touch), combined what could be charitably termed as “unconventional” looks with a gym-honed physique, an obvious overcompensation that I wish the show had left uncommented-on rather than trotting out the high-school fat-kid origin story. Meanwhile, I live on Long Island and and married to someone who studied and teaches voice, so seeing Zosia Mamet (Peggy’s delightful lesbian friend on Mad Men) show up in a pink tracksuit and speak in the vocal fry register for sentence after sentence gave me the thrill of seeing two of my long-standing pet peeves embodied and ridiculed in a single scene.
These are the kinds of things I wish the show had taken more time with, rather than never letting 15 seconds pass without another LOL BROOKLYN. The nervous, cramped editing and framing didn’t help — I understand it was a deliberate choice, but that doesn’t make it a good one. And I could count on one hand the times I laughed out loud, (for reference: Peter Scolari’s earring; “Will you get a condom?” “I’lllll consider it!”; “Let’s play the quiet game”; Hannah spitting her opium tea back out a la Alvy Singer sneezing into the cocaine), so in the future it’d be nice if the ostensible purpose of a situation comedy weren’t crowded out of said situation comedy. But Girls is nothing if not self-aware — “All my friends get help from their parents,” Hannah says in the very first scene, telegraphing her own hugely sheltered and unrealistic experience of the world in terms so blunt I’m almost surprised that half the Internet missed it anyway — and my hope is that that self-awareness will extend, eventually, to making something less self-conscious.