Hannah and her 'sisters'
It's Sunday, and Lena Dunham is on her way to a deli in Manhattan's Tribeca neighbourhood to buy hand sanitiser and the local probiotic cult drink, Kombucha - ''everything I need in this life'', she says.
In five hours, the fourth episode of her HBO comedy Girls will air, and in eight days she will start shooting season two.
''Wow, some really nice guy waiting for ice-cream just said he loves the show,'' she says. ''I love when it's a man. Whenever I have fans, it's always teenage girls and gay boys, which are my favourite kinds of people in the world. But when a 35-year-old guy is like, 'I like the show' I'm like, 'What? That's amazing!'''
Girls, which screens locally on Showcase, is an electric, girly, shocking comedy about four affluent women in their 20s living and (occasionally) working, and having unglamorous sex in New York City. Dunham, 26, who conceived, wrote and directs it, is a New Yorker with messy chestnut hair, a pear-shaped body and a cracking, verbose way of talking that suggests a love child of Woody Allen and Tina Fey.
She plays recent graduate Hannah Horvath, ''voice of a generation'' and chronic oversharer with literary tattoos and a flaky boyfriend.
In early episodes she is cut off from her parents' financial teat, exposes her breasts, is sexually harassed and attempts such harassment herself. Meanwhile, one of her best friends checks in for an abortion, another tries desperately to lose her virginity, and another masturbates during a work party. All this in dishevelled Brooklyn apartments, cluttered offices and dusty bars from which the stench of days-old vodka and cranberry juice practically wafts from the screen.
''Part of what was important to me was showing certain kinds of sexual encounters and certain kinds of language that aren't TV acceptable,'' Dunham says, justifiably proud that her first foray into TV is on HBO, home to The Sopranos, The Wire, True Blood and, of course, Sex and the City.
That last show paved the way for the sex lives and dilemmas of women to be a substantial theme for TV and Dunham won't deny Girls is a product of a post-Sex and the City world. ''My goal was definitely not to react to Sex and the City in any specific way but I did want to call it out and recognise what a big deal that show was,'' she says. ''It has a big impact on women and television. And you kinda can't talk about girls in New York without referencing it.''
So Dunham wrote Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), the most comically deluded and naive of the characters in Girls, as a Sex and the City fiend who sees the world through Cosmopolitan-coloured glasses. ''I'm definitely a Carrie at heart but sometimes Samantha comes out,'' she declares in an early episode, her brown eyes wild with delusion. (In fact, she's a Charlotte.)
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni described Girls as ''Sex and the City in a charcoal-grey Salvation Army overcoat''. Such comparisons, though, misrepresent the diversity of Dunham's characters. Hannah, Shoshanna, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Marnie (Allison Williams) are rarefied and also familiar. They fall from the same tree as such characters as Kristen Schaal's sycophantic Mel from Flight of the Conchords and Tina Fey's Liz Lemon.
It's as if Chris Lilley got together with Candace Bushnell and spawned a quartet: imagine a mash-up of Lilley's nightmare teen queen Ja'mie (who Dunham considers ''the funniest thing on the planet''), the sexed-up oddball Dimity from Shirley Barrett's 1996 film Love Serenade, and, well, Carrie Bradshaw.
''I really feel like I'm working in the new golden age of TV,'' Dunham says. ''There's so much room for so many different kinds of characters. My hope is that Girls shows a specific voice and time in a woman's life that we haven't necessarily seen on TV before.''
Unlike Bradshaw and friends, these women feel a world away from professional and financial security, are wide-eyed in the headlights of their sexual landscape and have threads hanging off their vintage clothing. They have grown up with Twitter and in a city where all is discussed, from mundane to highbrow.
The sex is a pivot point for the awkwardness, openness and aimlessness of the rest of their lives; a metaphor for the transitional state of their egos. The girls are the subject; sex is one of their vehicles.
Before Girls launched in the US last month, Dunham appeared on the cover of New York magazine, which declared the show might actually be ''revolutionary''. Since its debut, it has garnered gushing praise and cultural concern. It has been lauded for its frank, unglamorous portrayal of urban women in their 20s; taken to task for a blindness to racial diversity; and provoked curious hand-wringing among critics alarmed at the bleak state of sexual affairs among Hannah's generation.
Dunham is both flattered and bemused by the critical earnestness. She admits that Hannah is barely removed from herself.
''There are days when Hannah is basically me and days when I would never behave the way she does,'' she says. ''It's funny to talk about her like I don't know her. I love her but she makes me nuts. Most things she does, I have done at some point, or at least thought about at some point and decided not to, thinking, 'I know it's not a good idea to do that'. But you know who does do that? Hannah.''
What seems most revolutionary about Girls is the intricacy with which Dunham distils the experiences of her and her friends' educated, liberal New York City upbringing into four characters who are exaggerated enough to be shocking - and truly funny - while understated enough to be utterly believable.
Judging by the buzz, Girls could become this generation's TV icon, to which future shows navigating the sexual landscape of that coming-of-age period will have to pay homage.
Until then, Dunham thanks you for watching - sort of. As she tweeted after the show's debut: ''Thanks so much to all who watched! I'd offer you sexy favours but after seeing my performance you don't want them … Back to my writing cave.''
From: The Age
Girls airs Mondays on Foxtel's Showcase channel.