It took a 26-year-old auteur, Lena Dunham, to lure Judd Apatow back to television.
Girls, which premieres April 15 on HBO (then goes up for free on HBO.com, YouTube, DailyMotion, TV.com, and iTunes), chronicles the angst and humiliations of a directionless 24-year-old woman in New York. It’s one of the most anticipated new shows in a season of highly anticipated shows. Apatow executive-produces Girls with Jenni Konner and creator/star Dunham. He’s famous for films including Bridesmaids and The 40 Year Old Virgin, but he only struck big-screen gold after his TV shows, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, were cut short (both won critical acclaim and are still widely celebrated as cult classics). So Girls, in a way, is Apatow coming full circle. Dunham, on the other hand, took the opposite path—scoring raves for her $25,000-budget very indie film Tiny Furniture before moving to TV. The movie spoke to Apatow’s sense of autobiographical storytelling and championing of the underdog, he said.
"This is the first time I’ve done television since 2001 or 2002," Apatow said at the Television Critics Association Press Tour earlier this year. "I really wasn’t interested. I was hurt, I was wounded—and sad. The only good television experience I’d had was with HBO working on The Larry Sanders Show. So I knew HBO was the best place to be. What Jenni and Lena were scheming was up my alley. I love underdogs and people making awful mistakes. There is a female geekdom to the show. Lena and Jenni are running the show. I’ve been able to give notes and advice."
Apatow brought a sense of structure and pacing, and, according to Dunham, "the most emotional, connected, what most people might think of as the most feminine content. You’ll watch it and go, 'The hand-job joke was Judd’s; that crying girl was Lena’s.’ Well, flip it. I just brought my desire to share my shame with the world." She also felt her sensibility addressed an underserved voice—confused New York women bridging the Gossip Girl teens and Sex in the City career women.
Dunham never dreamed Tiny Furniture would result in a TV series. "I think we had all made something that we were proud of and excited about, but we never imagined that it would ever have any kind of reach at all," she said. "I mean, our big fantasy was like it would play in a small movie theater in Brooklyn for a week and maybe I would get a new boyfriend."
Added Apatow: "It’s been truly the best experience with Lena and Jenni. Now that I’m out of gas, I’m excited just to suck on them, and be a parasite on their youth."