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Forget Sex and the City, here come the 'real' Girls

You might be tempted to describe a comedy written, directed and produced by its central character as a "vanity project". But from the very first frames of Girls, Lena Dunham's sharp, next-generation riposte to the gloss and fantasy of Sex and the City, it's obvious vanity cannot be calling the shots.

Our first sight of Hannah – the character Dunham plays – isn't a flattering one; spaghetti dangles from her mouth and not just a single, fetching strand either but a gobful. Hannah isn't eating, she's at a trough. She's dining with her out-of-town parents at a Manhattan restaurant where she's about to learn that they're cutting off the money.

Hannah is outraged. "I could be a drug addict," she says, "Do you realise how lucky you are?" Seen from some angles our heroine is spoilt, solipsistic and self-deceiving. And Dunham knowingly doesn't close those angles off.

Like Sex And The City – acknowledged as a kind of distant forebear in an early scene – Girls centres on the lives of four New Yorkers coping with careers, self-realisation and relationships. When it aired in the US, Girls generated a lot of what television executives like to call "noise", most of it approving, for what many saw as the unblushing realism of its depiction of young women's lives. But it also sparked a controversy because it contained no black characters.

As for whether Girls offers a truthful account of young, white New York women, I'm not woman enough to pronounce on that. But I doubt any male writer would have dared to write anything as bold. Hannah's friends-with-benefits relationship with Adam delivered two of the most excruciatingly uncomfortable couplings I've seen on the small screen. The final shot showed Hannah splayed on a gynaecologist's table , stammering nonsense about Aids. Definitely not a vanity project, but a lot for Dunham to be vain about.