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Read Lena Dunham’s original pitch for Girls

A look at the very first intro to HBO for the seminal show about flawed 20-somethings navigating the awkward middle ground between adolescence and adulthood

Lena Dunham’s creative breakout came in the form of Tiny Furniture, an indie film about a young grad moving back home after college, and the imperfect, awkward early-20s. Following its success, Dunham wrote a pitch for a “tone poem about millennial life” for HBO, what she calls “the worst pitch you’ve ever read”.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s huge oral history on Girls, the actor, writer and activist discussed her “pretentious and horrifying” original idea for the seminal show. “I remember writing it, sitting on the floor listening to Tegan and Sara in my underwear, being like, ‘I’m a genius.’”

Casey Bloys, who was the head of comedy at HBO at the time that the then-23-year-old Dunham showed up with baby Girls, said: “There wasn’t a formal pitch, but because of Tiny Furniture, we all felt we had this very good blueprint for what a show might be.”

The pitch reads more like a declaration of existential crisis and privilege than a pitch for a major TV show with any sign of a plot or storyline. Dunham initially draws comparison between some of the biggest television series centred around groups of women:

Sex and the City depicted women who had mastered their careers and were now being driven crazy by the tick of their biological clocks. Gossip Girl is about losing your virginity and gaining popularity, in a world where no one is old enough to vote or has to worry about making a living. But between adolescence and adulthood is an uncomfortable middle-ground, when women are ejected from college and into a world with neither glamour nor structure. The resulting period of flux is heartbreaking and hilarious and way too much. It’s humbling and it’s sexy and it’s ripe for laughs.” 

Television has gotten a lot better in recent years, and Girls was one of the shows that brought a more warts-and-all portrayal of women in the 2010s to the forefront. It shares that space with shows like Broad City, The Mindy Project, Insecure, and Chewing Gum, among many others. After widespread criticism for Girlsoverarching whiteness and fetishisation of black male bodies, Dunham admitted to the very insular, privileged way of thinking she initially started with. The pitch continues: 

“Products of the recession, these girls are overeducated and underemployed, sure that they’re too smart for their positions as assistants, nannies and waitresses, but not necessarily motivated enough to prove it (or even do their jobs well enough to advance). They have that mix of know-it-all entitlement and scathing self-deprecation that is the mark of all great Jewish comedians and many 24-year-old women with liberal arts degrees.” 

Now this sounds like the Girls gang we know: the self-absorbed Hannah Horvath, moping Marnie and sharp Shoshanna we saw as the seasons progressed and that we all related to, no matter how much we didn’t want to, on some level. We saw the dysfunctional and sometimes completely insufferable group struggle to grow up on screen. Dunham goes on to describe just a fraction of what we saw play out:

“They’re the last children of baby boomers, and the first generation to have moms who know how to text message. (“HAVE U HAD AN HPV VACCINE YET? DO U HAVE HPV? LUV, MOM”) These moms probably enjoyed more swinging sex lives in their twenties than their daughters could ever dream of.”

There’s also a little bit of season four playing out with reference to grad school, as well as what could be a sketch of Hannah’s gay ex-boyfriend Elijah. 

“Some of their boyfriends have turned out to be gay,” Dunham wrote. “Others have turned out to be Republicans (these girls aren’t necessarily political, but they want to make sure abortions are a possibility. Always. After all, who can remember condoms every time?”

To wrap up her pitch, Dunham maps out her drive to tell the story of people who weren’t yet on our screens.

“They are the Facebook generation and ironically enough they are isolated by all the connectivity available to them (and prone to Facebook stalking and drunk-IMing and booty calls via Twitter and deciphering text messages like they’re ancient hieroglyphs and blogging pictures of all the food they eat),” Dunham wrote, painting a picture that cuts a little close to the bone for some of us.

“They are navigating the transition out of college-level codependence on their girlfriends, but will still call to announce that they got their period or saw a man masturbating on the subway or saw a man who looks sort of like a kid they went to camp with. (Could it be him? And if so, is he on Facebook?)”

She concludes: “They’re beautiful and maddening. They’re self-aware and self-obsessed. They’re your girlfriends and daughters and sisters and employees. They’re my friends and I’ve never seen them on TV.”