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Dead Tree Alert: Brave New Girls

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Dunham on the set of Girls.

In this week’s print issue of TIME (subscription required, sorry), I have a long-ish piece on HBO’s Girls (premiering April 15) and its young creator-star Lena Dunham. You will hear–and are probably already hearing–an awful lot about Girls for a show from an indie-film director that will probably get a modest cable-sized audience. You will probably be leery of anything this hyped-up. I hear you: I’ve sustained and resisted the hype for a lot of heavily-promoted TV projects–most recently Smash, for instance. I don’t blame you for doubting whether Girls can actually be that good.

I can only say: Girls is actually that good. Every year there are plenty of new shows that are promising, that ave a lot of potential if they deliver on X or Y aspect. But you’re lucky if, any given year, there are one or two shows that are instantly this distinctive and successful off the bat: it’s raw, audacious, nuanced and richly, often excruciatingly funny.

I’ve often said that you can rate a new show on plot, performances, production, and so on, but the thing that really matters is the intangible of voice: some shows have it and some don’t, and you can’t be great without it. Girls has voice to spare. I’ve seen three episodes and it could certainly go downhill, but it would have to get plenty worse for it not to be on my list of best TV shows come the end of the year.

I had a long, long interview with Dunham in Austin for the SXSW last month, and I’ll be posting some excerpts from it here on the blog, around the premiere or the week after. In the meantime, without cannibalizing my paywalled story too much, I will just quote how Dunham described her pitch to HBO for me, which describes the show and its characters better than I could:

I said, “Here’s the kind of show I would want to see. Here’s what my friends are like. They don’t have jobs, but they’re really smart. They take Ritalin for fun, but they’re not that f—ed up. They’re having these kind of degrading sexual relationships, but they’re feminists.”

A handful of you may know Dunham for her 2010 movie Tiny Furniture; Girls captures some of its elliptical indie sensibility, but in a way that’s more structured, with more story and stakes, and–not to overstate the role of co-producer Judd Apatow, because this is mainly Dunham’s creation–but it is in a way reminiscent of the naturalistic, character-based comedy-with-heart of Freaks and Geeks. (With HBO sex and language and a much more urban setting, of course.)

If you have a chance, check it out when it debuts, and I’ll post more about it later. Sometimes, there’s actually a good reason for hype.