Weekend TV Review: HBO's Girls Rule, Titanic Sinks Again, NYC 22
Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham, Zosia Mamet
It took a special species to rescue HBO from several years in the comedy doldrums, when most everything (except sporadic seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm) felt overly precious or ironic and hardly ever funny.
Welcome, girls. Or more precisely, young women, a breed of defiant bohemian twentysomethings who populate Lena Dunham's brilliantly raw and raunchy Girls, a true breakthrough series (Sunday, 10:30/9:30c). This shockingly incisive and wry look at the young-adult psyche comes from writer-director-star/auteur Dunham. She hides and spares nothing in her unblemished portrayal of Hannah, a snarky, puffy and self-deprecating anti-glamour girl who's spent too much time living off her professor parents — a gravy train that dries up as the series begins — while noodling on a memoir (working title Midnight Snack) without having really lived yet.
Hannah is too smart for the room, especially one in which they might be hiring. "I think that I may be the voice of my generation," she declares. Then hedges: "Or at least a voice. Of a generation." Dunham's voice is unquestionably distinctive, and oh so painfully real. She and her friends — the lovely and responsible Marnie (Allison Williams, daughter of NBC anchor Brian), the exotic and willful Jessa (Jemima Kirke), the hopelessly naïve and needy Shoshonna (Zosia Mamet) — represent the flip side of Sex and the City.
In Girls, sex is often messy, awkward, emotionally unsettling and never romanticized, and the city (New York, of course, Brooklyn variety) hardly welcomes them with generosity. They may fall asleep to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but they haven't made it after all — and I'm not sure they'd recognize it if they did. But they are fascinating, troubling, exhilarating company. Girls is the sort of authentic original you dream of discovering, and once you do, you can't wait for everyone else to discover it.
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THAT SINKING FEELING: From the department of redundancy department: ABC marks this weekend's 100th anniversary of the downing of the Titanic with a peculiar new four-hour miniseries that it's hard to imagine a world satiated by James Cameron's Oscar-winning blockbuster (back in theaters, in 3D) has been pining for. The network apparently realizes this, having buried the first three hours of Titanic in the vortex of Saturday night (8/7c) and saving the climax — the actual sinking — for Sunday (9:01/8:01c), by which time you may actually be rooting for the iceberg.
As written by Downton Abbey's celebrated Julian Fellowes, the film weaves the stories of the highborn and low, with (as you might expect) a heavy emphasis on the service staff, including one perky maid who waits on the first-class servants: "grander than their masters and touchy as a king in exile." The gimmick here is that each of the first three hours tracks a similar timeline, leading up to the collision and its immediate chaotic aftermath, but shown from different angles. So a scene only glimpsed in hour one is more fully played out in another, and characters who barely register at first are fleshed out later, though most remain rather sketchy at best.
As a rule, the rich are insufferable snobs, those who envy them are even worse, and the lower you descend on the social scale, the nobler in character you somehow become. Even good actors like Linus Roache (the Earl of Manton, as starchy as his collars), Toby Jones (as his obsequious lawyer) and Maria Doyle Kennedy (as Jones' harpy wife) fail to rise above these contrived circumstances. Still, when the terrible moment comes when families and lovers are separated under the worst of conditions, the power of this historically iconic tragedy takes hold.
Still, you'd be better off turning over to Turner Classic Movies Saturday night, for the more compact and powerful 1958 film A Night to Remember (10/9c), featuring among its large cast of character actors a young David McCallum (as the wireless operator).
THE BEAT GOES ON: The patrol beat, that is, and we have walked down these mean city streets so many times before, almost always in more interesting company than the clichéd rookie cops of CBS' tired, trite NYC 22 (Sunday, 10/9c). By the time the duty sergeant sends the new uniforms out on their first tour, I half expected him to say, "Let's be generic out there."
NYC 22 recycles just about every imaginable stereotype, from the gruff but caring training officer dubbed "Yoda" (Terry Kinney channeling Gerald McRaney) on down, each with a chip on their under-imagined shoulder: the PYT (Helen Hunt clone Leelee Sobieski) with a White House and Iraqi War resume in case you think the blonde is a pushover; the oldest rookie — once the title of a short-lived CBS procedural — nicknamed "Lazarus" (the rabbity Adam Goldberg, a bona fide show killer), who was a police reporter before budget cuts forced him to jump to the other side; a fourth-generation police hero (Stark Sands) who takes a special interest in a young street kid; a former pro basketball star (Harold "House" Moore) nicknamed "Jackpot," who's trying to rebuild his life; a socially naive exile from Afghanistan (Tom Reed) whom senior officers have tagged "The Kite Runner;" and a lovely Latina (Judy Marte) from a family of criminals who's trying to prove she can uphold, not break, the law.
There's barely an authentic or original moment in the first episodes — by the second week, we're subjected to the too-often-done storyline of a celebrity (here a rapper) who tags along on the job after being cast in a movie — and I find it hard to reconcile that this comes from Richard Price, a gifted novelist/screenwriter whose credits include Clockers, Lush Life and the peerless The Wire. On any other network, something this mediocre would almost certainly be DOA. But on crime-saturated CBS, it might just fit in, and that's just depressing. Because NYC 22 isn't even trying. It's not too too, it's too little.
BETTER THAN GOOD: The creative ennui of NYC 22 is even more dispiriting when you consider it's being paired with network TV's most crackling drama: The Good Wife (CBS, Sunday, 9/8c), back for one last blast of new episodes this season — the finale is April 29 — starting with another home run. There are legal fireworks in a case that illuminates young Cary's (Matt Czuchry) diminished position in the state attorney's office, but they take a back seat this week to the brazen ugliness of Chicago-style politics.
Alicia (Julianna Margulies), as usual, is caught in the middle, with estranged husband Peter's ambitions on one side and a new challenge presented by the ruthless operator Mike Kresteva (the brilliantly smarmy Matthew Perry), who chaired the recent blue-ribbon panel she sat on and isn't about to let her walk away unscathed. Perry's scenes with Margulies are electrifying in their breathtaking cynicism. And he's not the only antagonist bedeviling her. There's also mother-in-law Jackie (frosty, feisty Mary Beth Peil) to deal with, whose down payment on the Florrick family homestead has Alicia crying foul.
The collision of the personal, professional and political — which also ensnares Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) and his ex-wife Vanessa (Parker Posey) — shows The Good Wife at its greatest: smart, stimulating, unpredictable. Don't miss it.
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