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Extraordinary 'Girls' marked by manipulation, entitlement, and sex

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Girls (9:30pm Sun, HBO)

A new series about friends trying to get their adult lives started in New York City after college may sound old hat, but executive producer Judd Apatow and writer-director-star Lena Dunham have created something extraordinary. The characters, relationships, and emotions feel instantly real. That means there’s no sugarcoating as the characters treat each other terribly and screw up their lives. By the way, did I mention that Girls is a comedy?

It’s certainly not a comedy in the traditional sit-com style, with punchlines and farcical situations. It’s a low-key slice of life that finds humor in the way modern 24-year-olds talk and behave. Take the main character, Hannah (Dunham), who has worked for two years as an unpaid publishing intern while fancying herself a memoirist. Her lifestyle — which consists of an aimless sexual relationship and endless soul-searching talks with her best friend — is made possible by her beleaguered parents. As the pilot begins, they decide to cut off the flow of money and thus make Hannah face reality. She tries to appeal to her father’s sense of guilt and almost gets the job done before her mother screams at him: “Don’t you realize you are getting played by a major player?”

She’s got that right. Hannah is a shameless con artist with a huge sense of entitlement. Girls is brutally honest about her flaws, and yet we end up sympathizing with her anyway. I can’t explain how Apatow and Dunham pull off this trick, except to acknowledge that they’re major players themselves.

Magic City (9pm Fri, Starz)

This new series plunks us down in glamorous late-1950s Miami, a world of cigarettes and shades, sexy dames, and smirking studs. Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) owns a luxury hotel and all the headaches that go along with it, from unions threatening to strike to mobsters threatening even worse. Ike has clawed his way to the top and will do just about anything to stay there. Like Michael Corleone — another denizen of 1950s Miami — he’s a case study in the effect of corruption on a man’s soul.

Magic City is bursting with eye candy. It features gorgeous young actors in various states of undress (yowza), and the lush production design makes you believe that name-checked 1950s icons like the Kennedys and Frank Sinatra might really saunter across the set. Magic City also offers compelling drama, as Ike puts up an honorable façade while secretly dealing with the devil. This story is likely to unfold in interesting ways. But even if it doesn’t, there should always be something to look at (see “yowza,” above).

Titanic (7pm Saturday and 9pm Sun, ABC)

It’s wonderful to see a broadcast network investing in an old-fashioned miniseries with a big subject and a big cast. Unfortunately, Titanic is — if you’ll pardon the expression — a disaster.

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