By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The central premise of the new U.S. TV show "Girls," might seem familiar: Four women in New York sharing friendship in their journey through relationships and sex in the city famed for its frenetic lifestyle.
Yet "Girls" is no "Sex and the City". Its women are far younger, its tone more quirky and the half hour comedy drama show is being applauded as the most realistic portrait yet of young women, sex and femininity.
Distinguishing it even further, it is created, written and directed by Lena Dunham, aged just 25, based on exaggerated episodes of her own life, with some media watchers branding her the voice of her generation. It opens on cable channel HBO on Sunday.
"This show couldn't exist without ‘Sex and the City', both for what it opened up for women on television and because these characters were raised on 'Sex and the City'," Dunham told Reuters in an interview.
"What is similar is the constant struggle to define yourself, it is set in this urban jungle - if we want to call it that - and the strong relationships between women."
But "Girls" is less glossy, less glamorous fashion, more hipster, capturing the semi-privileged lives of young, white city women. The characters have post-college conversations in the bathrooms and bedrooms of sparser apartments about getting a job, making rent, sex, and digital culture.
It also references today's harsher economic times, looser gender and sexual identities and is wrapped in a style more Woody Allen than Michael Patrick King.
"What's different is that these characters are in a different phase in their life than those women were - and there is a tonal difference between ‘Sex and the City" and this. ‘Sex and the City' is a little more aspirational than this show is, but we definitely have a lot of love for it," Dunham said.
"Girls" came about when Dunham's 2010 indie film, "Tiny Furniture," captured the eye of Judd Apatow, the Hollywood comic writer and director and now the show's executive producer.
"Some of it was versions of things that happened to me and things that happened to my friends. I did once drink a tea made of opium pods," Dunham said, referencing a plot line in the first episode. "It was the most pathetic attempt at a drug experience that anyone in their early 20s has undertaken."
Technology also filters through the characters' chatter and obsessions. In the first few episodes, Dunham, who plays the entitled but slightly lost aspiring writer Hannah, is fixated with the idea she has a sexually transmitted disease and searches on Google "Stuff That Gets Up Around The Side Of Condoms."
Another character, Marnie, played by American television news anchor Brian Williams' daughter, Allison Williams, opines early on that the lowest form of communication is "Facebook followed by G-Chat, then texting , then email, then phone," concluding, "Face-to-face is of course ideal, but it is not of this time."
"Technology is such a huge part of how people my age communicate and so to pretend that we lived in a world where people go and meet each other to talk would be bananas," said Dunham.
A MODERN FEMINIST
And then there are the numerous sex scenes, which feature plenty of nudity, humor and some cringe-worthy moments.
In the first episode, Hannah is told by her friend and casual sex partner to pull down her pants and is shown naked on her knees from the waist down. When she anxiously asks if a condom will be worn, her friend answers, "I'll consider it," and when she speaks she is warned, "Let's play the quiet game."
"I was aiming for depicting something less glossy and sort of commercialized than most of the sex we see on television. And also it felt like an honest exchange between two lost characters," Dunham said.
If that image seems far from that of a progressive young women, Dunham said she considers herself a feminist - her photographer mother who appeared opposite her in "Tiny Furniture" was "a real classic 1970s feminist," - but says her characters are complex and realism was more important.
"That is one of the essential contradictions, you can still be a feminist and still fall prey to weird gender discrepancies or enjoy that kind of role play," Dunham said.
"I think if we have learned anything in the past ten or twenty years of feminism, it is that feminism has a lot of different faces and a lot of different attitudes."
Dunham hopes the show will have an appeal beyond New York. But as for being called the "voice of her generation" - which is turned into a joke in an early episode - Dunham said that title would be unrealistic to live up to.
"It is a little challenging to me, because I'm so not representative of everyone in my generation," she said. "It was never something I thought I was capable of."
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)