PASADENA, Calif. - The four female 20-somethings from Brooklyn in the HBO series "Girls" are in such a funk in the show's third season that the weirdly whimsical Adam, of all people, comes across as a pillar of stability and good sense.
When the season kicks off on Sunday, Hannah, played by "Girls" creator Lena Dunham, has her OCD under control and a semblance of domestic bliss with Adam (Adam Driver), but her self-absorbed ways are maddening. When someone dies suddenly, all her thoughts are about her unfinished e-book.
Her three pals are in worse shape. Divorced Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is in rehab and refuses to quit the bad behavior. Glamorous Marnie (Allison Williams) is obsessing over her ex-boyfriend Charlie and is back living with her mom in New Jersey. Naive Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) bounces between her studies and sexual freedom after breaking up with Ray, a slacker who is now thriving professionally.
If this show is about a generation of young women searching for love and purpose, they look to be failing on almost all fronts, with maybe an exception on the friendship front.
It's enough for one critic to ask Dunham as she presented season three to the Television Critics Association this week: "Do you like these characters?"
"I love them," responded Dunham. "I think they accurately reflect people I know, people we have all been. I feel sad that they struggle and happy when they triumph."
And the nudity, oh the nudity, continues to rankle some even though Dunham has shown her audience just about every unclothed angle of herself since the first episode. When one critic told Dunham he "didn't get the purpose of all the nudity on the show, by you particularly," she shot back that being naked "is a realistic expression of what it is like to be alive."
Dunham, 27, is making no apologies for "Girls" and says she relishes the freedom her women have to act in ugly ways much like men have done for years in film and television.
"I feel so lucky that we are not called to any standard of sort of sweet female decency," Dunham said. "We get to depict these girls in all their kind of flawed glory."
THE DIVERSITY CHALLENGE
"Girls" does not command the kind of audiences that medieval "Game of Thrones" scores at Time Warner Inc's premium cable outlet, but HBO announced on Thursday it had renewed the series for a fourth season to air in 2015. On Sunday, it is looking to pick up its second straight Golden Globe award for best comedy series.
And while the girls' oblivion to the wider world, the nudity and the often whiny dialogue may not be to everyone's liking, the critics seem to be mostly on the show's side.
New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley wrote on Friday, "These four women are amusing, at times poignant, but not easily likeable. The show is caustic and hard to watch, but harder to turn off."
There is the nagging question of diversity, or rather lack thereof. The show has come under fire for its all-white cast in seasons one and two, a monochrome that some critics say does not fit with the racial kaleidoscope that is New York City.
When asked why the show has not introduced a main black character, co-executive producer Judd Apatow said, "I don't think there is any reason that any show should feel an obligation to do that."
Dunham was more conciliatory, acknowledging that although the negative attention was uncomfortable, it is "such an important conversation," adding that "we are finally finding room to expand the world" in season three.
Apatow, the producer and director behind raunchy male-centric comedies like "The 40-Year-old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," did hint that the lack of diversity may soon be a moot point.
"You haven't seen the new season, so we can have this discussion next year," he told the critics.