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Girls: The Complete First Season

HBO // Unrated // December 11, 2012
List Price: $49.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted December 7, 2012 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Never be a twentysomething woman

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Sitcoms
Likes: Judd Apatow, Adam, Chris O'Dowd
Dislikes: Most HBO series, obnoxious people
Hates: Sex and the City

The Show
I don't have HBO, so it takes time for me to catch up on their series, but that's not really the biggest of deals. That's because I find most of them are not of interest to me. In fact, the last HBO series I really enjoyed (aside from the animated adaptation of Rickey Gervais' podcasts) was Six Feet Under (though I'm pretty certain I'm going to love The Newsroom whenever I get around to watching it.) I certainly didn't expect Girls to be the series to break that streak, and after watching the first season, it certainly wasn't, as this chronicling of the young and self-obsessed of Brooklyn left me annoyed and frustrated.

Lena Dunham made her name in the acclaimed indie flick Tiny Furniture, where she told the story of a post-collegiate woman (played by herself), whose awkward place between youth and adulthood is portrayed in a mix of humor and drama. It's a rather direct companion to this series, where her avatar, Hannah Horvath, and her friends battle their way through their twenties, with their own terrible decision-making acting as their main obstacle. Whether it's Marnie (Allison Williams) and her inability to be happy in a positive relationship, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and her Sex and the City-inspired naivite or Jessa (Jemima Clarke) and her above-it-all attitude, the group is made up of people unable to see there are thoughts and feelings that exist beyond their own selfish bubbles.

No one is worse than Hannah though, who may not have a thought or action in this entire series that isn't focused on her own immediate concerns Her decisions are so mindbogglingly self-destructive and poorly-made that you wonder what universe these characters exist in, considering all the talk of how this series depicts real women, unlike its spiritual older sister, the aforementioned Sex and the City, another show starring a quartet of obnoxious women embraced by lady viewers. When, in the show's opening scene, Hannah brattily answers back at her parents, who have informed her that, two years after college, they would no longer be bankrolling her big-city dreams of being a writer, you want to smack her mouth for the ridiculous things she says. Then, later, when she claims (under some minor influence) that she might be the voice of her generation, you want to weep, because she may just be right.

And yet, the reviews, fans and awards fall over themselves to praise the series for its hilarity, which I failed mightly at witnessing. There are funny parts here and there, mainly thanks to the oft-abused (and probably less self-assured) males who get caught in the girls' headlights, but on the whole, the show felt more depressing than funny, as these directionless women ignore the cues and advice previous generations of females have placed before them, and continue to chase the emotionally unavailable or reject the nice guys, and then whine hopelessly when things don't go well for them. It's hard to root for someone you wouldn't want to spend time with, and if you aren't going to root for the protagonists, why invest so much time with them? But hell, the Seinfeld Four weren't exactly likeable, and it seemed to work out fine for them (even if I personally found them to be a chore to watch.)

Despite the girls being wholly aggravating, there are quite a few things to like about the show, starting with the core four. Yes, the characters are awful human beings, but the actresses who play them do a fine job at it, no matter whether they deserve the job or not (as each is the child of someone in the entertainment industry.) Williams is a natural as Marnie, making her the most relatable of the group, largely because, as her best friend, she calls Hannah on her behavior constantly. Meanwhile, Mamet (yes, from those well-respected loins) is great as the impossibly nervous "Shosh," managing to be comedic relief simply by virtue of her line reads, no matter what it is she says.

The guys on the show do a lot of the heavy lifting though in terms of human emotion, as Adam Driver's portrayal of Hannah's surprisingly nuanced and supremely odd booty call is a walking indictment of Dunham's character, and the duo of Chris Abbott and Alex Karpovsky bring pathos and logos to the screen as Marnie's boyfriend Charlie and anti-girls voice of reasons Ray, respectively. It seems like all you need to do on the show to stand-out is to tell Hannah the truth about her life, since a number of actors get to deliver memorable performances doing just that, including some of the guest stars like The New Normal star Andrew Rannells, who joins Chris O'Dowd, Mike Birbiglia, Jorma Taccone, Richard Masur, Kathryn Hahn, Horatio Sanz, Bobby Moynihan, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jenny Slate, Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker in adding many familiar and funny faces to Hannah's world. And thanks to Girls, I've seen Mrs. Weir's breasts and one of the Busom Buddies' penises. Thanks, Lena.

The first three episodes are somewhat the same whining and self-pity, but there's a bit of a change in tone in the fourth episode, which carried through to the sixth show, which is likely the strongest of the run, as Hannah returns home to Michigan for a weekend, meets a normal guy and has a bit of an epiphany. It was interesting to see, when looking at the credits, that after writing and directing the first three episodes, Dunham handed the directing duties to the great Richard Shepard, then the wonderful Jesse Peretz, before returning behind the camera, but sharing writing duties with the show's sherpa, Judd Apatow. That's not to say Dunham wasn't capable of making a show, but these three TV veterans brought more perspective to the show than Dunham ever could have possibly due to her close connection to the character and the production. Though the characters remain repellant, especially Hannah and the criminally terrible Jessa, you can see the show shaping into a well-made series with some purpose in the back-half, as it becomes less of the Lena Dunham show, and more of a collaboration, with different writers and directors putting their touches on the episodes. Doesn't mean I like it any better, but there's quality there if you can get past the problem children.

