By Ken Tucker
Updated April 11, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Jojo Whilden/HBO
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Few things in television are more exciting than encountering someone who’s figured out a way to put an entire worldview, a fully formed sensibility, on the screen. And who’s then added jokes. This is what creator and star (and sometime writer and director) Lena Dunham has accomplished with Girls, which looks and sounds like — on the basis of the three episodes I’ve seen, anyway — one of the most original thingamajigs to come along in a while.

Neither sitcom nor drama, Girls is a bit of both, mixed with Dunham’s…well, how to put it? I know — let’s quote what a boss (Whit Stillman-movie cynosure Chris Eigeman) says to her character, Hannah, in the premiere: ”You have just the quippy voice for that.” Indeed she does. Hannah can say to her pals Marnie (Allison Williams) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke), ”When I look at you, a Coldplay song plays in my heart,” and the line is at once sincere, ironic, and funny. It’s Hannah’s way of both revealing her feelings and protecting herself from being ridiculed for revealing her feelings.

Early on, it may look as though Girls is going to be your slightly above-average portrait of a twentysomething in these hard times. At dinner with her parents — the marvelously tense and defensive Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker — Hannah is told that they will no longer support her ”groovy lifestyle.” (Those are Mom’s words, and one of the nice aspects about Girls is that it even grants this hard-shelled woman her own sense of sarcasm, since she knows using ”groovy” is ridiculous.) Hannah, a 24-year-old former English major working on a book of essays and wanting a parental subsidy of ”$1,100 a month for the next two years” — Girls is wittily precise in its details — is given a flat ”no” to her request.

From there the series takes off, fearless in its approach to sexual identities, women’s body issues, the density of men’s thinking, and the importance of Sex and the City and Rent in shaping the philosophy of far too many New Yorkers. Though filmed with an aesthetic that values stark stillness over hyped-up energy, Girls is never less than lively. It possesses a different rhythm from any other show on TV. It behaves with mumbly indifference, careful lest it be mistaken for an attempt to be The Voice Of Its Generation.

And that remains true even though, as she says to her parents, Hannah firmly believes ”I may be the voice of my generation, or at least a voice of a generation.” It’s the way Lena Dunham has Hannah hedge her bets that makes you want to go all-in on Dunham’s own gamble that she can make Girls be great. A

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