The Last Word on Why Lena Dunham's "Girls" Won't Be the New "Sex and the City"

The Last Word on Why Lena Dunham's "Girls" Won't Be the New "Sex and the City"
Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham, and Allison Williams in the upcoming HBO series "Girls"
(© 2012 - HBO)

Nearly two months before “Girls” bows on HBO, we know what writer-director Lena Dunham’s series is not going to be like. We know because the majority of entertainment reporters who have written about it have told us exactly the same thing with the same gleams of insight in their eyes.

When the advance trailer was released yesterday, there was a fresh barrage of gee-whiz headlines and comments reminding us of what anyone who has seen Dunham’s miniaturist indie classic “Tiny Furniture” (2010) and understands her worldview knew already. The show, which is set in Williamsburg and follows the friendship and work and love lives of three struggling women in their early twenties, will categorically not replicate the fanciful Manhattan adventures of Carrie Bradshaw and her cronies.

And here’s the proof:

The Huffington Post: “If you think that HBO's latest New York City comedy ‘Girls’ will be anything like its hit ‘Sex and the City,’ then think again.”  Entertainment Weekly: “It was easy to see from its teaser trailers why HBO’s ‘Girls’ was already being hailed as the anti-‘Sex and the City.’” USA Today: “Like ‘Sex and the City,’ female friendship in New York appears to be at the center of the action; unlike that series, the women have no money.”  The Hollywood Reporter: “When the series was first announced, the comparisons to HBO’s ‘Sex and the City’ and The CW’s ‘Gossip Girl’ quickly arose, but from the looks of the trailer, this show will be a lot less glamorous and fashionable, and a little more self-deprecating than its New York-set predecessors.”

At least, Movieline was more nuanced in its assessment: “The similarities to ‘Sex and the City’ can be found, but they're also deliberate; characters fully acknowledge that they're of a generation weaned on ‘SATC”’s fantasy.”

The “Sex and the City” comparison was made as early as January last year when it was announced that HBO had picked up the “Girls” pilot. The latest wave of disavowals may be partially attributed to comments Dunham, 25, made at a Television Critics Association panel in January:

"I knew that there was a connection [with “Sex and the City” and “Gossip Girl”] because it's women in New York, but it really felt like it was tackling a different subject matter. ‘Gossip Girl’ was teens duking it out on the Upper East Side and ‘Sex and the City’ was women who figured out work and friends and now want to nail family life. There was this whole in-between space that hadn't really been addressed."

“Tiny Furniture,” made by Dunham shortly after she left college, is about a self-conscious, but not self-knowing, college graduate, Aura, who moves back in with her mother and sister in their Tribeca loft; the mother was played by Dunham’s mother, the artist-photographer Laurie Simmons, and the sister by Dunham’s sister Grace Dunham (so self-reflexivity was part of the equation, too).

Aura lolls around in her pyjamas, whining and complaining, gets a hostessing job at a restaurant, and becomes involved with a cook and a narcissistic YouTube videographer. Written with self-lacerating aplomb, it is an intentionally meandering comedy of humiliation and ineptitude, a wholesale rejection of the sexual and professional success ethics of  ‘Sex and the City.’ The film’s gnomic feminism also rejects the materialistic glamour of Darren Star’s show: Dunham had her far from rail-thin body and doleful, cheekboneless face photographed with disarming candor.

The major clue to “Girls”’ agenda may be its setting in boho Williamsburg, a statement, presumably, of independence from uptown Manhattan’s social whirl – though there will be some interaction with the island. “Girls” won’t be Slacker Central. According to Deadline, the three main characters line up thus: “Hannah (Dunham), an eternal intern at a publishing house in SoHo and a hopeful writer; Marnie (Allison Williams), a sexy, bitchy and ambitious assistant at a slick political PR firm whose goal is to practice environmental law; and Jesse (Jemima Kirke), a space cadet with hippie tendencies who wants to be an artist/educator.”

“Girls,” which is being executive-produced by Judd Apatow, sounds oddly similar to the BBC’s drama “Take Three Girls” (1969-71), which was about a cellist, a single mother, and a Cockney art student sharing a flat in swinging London (two of whom were replaced by a journalist and an American psychology graduate for the second series). Then again, “Girls” may be no more like that than “Sex in the City.”

Below: HBO’s trailer for “Girls,” which premieres April 15