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Why I don't understand Girls

I just can't get into Girls. It's not for the want of trying. I've watched several episodes of the first series and now the first episode of the second, which was shown on Sky Atlantic while still warm from its US screening on HBO.

Sorry. I guess that immediately makes me an old fart who's tragically unhip, hopelessly out of touch and desperately uncool. But so be it. That's life.

Girls, say some people, is life too -- or at least as realistic and convincing a depiction of life as lived by a group of young women at large in New York as American television has so far produced. It's raw, it's smart and it's sassy. The sex -- of which there's quite a lot -- is messy, unglamorous and sometimes borders on the sordid.

The characters, especially Lena Dunham's Hannah, who doesn't conform to the body-shape usually demanded by US comedies yet, refreshingly, has no qualms whatsoever about showing herself naked, feel real. They're imperfect beings, frequently shallow, selfish and self-obsessed.

It's impossible not to sit back and admire what Dunham has done. Here she is, at 26, writing, producing, directing and starring in her own series, and winning critical acclaim, Emmys and Golden Globes into the bargain as well.

In an industry that's still overwhelmingly ruled by men and still routinely patronises women, that's an astonishingly impressive achievement. But admiration is one thing; loving, liking or even warming to Girls is another matter.

You could take the view that, far from pushing boundaries or breaking down barriers, it's really just a clever, smartly packaged female variation on the kind of neurotic East Coast pseudo-intellectualism Woody Allen has been peddling, with diminishing levels of success, for decades (and for me, one that doesn't make me laugh or even smile).

You could even go a bit further -- as a handful of unimpressed American critics, who refuse to be swept along by the consensus tide, have -- and say Girls is really just another story about the spoiled, whining children of rich, privileged, white parents at play in the Big Apple, where they relentlessly dramatise their own vapid lives.

The criticisms levelled at the first season's vanilla casting, by the way, have been quickly addressed in the second. Hannah has ditched the obnoxious Adam, who's laid up with his leg in a cast after being hit by a truck at the end of the first run, and now has a new, black boyfriend, who also happens to be a Republican.

To me, however, even this feels like set-dressing. At the outset, the big selling point of Girls was that it's the anti-Sex and the City. Hannah and her circle of friends might walk the same streets as Carrie Bradshaw, but they're a completely different species.

Are they, though? You don't have to be long, skinny, blonde and vacuous to be a narcissist and, for all its supposed down-and-dirty realism, there's a strong scent of narcissism coming off Girls. It's notable that while Hannah is gloriously ordinary-looking -- a real woman with a real woman's body -- all the male characters she's bedded so far buffed to a shine.

I have a teenage daughter who loves Girls and who would furiously disagree with all of this. But then, that's real life, isn't it?

Just enough space for a quick mention of My Mad Fat Diary, which is lovely and something most girls, and maybe most boys, too, could probably relate to more readily than Girls. Set in the mid-90s, it's based on the published diaries of Rae Earl, played terrifically by Sharon Rooney. Sixteen years old and 16st, she emerges from a psychiatric hospital four months after suffering a nervous breakdown and tries to engage with a world that's never really engaged with her.

It's funny, touching, sometimes heart-breaking and utterly believable. I'll do more on it next week but in the meantime, catch it on Channel 4's website.



Girls HHIII My mad fat diary HHHHH