In a purely reductive sense, HBO's "Girls" is a next generation "Sex and the City," right down to its four lead characters who can each find an analogue in the 1998-2004 hit series. But there are some significant differences, too.
The "Girls" pilot (10:30 tonight) is especially joyless -- future episodes are funnier -- as it depicts self-centered, navel-gazing characters at their most insufferable and pathetic.
In the second episode when protagonist Hannah ("Girls" writer/director Lena Dunham, "Tiny Furniture") talks herself from a fear of AIDS into the benefits of the disease while lying on her back at a gynecologist's office, her doctor declares, "You could not pay me enough to be 24 again." Many viewers will surely nod in agreement.
That said, "Girls" grew on me. As annoying as the characters can be, they also evince recognizable traits in absurdly realistic situations.
Hannah wants to be a writer but doesn't try that hard to get a paying job, relying on her parents (Becky Ann Baker, "Freaks and Geeks," Peter Scolari, "Newhart") to provide rent money.
"I think that I may be the voice of my generation," Hannah says with utter seriousness, "or at least a voice of a generation."
She wants a boyfriend but settles for hookups with Adam (Adam Driver), who disrespects her. Hannah's also prone to posting cryptic messages about her state of mind/heart on social media sites -- been there, read those.
Bohemian Brit Jessa (Jemima Kirke), returns to Manhattan like a dark cloud covering the city, a sharp juxtaposition with her sunny cousin, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), who has a "Sex and the City" poster prominently displayed in her bedroom (Shoshanna is the Charlotte).
Hannah's roommate, Marnie (Allison Williams, daughter of "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams), appears to be more put together -- she has a job and at least plays the part of a sophisticated career woman -- but she has her own issues. She's grown to detest her nice-guy boyfriend Charlie (Chris Abbott) and in the third episode is so drawn to a jerk she meets that she has to run to a restroom to masturbate.
This is a good time to warn that "Girls" does not shy from nudity and has pretty graphic sex scenes; they're not necessarily titillating, but they are revealing. Discussion of sex also is frank, as one would expect from a series that counts Judd Apatow ("Bridesmaids," "Knocked Up," "Freaks and Geeks") among its executive producers.
A patina of strained hipsterism hangs over the "Girls" pilot, although it's not as pronounced as on HBO's canceled "How to Make it in America," and "Girls" grows more confident and less infuriating in upcoming episodes. The third episode, where Hannah reunites with ex-boyfriend Elijah (Andrew Rannells, "Book of Mormon"), has several especially funny scenes.
"Girls" won't be to every viewer's taste, particularly for those who give up on the show after the pilot. But "Girls" proves there is humor to be mined from characters born into a narcissistic, entitled generation.