Lena Dunham’s done it again. One of the reasons for Girls’ colossal success over the past three series is its almost unbearably real depiction of the most awkward, nightmareish and disappointing moments of being a twenty-something, as well as the exciting, joyful and desirable bits. And the first instalment of the new series shows these contradictions beautifully.
As Hannah (Dunham) prepares to leave New York for Iowa’s prestigious writing course, she has a goodbye meal with her parents. In a lesser sitcom, this would be an emotional, heartfelt scene but Lena Dunham makes it darkly comic. “Even in the moments when….you were doubting my talent, I know that you were supporting me in your own way”, Hannah says with a passive aggressive grin, before cutting short her father’s loving words to order some chips.
Adam Driver, who plays Hannah’s troubled, actor-turned boyfriend (also called Adam) is on top acting form, turning up to dinner in full leathers after a “shitty” audition. “They meant more Tour de France biker” he says with quiet fury.
But for all the comedy, there’s a real sense of sadness as Hannah leaves to pursue her writing dream, because although she insists that things will be fine between her and Adam, it’s clear she doesn’t quite believe what she’s saying. There’s no romantic goodbye, no crying and no promises made, and Dunham leaves us in the same mind-frame as Hannah, wondering what to make of the relationship.
From long distance relationships to illicit ones, the beautiful but deluded Marnie (Allison Williams) discovers what it’s like being ‘the other woman’ as she sleeps with her musical partner Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). One of the pair’s brilliantly cringeworthy moments sees them perform a very average, self-penned song at a “jazz brunch” in a cafe as she gazes at him with total admiration. It’s like a scene from a Hollywood film, but with Desi’s girlfriend sitting a few rows away, it’s painful to watch.
Far more likeable in this first episode is Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) who left me feeling excited about the rest of the season. While in the early days of Girls she was too ditzy, clueless and comical to take seriously, she is now struggling with her parents’ divorce – “it’s the worst thing that ever happened to me and it’s like, the first thing that ever happened to me” – and braving the real world.
With a $3 million book deal and a hit HBO show at the age of 28, Lena Dunham is an easy target for critics, and it’s true that her work is flawed and some episodes are better than others.
But as we rejoin Hannah, Marnie, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna for series four, I can’t think of a sharper, funnier and more truthful TV show. A friend says to Jessa, “you’re so beautiful and then so ugly…I just adore you”. And that’s exactly how Dunham leaves us feeling about her characters. It’s why I can’t stop watching.