Alec Baldwin might be the best radio host who has never had a radio show. “Here’s The Thing,” Baldwin’s semi-regular podcast produced by WNYC, is informative, funny, smart, and wildly listenable. That has a lot to do with Baldwin’s voice, of course; it’s syrupy in that “Royal Tenenbaums” way, the audio equivalent of curling up next to a warm fire. It also has to do with the fact that Baldwin is an expert interviewer.
That’s probably how he got Lena Dunham to discuss her first date with boyfriend and fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff during the most recent “Here’s The Thing” episode. (They went to Blue Ribbon Bakery; he helped her order a cheeseburger.) Not that Dunham is averse to talking about her personal life, but if there’s one thing she’s managed to “keep for herself” during the last 10 months of “Girls” saturation, it’s her relationship.
Yet that wasn’t the best part of Dunham’s sit down with Baldwin. The “Girls” creator and star is basically Public Enemy No. 1 for a lot of people on Internet (you can’t go five minutes in my office without hearing someone trash her or “Girls” or both), but she’s consistently thoughtful in her interviews. (Here’s an excellent recent chat she had with Vulture’s Amanda Dobbins.) Talking with Baldwin, Dunham made clear that she views herself as a role model, of sorts.
“I’ve had to become more conscious about what I say and what I promote — not in a way that stifles me, but just in a way where I realize now that there are 17 year old girls who come up to me and say the show means a lot [to them],” Dunham told Baldwin.
“It’s a platform that you have to take seriously. I used to be really into Rihanna, that pop star, and then it’s like — again, I don’t want to throw stones from my glass house — but I follow her on Instagram, and I just think about how many little girls, beyond what I can even comprehend, are obsessed with Rihanna. She left Barbados, she’s had this amazing career, she’s won Grammys, she’s talented, and then she gets back together with Chris Brown and posts a million pictures of them smoking marijuana together on a bed. It cracks my heart in half in a way that makes me feel like I’m 95 years old.”
That answer is why I love Lena Dunham. She says things that might make a publicist cringe, but not in a way that feels inauthentic. (A warning here for my BFF Jennifer Lawrence, who is growing increasingly manufactured in her DGAFness. Stay gold, Pony Boy!)
To digress slightly (more), that’s partially why I think some of the critiques of “Girls” are just so … weird. Dunham’s Hannah is a terrible, selfish and unlikeable protagonist, but we’re all cool with Don Draper, Walter White, Tony Soprano and Carrie Mathison? “Girls” is too focused on white people problems for a show that takes place in New York, which sets it apart from “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “Sex and the City”? It’s okay for someone to dislike “Girls” — *gasp* I could never get into “The Wire” and have found “Community” borderline unwatchable since the end of season one — but, for many, disliking “Girls” seems like an offshoot of really disliking Dunham. It’s criticism that goes beyond what’s actually on the show.
That’s a shame, since Dunham is really someone we should all embrace, regardless of what you think of “Girls.” In interview after interview, Dunham wrestles with her fame, the backlash she’s received since March and her position in the zeitgeist. How many other celebrities are willing to do that? How many even care to try?
Now that the world’s television critics have moved on to eviscerating the work of Aaron Sorkin (because that guy sucks, obviously), it seems like a good time to reflect on the first season of “Girls” — the last polarizing HBO series that television critics gnawed to the bone.
There’s a marathon on HBOZone right now (a #girlsathon, if you’re cool), and the show not only holds up, but actually seems better. The character development among the peripheral “girls” feels much stronger — especially for Jessa (Jemima Kirke), who made the crazypants decision to marry Thomas-John (Chris O’Dowd) during the season finale. Watching “Girls” as it was probably meant to be consumed — in one sitting — makes the slight show feel less trivial, something that would certainly please Ray (Alex Karpovsky).
Anyway, I’m a fan. “Girls” never again achieved the sublime greatness that it did when Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Marnie (Allison Williams) were dancing to Robyn at the end of episode three, but the first season was pretty spectacular.
If there was one thing I didn’t understand about the reaction to “Girls,” it was the critique that these people were all awful because they were so selfish. That, to a man and woman, the characters on “Girls” were some aliens who don’t exist in real life. As if, (a) television isn’t filled with selfish characters (“Parks and Recreation” not withstanding), and (b) all people are selfish? We all think we’re right; we all think we’re good friends, good boyfriends, good girlfriends, good workers; we all think we’re doing the best we possibly can. Even Yankees fans probably think they’re on the side of angels.
Dunham was criticized because she pretended to speak for a generation. (She actually said those words in the pilot episode; never mind that it was a joke on Hannah’s self-involved world view.) Which is a fine critique, I guess, but what if she kinda does? Not just a generation of confused, 23-year-old women trying to figure it all out, but a generation of Peter Pans who never grew up and still think they’re destined for some greatness. In that regard, “Girls” works best for those who have a certain level of self-awareness: The dreamers like Hannah, constantly making mistakes and selfishly thinking they’re starring in some profound narrative feature about their lives.
Regardless of all that naval gazing, the show is funny. Dunham is whip smart, she writes the hell out of jokes big and small, and has an ear for dialogue that recalls Woody Allen.
So there’s that, if you’re still on the fence.