By Karen Valby
March 13, 2012 at 04:56 AM EDT
JoJo Whilden
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On Monday afternoon, Lena Dunham, who wrote and directed the beautifully received SXSW discovery Tiny Furniture in 2010, returned to Austin to share the first three episodes of her new HBO series Girls. Her latest creation is a terrifically fresh, recognizable portrait of being young, smart, and adrift in a city that isn’t there to serve you. There’s a not unkind wink to Sex and the City in the first episode, which seemed a shrewd way to acknowledge the inevitable comparisons and keep it moving.

Executive producer Judd Apatow stood alongside Dunham on stage, looking like a bemused and proud uncle in his pink button-down. (“I took a picture with a film fan at the Austin Airport and they put it on Twitter,” he said: “‘Judd Apatow comes to Austin with his suburban Dad fashion.'”) “I’ve never been around so many women before,” he said of Girls. “There were no bongs in the room. No bongs or penises and they don’t really like pornography. It was all very new for me.”

Dunham plays Hannah, a dry, smart, winning girl who needs a job and better taste in men. She lives with her best friend (played by the lovely Allison Williams) in Brooklyn and their friends are equally specific and interesting and messy. I could watch Jemima Kirke–Dunham’s childhood friend who starred in Tiny Furniture and plays a similarly droll badass here–drink White Russians all day long. Peter Scolari (!) and Freaks and Geeks Ma Becky Ann Baker play Hannah’s fed-up parents. And The Book of Mormon star Andrew Rannells has a wickedly funny turn playing Hannah’s ex-boyfriend who has some news.

The three episodes were dirty and smart and sweet and there’s abortion and child prostitution and HPV jokes that somehow work and really weird sex scenes and somehow it always felt kind of hopeful and true. Never once did I doubt the friendship between these women. The audience loved it, cheering wildly during the credits of each episode.

“That was a very thrilling experience for me, so thank you,” a beaming Dunham told the crowd afterwards. After they made the deal with HBO for the pilot, the network told her to go write the next four episodes–a process that usually unhinges new writers, said Apatow. “They write one and a half episodes, freak out, have a meltdown, they can’t handle the pressure.” Dunham came back bearing five full episodes.

But what began this all, Dunham said, was her “ridiculous” first pitch, delivered by someone who didn’t understand the art: “Here’s a show I’d like to watch, it would be really fun!” Me, too.

Girls premieres on HBO on April 15.

Four young ladies live in New York City, and it’s SO hard.
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