independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Move over, Carrie – we've fallen for the new girls on the block

Four play: Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Alison Williams and Lena Dunaham, the stars of Girls

I was away when Girls premiered on Sky Atlantic, but I've now seen the first five episodes and I think it so good that it makes most other sitcoms look silly.

Its obvious forerunner is Sex and the City – also made by HBO and also set in New York and with four female characters, too – but in tone and intention it's utterly different from that smug show, which for all its superficial visual and verbal rudeness was deeply conservative in its attitudes, equating a woman's personal fulfilment with uncomplicated orgasms and the snaring of a Mr Big.

In Girls, as in real life, sex is a lot messier and is not the answer to anyone's problems. Indeed, for Hannah – played by the show's creator, writer and director, Lena Dunham – it's a matter of puzzlement, not least when she feels obliged to entertain her casual partner's tackier fantasies, while her flatmate Marnie can't understand the physical repulsion she feels towards her own boyfriend. And making up the quartet of twenty-somethings are Shoshanna, unhappy that she's still a virgin, and Jessa, whose cool, cosmopolitan facade doesn't quite conceal her own insecurities.

In their different ways, these privileged young New Yorkers are lost souls, but if that suggests material for a sociological treatise, the show itself is fleet and very funny, especially when Hannah is at its centre. Short and dumpy, Dunham is the polar opposite of a typical sitcom heroine, but she's smart, droll and sexy as a quizzical and articulate young woman trying to make sense of social rituals, relationship manners and work environments – the scene in which she confronts her constantly groping old lech of an employer with an overt proposition that shocks him is a hoot.

The show has made headlines for its explicitness and indeed some of the sex scenes are quite startling, but only because they capture the realities of intimate behaviour rather than peddle the fantasies of so many movie and TV romcoms. Indeed, truthfulness to life as we know it is what makes this show a remarkable achievement.

On its first outing a couple of years back, The Killing was remarkable, too, though its second series was something of a dud. Now, with The Killing III (BBC4), Sofie Grabol is back as Sarah Lund, sporting a different woolly jumper but exhibiting the same dogged obsessiveness.

Mind you, we first encounter her as she's angling for a boring desk job, but it doesn't take long for her to get intrigued by the tattoos on a dismembered body that's been discovered on the premises of Denmark's biggest multinational company. Then the young daughter of the company's CEO gets kidnapped.

Politicians jostling for power are in the mix, too, just as they were in the first series, and I just hope that the political storyline has more relevance than it did then. But there's always Grabol to look at – for someone who displays so little overt emotion, she really is a fascinating study.

I was fascinated, too, by the tear that Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh wiped from her cheek halfway through the first instalment of The Moment of Truth (RTÉ One). She was interviewing Galway woman Colette Stratford, who as an unmarried young mother in the 1960s had to give up her baby son for adoption, and when Colette started to cry about what had happened, Blathnaid cried, too.

Miriam weeps and now Blathnaid blubbers. Has this become an RTÉ requirement?

Claire Byrne is made of sterner stuff, and in the first episode of Ireland's Search and Rescue (RTE One) we encountered her declaiming from the edge of a cliff top. Mind you, she did look a bit spooked, but she bravely followed the director's bidding, all for the sake of an arresting shot.

Elsewhere, she was a mostly redundant presence as the film showed us various examples of the skill, courage and gallantry of people who put their lives on the line to save others. But did it really need to be an hour long?

I learned from The Obesity Clinic (RTÉ One) that "the nation is in the grip of an epidemic" caused by the fact that "over 900,000 of us are obese". Furthermore, apparently 61pc of Ireland's population struggle with being overweight. That means that more than 30 of 50 neighbours on my street have weight problems. You could have fooled me, but then medical experts have become very intolerant of anyone who doesn't look like Ryan Tubridy.

However, the people in this two-part series were of a size that went way beyond pot bellies and fatty thighs and so, though I sympathised with them, I couldn't actually relate to their predicaments.

Figures quoted in Four Born Every Minute (BBC One) disclosed that although one in three people born in the United States were at risk of becoming obese, average life expectancy in the US was 78, whereas in Sierra Leone the average age at which people die is 49.

This riveting documentary focused on such disparities as it posed its central question – whether it's worse to be born poor or to die poor? The worldwide scenes of poverty throughout the film were deeply distressing.

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