Since its premiere, HBO’s Girls has been a lightning rod for controversy. On Sunday, the executive producers and cast of the show sat down for a panel discussion at the annual PaleyFest television festival in part about its polarizing nature.
Executive producer Judd Apatow served as moderator, but it was executive producer, creator, and star Lena Dunham who did most of the talking during the hour-long discussion. Executive producers Jenni Konner, Bruce Eric Kaplan, and Ilene S. Landress joined Dunham and Apatow, along with costars Alison Williams, Alex Karpovsky, and Andrew Rannells—all of whom arrived on stage to exuberant fanfare.
Girls’ ability to break the boundaries of on-screen “likeability” is perhaps the most confrontational aspect of the show, and a relevant point of discussion considering that the event on Sunday coincided with National Women’s Day. “We have an essential belief that being complex, annoying, and multifaceted is the right of women on television,” stated Dunham. “Hopefully in some way [this] is a form of feminist action because it’s a form of representation that we’ve been lacking for some time.”
Most of the conversation revolved around the ensemble’s solidarity in the face of constant critical attention. “Whether we’re receiving praise or whether we’re receiving criticism we’re together as a team trying to continue to tell stories about these characters we’ve come to love so much,” said Dunham, emphatically gesturing in tea-length black and white floral. “It feels like I have a stable, delightful family who are sort of sheltering me; we’re all encouraging each other to continue on. Our focus remains on the work.”
“There’s a lot of effort and desire to be really truthful in this show, which isn’t always the case in a half-hour comedy,” said Kaplan, who wrote for Seinfeld, Cybil, and HBO’s Six Feet Under, which he also produced. “Bruce is very much our truth-o-meter,” added Dunham, admitting he often meets joke pitches with the sentiment of “’yes that’s funny, but let’s think about how life works.’”
Sometimes Girls skirts into the hyper-real; it has become somewhat notorious for its cringe-inducing sex scenes. Williams, who raised eyebrows earlier this season for enacting a somewhat taboo sex act on the series, defended the writers’ choice to get down and dirty: “The dialogue [of that scene] was that Desi said ‘I love that’ and Marnie said ‘I love you too.’ It’s everything you need to know–in twelve seconds you’re brought up to speed about Marnie and where she is physically and emotionally.”
Andrew Rannells, sporting a sleek gray suit and newly sprouted beard, chimed in. “There’s nothing in these scripts that doesn’t seem like it belongs in the world,” he said. “You never ask us to do things that are not organic to these characters. We all trust your judgment that it’s there for a reason.”
Apatow cited the relative naiveté of many of the cast members as contributing to their willingness to be so vulnerable on set: “It feels like there [are] a lot of people who work on the show who hadn’t had the nightmare Hollywood experience, so there’s a lack of bitterness on set. I think it does lead to some of the bravery on the show because there’s no sense of what you’re not supposed to do.”