The Discs
I may not enjoy Girls, but the set HBO put together for the first season is, as one character describes Hannah, handsome. Packed into a matte-finish, spot-UV coated slipcase, with an addition (and unneeded) back panel for stores, there are three discs, two blu-rays, one two-sided DVD. The blu-rays are held in a two-tray, three-panel digipak with a breakdown of the content and quotes and photos from the show, while the DVD is in its own separate folder, which lists the content of that disc. Also in the set is a 20-page booklet and several promo inserts. The disc feature stylish animated menus offering options to watch all the episodes, select shows, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS Digital Surround 5.1 and Spanish DTS Digital Surround 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.

The Quality
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfers on these episodes are great, capturing all the detail of the show's great sets and exterior scenes. There's a feeling of a slight dimness to the whole image, like it's not as colorful as it could be (the DVD copies feel a touch brighter) but this could have been a choice in attempting to show a slightly grimmer Brooklyn (in keeping with the show's goal of "realism".) Other than that, the image is basically flawless, with terrific crispness, deep black levels and appropriate color, without any noticeable visual tics to be found.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks are pretty simple, with some scenes leaving the surround speakers utterly empty, as you're frequently indoors in the midst of conversations that emanate from the center channel. When in public, like the big party scene in episode seven, you'll get atmospheric sound, but don't expect any kind of dynamic mixing. It's just not that kind of show. There are no negatives of note though.

The Extras
Checking out the extras, makes you want to like the show, because there's so much available to check out, and so much of it is of genuine value, starting with the five audio commentaries, available on the pilot and four of the final five episodes. Dunham is in on all of them, joined by either producer/co-writer Jenni Konner, Apatow, Shepard or, on the finale, her three core castmates. The tracks with Apatow and Shepard are the most interesting, as there's a lot to talk about when it comes to their collaborations and the guys' perspectives on the show (with Apatow serving as a perfect moderator for his appearance) while the other tracks focus a lot of production details and, stereotypically on the finale, clothes.

The featurettes start with "A Conversation with the Girls" (21:36) featuring the four stars sitting together and talking about the series. Among the topics covered are the meanings behind the title, a look at each character, the influence and connections to Sex and the City, the show's realism and finally what they like in guys. Though a bit fluffy, Dunham keeps everyone on the tracks, and helps deliver a quality piece of insight into the show.

Dunham is back for more talking in the 24:36 "A Conversation with Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham," which is similar to the previous, but with just the two key creative forces. Apatow runs the show a but more here, but Dunham stays with him, as they talk about his role and influence on the series, the portrayals of the characters, the amount of nudity, directing and, again, "Sex and the City." But again, it's a really interesting chat to listen to.

A solid behind-the-scenes extra is available in "The Making of Girls" (16:05) which follows several episodes being shot as a fly on the wall, with narration by Dunham. The footage includes three shows not directed by her, so there's a chance to see how the feel changes. You can go further back in the production effort via four audition tapes, for Driver, Williams, Rannells and Mamet, three of which have the most active in-room audience for an audition ever, as well as 14 table-read scenes (30:19) allowing for some comparison with what made it into the final cut.

A little "Inside the Episode" summary is available for each show, though the value is questionable, as they don't add much to the clips, but an interview with Dunham from NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross is outstanding, as the two talk about everything surrounding the series, including the buzz around Dunham and the show, and the criticism the series has faced. This is an audio interview that plays over a static screen.

A selection of 22 deleted scenes from across the 10 episodes are included, for a total of 28:42 of excised footage that, in several cases, should have been left in. In fact, anything that gave us more Ron, and the scenes between Shosh and Katherine were mistakes to have cut. Two gag reels totalling 10:54 of gigling and dancing follow, though why this was split into two elements isn't quite clear.

Inside the set there's a 20-page booklet featuring selected tweets by Dunham from during the first season's production, including photos she posted. It's a neat little throw-in that rounds out the physical set. A two-sided DVD is also included, which also includes a lot fo the extras, minus the auditions, table reads, gag reels and deleted scenes. It also has digital copies of the show, along with Ultraviolet streams.

The Bottom Line
IMDB says Judd Apatow hoped Girls would provide men with an insight into "realistic females." If the portrayal of women in this series is realistic, I weep for America's young adults of both genders, as this supposed comedy series is far more often depressing, thanks to a main cast of self-focused brats who live life against every good instinct that even people of their age should have. If you enjoy the series though, this set is pretty great, offering the show in fine quality, while providing a bunch of bonus content to enjoy with plenty of insight into the show. Thus I am torn. I wouldn't recommend the series to anyone I know, but the set is one I would hope a series I enjoy would receive. Proceed with caution.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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