Girls is frequently compared to Louie and often contrasted with Sex and the City—and with good reason: Lena Dunham is an avowed superfan of Louis C.K. (who, like Dunham, writes and stars and directs his TV series) and the show took on the SATC precedent directly in its very first episode. But over the course of its first season and, even more strikingly, in the premiere of Season 2, Girls has grown to resemble a different, equally beloved series: Freaks and Geeks.
It’s no coincidence, of course: That truly excellent, hour-long comedy-drama, set at a high school in suburban Detroit at the beginning of the 1980s, was co-produced by Judd Apatow, part of the creative team behind Girls. After his show was canceled in 2000, he went on to make Undeclared, a half-hour sitcom about freshmen at a California college, which took a similar sort-of-serious-but-still-funny-and-lightly-satirical-but-very-affectionate tack as his previous series. (It also had some of the same actors in it.) Now, having done high school and university (and gotten canceled after a single season each time), Apatow is tackling the post-collegiate years—albeit through Dunham, who is clearly the prime mover on the HBO show. (They even made Mrs. Weir Hannah’s mother.) The second leading creative voice behind Girls is probably Jenni Konner, who works with Apatow often and was a writer on Undeclared.
Initially, not only Dunham’s voice but also her character seemed to dominate the series to a degree that blurred this creative parentage a bit—hence the comparisons to Louie. But in the first episode of Season 2, the Girls ensemble came to the fore. The premiere not only brought back everyone from Season 1, but also expanded considerably the parts of Elijah (Andrew Rannells) and Charlie’s new girlfriend Audrey (Audrey Gelman). The most dramatic plot points pertained not to Hannah, who has a new boyfriend and a dinner party, but to Marnie (Allison Williams), who lost her job and had desultory sex with the gay Elijah. And then there was the episode’s tone: Dan Kois and I agreed that the Season 2 premiere was a little more sitcom-y, a little more network-ish, than much of Season 1. Which sounds, when I put it that way, like a bad thing—except that Freaks and Geeks, which was on NBC, was fantastic. Not all networks shows are bad. (Just most of them.)
I’m sure some Freaks and Geeks fans will protest this comparison: The affection people rightly feel for that show is qualitatively different from the complicated emotional relationship viewers seem to have with Girls (even those who like it, I mean). But that’s at least partly because the earlier show was about high school kids and set in the past. Who’s not going to feel protective and generous toward kids going to high school in the Midwestern suburbs in the early ’80s? No one I know. And who’s not going to be fairly annoyed by a bunch of twenty-something strivers living in Brooklyn and trying to be writers and curators and what have you? Very few, I suspect. But the demographic difference shouldn’t obscure the fact that Girls is the closest thing to Freaks and Geeks on television right now.