HBO's Girls - Here comes trouble

Critics loved Lena Dunham's new series – till they saw it, and all hell broke loose.

It's almost a given that if a show is heavily hyped then the subsequent backlash will be both swift and merciless. So it has proved with HBO's newest comedy, Girls, which airs on Sky Atlantic later this year. Two weeks ago every bus-side and subway stop in New York appeared to be advertising the new comedy. Editorials hailed it as "groundbreaking" and "revolutionary". New York Magazine placed Lena Dunham, the show's 25-year-old writer, director and star, on the cover and described Girls as "like nothing else on television right now".

Then the first episode aired and suddenly as many people were queuing up to bury Girls as to praise it. An acerbic piece in Mother Jones magazine branded it "unstoppably irritating". Influential website published a venomous take-down. Even financial website Business Insider got in on the act with a report claiming "Girls hits too close to home for Millennials" (people in their early twenties). That article raised a valid point: how much of the backlash was fuelled by those who felt either unable to recognise their lives in Dunham's show or, conversely, found themselves all too uncomfortably represented?

"I didn't need it to be funny... I did expect it to be engaging and thoughtful. Instead it reminded me why I hate 'my generation'," wrote a poster on Entertainment Weekly's website. "I think this is the problem with this generation. Sometimes you've got to sacrifice and take a crappy job because at least it's a job... it sucks... but what else are you going to do?" wrote another, commenting on the lead character's decision to beg for hand-outs from her parents.

At women's website Jezebel respondents were also up in arms. So why has Girls got everyone so wound up? The story of twentysomething Hannah and her three friends, Girls, which is written and directed by Dunham and produced by comedy overlord Judd Apatow, the man behind everything from Knocked Up to Bridesmaids, has been described as a new generation's answer to Sex and the City. Only this time instead of high heels, cosmopolitans and dates with Mr Big, our heroines are under-employed, short on funds and sexually dysfunctional. Where Carrie and co flitted from swanky soirée to girly brunches, Hannah and her friends throw disastrous dinner dates in their tiny flats, engage in awkward bondage fantasies and attend crowded parties in dimly lit areas of Brooklyn.

It's both more realistic than Friends and much funnier. Yet that very realism is what appears to have got people's backs up. The appeal of Sex in the City was that it sold a fantasy vision of New York as a place where a freelance journalist could own a huge apartment stuffed full of designer clothes. Similarly, Gossip Girl showed us New York as a city of twinkling lights and jaded repartee. By contrast, Girls says that being young in the city isn't much fun. Even the best lines – "You could not pay me enough to be 24 again"/ "Well, they're not paying me at all" – are downbeat.

It's also the case that the casting has done little to avoid accusations of nepotism: the other girls are played by Allison Williams, daughter of TV anchor, Brian, Zosia Mamet, daughter of playwright David and Jemima Kirke, daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon. As the review on Gawker had it: "Girls is a television programme about the children of wealthy, famous people and shitty music and Facebook and how hard it is to know who you are." Nor is the lead character particularly likeable. In a now infamous line from the pilot, Dunham has Hannah declaim to her long-suffering parents: "I could be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation." Yet while it's clear we're intended to laugh at Hannah's delusions, the show's critics looked at Dunham's youth and privileged background (she is the privately educated daughter of a well-known New York artist) and took her seriously.

A large part of the Girls backlash is fuelled by the fact we have not yet reached the point where female characters can be truly dislikeable. In the UK, where comedies such as Peep Show have long celebrated the self-absorbed and unaware, Girls would be less likely to stand out, but America still prefers to leaven even its darkest comedies with a little bit of a heart, and it's arguable that it is Dunham's refusal to do that which has caused most of the fuss.

In particular, her bleak sex scenes, which unsparingly chronicle Hannah's lack of self-worth, have come under attack. In The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni despairingly asked: "You watch these scenes... of the zeitgeist-y early-twenties heroines of Girls engaging in, recoiling from, mulling and mourning sex, and you think: Gloria Steinem went to the barricades for this?"

Of more concern are accusations of homogeneity. A thoughtful piece in online women's magazine The Hairpin commented on the overwhelming whiteness, remarking: "it feels alienating, a party of four engineered to appeal to a very specific subset of the television viewing audience, when the show has the potential to be so much bigger than that". Other writers were less retrained – a post on the site Womanist Musings was headlined: "Girls is all about Spoiled White Girls." Dunham has admitted the lack of diversity is a problem, adding that she only became aware of how white Girls was when watching the rushes.

And despite average-to-low ratings of 1.1 million, that second season seems likely, given that the show's supporters have been as vocal as its critics. Salon hailed its warm depiction of female friendship. The New York Times praised its "acerbic and deadpan tone". The Los Angeles Times called it "nothing short of revolutionary".

Apatow remains bullish about the new comedy's chances. "When we made it, we always knew that it was a show you should fight about," he said recently. "It was built to be a show that you'd have to defend or argue about – for some people, it would make them angry – and we go over that terrain for the course of the 10 episodes. Hopefully people will fight about it every week."

'Girls' will air on Sky Atlantic later this year

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...