A Lost Generation: Lena Dunham’s Girls

Girls is a great series and hard to write about.

It’s facile to say it’s what Sex and the City should have been but it’s true, or it’s partly true. The girls are uglier, more down-market, more screwed-up, more hopeless, more bohemian and more doomed, and more aware they’re doomed than the Carrie Bradshaw crowd. But they utter some of the best dialogue since Dorothy Parker and you see them all naked and some of them are really ugly naked and the performances are astonishing and, what the hell, it’s a great show.

And it’s about being a girl, and how strange men are. One wants to piss on you in the shower. And you still like him, but you wish he wouldn’t do that. Another refuses to take your virginity but somebody’s got to do it. Another is your old boyfriend and now gay, emphatically gay, but fucks your best friend, a girl, in a moment of inattention, and you have to break with her and evict him because of it, and it shouldn’t matter but it does. There are drugs everywhere and artistic pretension and an older man, your boss, you quite like who feels you up at work and you’re not sure if you entirely dislike this and that’s a worry. You quit the job, but you maybe didn’t have to. You’d like to have stayed but he’s apologetic and though you need the money he smiles you out the door and that’s a pity, I guess. Or is it a good thing?

I’ve never before realised how terrified of sex girls are, how terrified of being knocked up or mortally infected with something dirty and communicable. In one episode three of the girls turn up for a friend’s abortion, to be there with her and soothe her through it, but the girl herself doesn’t turn up for her own abortion because she’s having a spare stray fuck with an attractive incidental worthless hunk during which she miscarries. So it’s a happy ending, really. Whew.

Lena Dunham stars, wrote most of it and directs a lot of it. She’s disproportionately built and pudding-plain with tattoos and a dress-sense like a bloodstained six-car pile-up, and she’s small-town-pretentious and wants to be a Writer and doesn’t get it and talks about herself all the time and loses good men almost deliberately and we watch her engrossed, and we care about her.

If the show has a theme, it’s probably self-destructiveness. Marnie, the toffy English Brett Ashley-style maurauding horny adventuress, gets married, actually married, to a seriously rich dull man, Thomas-John (Chris Dowd, the wonderful Irishman in The Sapphires), and, in a scene as lacerating as anything in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, mocks him with pointless savagery until he ends the marriage; and, of course, accepts only twelve thousand dollars in go-away money when she might have had twelve million. Jessa, the retrenched art-gallery administrator now angrily surviving as a club hostess, attaches herself to Jeff, a famous self-absorbed, promiscuous artist (Jamie Le Gros) and is flabbergasted when he snidely denies that she is his ‘girlfriend’ and offers her wads of money for hosting a ghastly party of his and bids her go away. Shoshanna the virgin talks really fast and can’t be understood and is envious and socially hopeless and never invited anywhere. Hannah, the Dunham character, has a good thing going with an older, sensitive, handsome doctor with a wonderful apartment (Patrick Wilson, today’s Paul Newman) and makes such instant, greedy demands on him the whole thing ends in a couple of days. And so on.

The actresses (they are called Alison Williams, Jemima Kirke and Zosia Mamet) are amazingly good, the actors no less so. The episode where Ray and Elijah, if I’ve got their names right, try to give back a stolen dog on Staten Island is like a chapter of The Catcher In The Rye.

The principal actors are called Adam Driver, Alex Ploshkansky, Christopher Abbott and Andrew Ramells, and they all look like each other — Jewish, lean, snot-nosed and self-loathing. The Jewishness of the whole thing (Dunham is Jewish but her father is not, he’s Presbyterian) verges on anti-Semitism but so I suppose do Woody Allen and the Coen brothers and Phillip Roth and there you go. The spare directors are Jesse Peretz, Richard Shepard and Jody Lee Lipes, the spare writers Deborah Shoeneman, Jennifer Konner, Judd Apatow and Bruce Eric Kaplan and you should see it urgently.

No greater act of generational awareness has occurred since The Beautiful And Damned by Scott Fitzgerald, and it must be seen.

Leave a comment ?


  1. A look in side the heads of young women, and it does sound FASCINATING.

  2. Never Enough Ellis

    Big fan of Lena Dunham. If you haven’t seen Tiny Furniture, do so.

    Nobody Walks, from last year, is also wonderfully written.

  3. ‘Time’ magazine named ‘Girls’ creator Lena Dunham Coolest Person of the Year in 2012.

  4. Bob

    the recent cocaine episode was brilliant. Lena was exposed in the most wonderful way, pun intended.

    The relationship breakdown between stock broker and the english bohohipster was wonderfully expressed. As was the breakdown between Lena and her best friend.

    The follow up episode(fling with the Dr) left me absolutely cold. It was hideously clunky.

    For a more nuanced examination of the dynamic between older, establish male and young female, you MUST watch Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards if you haven’t already.

    House of Cards is simply the best thing I have seen on television in some time. It’s mesmerising, machiavellian stuff. Spacey was born to play this character. We loathe and admire in equal measure. His asides to the us are pure titillation. We lust for more. It’s a desire for intimacy mirrored in the quandry of a relationship between ambitious, hot, young reporter and Spacey’s Democrat whip.

    Tell me you’ve seen this show. If not, why not?

  5. Girls are not terrifed of sex; they’re terrified of bad sex and the possibility of male brutality and/or disregard.

  6. That’d be Marnie, not Jessa.

  7. Just so you know, you got the characters of Marnie and Jessa around the wrong way and it’s Adam not Elijah.

  8. Er, I think you might need some fact-checkers here, Bob.

  9. Dear Mr Ellis,

    you get the names of two of the main characters confused. Jessa is married to Thomas-John; Marnie is the retrenched art gallery assistant.

    Kind regards.

  10. You have Marnie and Jessa reversed in the article.

  11. Ok, I’m about to head out for a drink or seven so this will have to be quick, I’ll come back later and expand on what I’m about to write…

    I watch the show, love the show, yet hate most of the characters. I have difficulty figuring out why I like it so much. You’re certainly right that the acting is outstanding and the dialogue often brilliant…but so many of the characters are hateful, narcissistic, empty of all reason and depth….

    As a member of the generation this show attempts to describe I am wary of the torrents of praise heaped upon the show, particulary the ones that say stupid shit like “the key to unlocking gen y’s morose code”.

    Sometimes they’re like caricatures of overblown stereotypes of how a truly awful gen y person might act sometimes. I watch the show and it hits me how this is A story of gen Y, but it’s not THE story. I don’t know many people like this, which kind of makes me happy.

    That being said, the returning the dog sequence was brilliant, compelling and it hit me very hard indeed.

    I can also empathise with the self-destruction theme, some days I’ve got a self-destructive streak that’s 10 miles wide.

    Anyway, I’ll be back later.

  12. “The principal actors are called Adam Driver, Alex Ploshkansky, Christopher Abbott and Andrew Ramells, and they all look like each other — Jewish, lean, snot-nosed and self-loathing.”

    What??? Polshkansky (you mean the actor, who has a different) name is Jewish, but the other three actors are definitely not Jewish.

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