Judge Gordon Sullivan hasn't laughed so hard since he broke his funny bone.
Living the dream. One mistake at a time.
Lena Dunham might be one of the few figures who encapsulates what it means to be creative in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Though she went to college, her degree is in creative writing. However, her jobs since college have ranged far and wide, including writing, but also acting and directing. She's a unique personality, offering an apparently unfiltered version of herself in multiple media (including an active Twitter stream), and her approach has won her both ardent fans and vicious criticism. I can only assume that HBO was looking to cash in on all that tumult when they gave the greenlight to her first television show, Girls. The result is a brutally honest, brutally funny look at the lives of twentysomething girls that goes from painful to funny (and sometimes to painfully funny). The critics' darling of a show gets an unsurprisingly wonderful Girls: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) release.
Facts of the Case
Girls is about four young women trying to live the dream in the Big Apple. The main character is Hannah (Lena Dunham), an aspiring writer who learns at the show's outset that her parents won't be supporting her financially any more. The changes this creates in her life have serious consequences for her roommate Marnie (Allison Williams), who can't decide if she still wants to be with her college boyfriend. Both are friend with Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, Spartan), a virgin and NYU student and her British cousin Jessa (Jemina Kirke, Tiny Furniture), a worldly traveler who thinks she might be pregnant.
I'm very glad that Season One of Girls is finally on home video. While the show was initially airing, I tried unsuccessfully to watch it a couple of times. I'd get a few scenes in and have to stop. Not because the show was bad. No, because it was almost too good. Each moment in the show felt both satisfying and wrong, like wiggling a loose tooth. It was both pleasurable and kinda icky but I just can't stop. I feel the same way about Girls. Now that I have the first season on Blu-ray I can easily watch a scene or two, pause it, and come back later when I can't avoid wiggling that comedy tooth any longer.
Perhaps that doesn't sound like the ringing endorsement that I wish it did, but Girls is a brilliant show that's equal parts funny and tragic. It all starts with the writing, which is clever, insightful, and just self-aware enough to be smart without going overboard into full-blown pretention. Yes, the show owes a lot to Sex and the City, and acknowledges that by giving a character a poster advertising the show as a wall hanging (at an appropriately askew angle no less). That kind of self-awareness mixed with clever humor makes the show stand out in the sitcom format.
The other thing that makes the show stand out is its frankness. In covering the lives of a quartet of young women in New York city, Girls doesn't shy away from dealing with their relationships, sexual or otherwise. This isn't a show that's going to be cute about a character's vibrator, but instead shows us just how unsatisfying sex can be when you're young and not sure what you want out of life. It's a new space that other shows haven't really addressed yet.
The show also gets a pretty stellar Blu-ray release. Each of this season's ten episodes looks fantastic in the 1.78:1/1080p AVC encoded transfers. Detail is strong, from the vintage fabric of the clothes to the wider shots of bohemian apartments. Colors are a bit muted but well-saturated, and black levels are consistent and deep. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is similarly strong. The show's all-important dialogue is clean and clear from the front, while the surrounds get a bit of use for directionality and music. Everything is well-balanced throughout.
Extras are extensive and unsurprisingly Dunham-centric. Five of the season's ten episodes feature commentaries with the cast and crew, including one with Dunham and producer Judd Apatow. The pair show up again for a featurette that's a conversation between them discussing their collaboration on the show. We also get other featurettes that talk with the other actors, as well as covering the making of the show and individual episodes. There are also a pair of gag reels with some fun moments, as well as deleted and extended scenes, so we get more of our favorite characters. We also get footage from auditions and table reads. Finally, the whole thing is rounded out with the inclusion of a Fresh Air with Terry Gross interview with Dunham. It's an impressive package that provides lots of extra laughs as well as information on the making of the show.
Girls: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) is also handsomely packaged. Inside a cardboard sleeve there's a foldable tray that houses the two Blu-ray discs. There's also another cardboard sleeve that houses the show's episodes on DVD, along with instructions for downloading a digital copy as well. Finally, there's a booklet including excerpts from Dunham's tweets during the writing and producing of the show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Lena Dunham has a unique voice, and in comedy that's an asset and a burden. For fans, it means that she's the only place to go to get that particular fix. For detractors, that means that everything she touches is tainted. Girls certainly came in for a lot of criticism because of Dunham's vision. Some might think it's too frank in its depiction of sex. Others might object to the reality of four struggling young women in today's economy even making it in the relative cheapness of Brooklyn. Finally, comedy is always highly subjective, and this show just might not tickle everyone's funny bone.
If the ladies of Gossip Girl are too young, and the women of Sex and the City too old, then Girls is the Goldilocks answer. Though the show is about twentysomethings trying to make it in NYC, the comedy is more universal, offering frank, hilarious portraits of the pitfalls of incipient adulthood. Though Dunham's brand of comedy might not be for everyone, this show is worth a look for anyone looking for a new voice in the sitcom world. The excellence of this Blu-ray set makes it easy to recommend a purchase for fans.
Not for everyone, but Girls is not guilty.
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