Andrea Mullaney chooses a diverse mix for the week ahead
The weight of hype trailing Girls, Sky Atlantic’s new comedy import, is almost enough to sink it before it even begins. Since its HBO debut a few months ago the American media has thrown controversies and praise around so recklessly that few will come to it here without any expectations.
It is, depending on what you’ve read: a brilliant, ground-breaking examination of the lives of struggling 20-something women in a post-post-feminist age; the new Sex And The City (minus about 20 years, the high fashion gloss and any decent sex); the epitome of nepotism (the main cast’s famous parents include an NBC newscaster, playwright David Mamet and actress Lindsay Crouse, Bad Company’s drummer and artists); an example of unthinking racism (like Woody Allen, Friends or S&TC, this is a whites-only New York where the characters are drawn from a very particular social strata – and this complaint, itself, sparked a massive Twitter row recently when journalist Caitlin Moran dismissed it as irrelevant); a small-screen version of the comedy of embarrassment seen in films like Bridesmaids or Judd Apatow’s work; the future of comedy; a pretentious, hipster affectation; rude and crude; rude and crude but that’s OK as it’s created by a woman; and – this one is definitely true – the recipient of five Emmy nominations in its first year, a startling acknowledgement from the usually slow-to-catch-on awards.
Whew. All that is a lot of baggage for a sitcom, or even a ‘dramedy’ (don’t you hate that phrase?). And, frankly, it’s too much: watch with any or all of those expectations and disappointment is guaranteed. But even laying them aside, Girls will certainly not be for everybody – not even for all girls.
Fundamentally it is a satire, at times as painful as rereading your teenage diary, yet wrapped in a sort of delight in its own self-referential suffering. When Lena Dunham’s Hannah tells her parents that they should financially support her half-arsed attempt to become a writer, she says – in a line already much quoted – “I think I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least … the voice of a generation”. And it’s simultaneously pathetic and knowingly self-aggrandising coming from the character, but Dunham’s also savvy enough to know that it can stand for herself as well, combining self-deprecation and hype together.
Processing the layers to get a laugh out of all this can sometimes seem like hard work. It’s a lot easier to mock youthful pretensions in Fresh Meat, certainly. For me, Girls is only fitfully amusing.
Yet it has something – and Dunham’s “voice” is the key, being the main writer, director, star, producer and overall creator. Her friends, acquaintances and on-off useless boyfriend may occasionally fall into parody, but her bumbling, annoying, endearing Hannah resists categorisation. At times tragic, at others whiny, clever but dumb, she persists, and in her mistakes, she’s learning. “You couldn’t pay me to be 24 again,” remarks an older woman. “They’re not paying me at all,” says Hannah, ruefully. It’s moments of truth like that which account for the wilder elements of the hype. And, given a year in which the news is constantly full of attacks on women – male politicians with demented ideas about rape, girls being shot for going to school, uncovering sexual harassment and abuse, Kate Middleton’s breasts and every D-list celebrity’s weight fluctuations – there is something jubilant about Girls’ insistence on portraying female experiences without apology, even if they’re within a certain defined world. It may not be the whole story – but there’s little else like it on TV at the moment.
You can’t say that about Hatfields & McCoys, an Emmy-laden mini-series which is firmly in the tradition of old-fashioned macho Westerns. Based on real events, it is about two families around Virginia and Kentucky who fought each other relentlessly for 30 odd years at the end of the 19th century, partly over a stolen pig. The production values are great, the acting is largely good – Kevin Costner is as wooden as ever, but Bill Paxton brings out the best in him and there are many fine supporting players – and there are more beards than you can shake a Winchester at.
But after a while, it begins to feel like watching a video game as the killings mount up, man after man blown away by one side or the other, with only an uninvolving Romeo And Juliet style love affair between the clans to break things up and no one to really root for or even hate. Historically interesting, I guess, but dramatically it drags. One for hardcore Western fans only.
Now, having gone around the world in 80 days, pole to pole, full circled the globe, across deserts and up mountains, I thought that Michael Palin had now been everywhere. So it’s a surprise to learn that he’s only just made it to the fifth largest country on earth: Brazil, or Brazil With Michael Palin, as it is now rightfully named.
By now, you know what to expect from a Palin travelogue: an amiable chap encountering oddities, politely joining in with local rituals (here, drumming, capoeira and dancing), giving us a potted history (from the first European settlements and slave colonies) and all with an air of slight bemusement, as if he can’t quite figure out why he’s not at home. There will be a glossy book, of course, so there’s your elderly relatives’ Christmas present sorted.
Mondays, Sky Atlantic, 10pm
Hatfields & McCoys
Thursdays, Channel 5, 9pm
Brazil With Michael Palin
Wednesdays, BBC1, 9pm
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Friday 24 May 2013
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