My Generation: “Pilot”
Posted by therebelprince on September 28, 2010
I tuned in to My Generation, and I’m sad to say it isn’t as excrutiatingly bad as I thought it would be. Nope, it’s just the regular sort of bad.
We take nine highschool graduates, whose 18-year-old personalities fall into broad stereotypes (the punk, the wallflower, the beauty queen), and then pick up their lives ten years later, at the end of 2010. None are exactly where they thought they would be, although most fall into one of two camps: those who are at least within the ballpark, and those who have taken the opposite path entirely.
I see what this show would like us to believe it is saying. It’s probably true of this generation (mine) as it is of Dustin Hoffman’s in The Graduate. The time when everyone was expected to enter a two-parent, churchgoing relationship is over. Similarly, it’s a well-quoted statistic that people of this era go through so many more jobs in their lifetime. It’s great being the generation who can do whatever you want, until you realise that the world isn’t necessarily aware of this fact. A poignant idea (made slightly funny by Zoe Kazan’s line in Bored to Death this week, saying how she wants to write a book about how you can still have pain even if you’re middle-class and your parents were basically loving). However…
Problem number 1: The show has absolutely nothing new to say about this. Did you know that vapid beauty queens end up serving pastrami on platters and going to wine-tasting classes with their perfect-looking husbands? Or that nerds go on to become really friendly but sexless elementary school teachers? Despite what the music wants us to think, no-one’s life is a particular surprise to us. The strangest thing is that a science student became a lawyer. My God. Maybe this is deliberate, but if so it’s an incredibly cynical thought that I don’t think gels with the show’s outlook.
More problematic, the fact that no one seems to be happy is just a bit much. We open with Steven Foster, the highschool over-achiever. Immediately we see he has gone from an arrogant college-bound rich kid to a meditative surfer living in a lovely home in Hawaii. Until we are told that this is a hateful, boring existence. Now I accept that – while that sounds like my perfect life – it isn’t what Steven is after. But when the series opens on someone whose life looks so attractive, it makes it hard to care. (And when we do get to the reason for his life… well we’ll discuss that later.)
Problem number 2: My Generation really can’t decide what it wants to be. We quite literally go from a goofy nerd fumbling over how to describe his own sperm, to a brutal assault in Afghanistan. My Generation isn’t a dramedy: it’s a show that is sometimes a comedy, and sometimes a drama. The framing idea – that the entire thing is a documentary, 7-Up style – already begins to grate. In this era of Jersey Shore, it’s silly to say that people won’t welcome attention to any aspect of their lives, but we aren’t given any reason to think that any of our leads are fame-hungry. (Some may not even have agreed to the cameras: we only see the wallflower from other people’s perspectives, I think.) But by the time an obnoxious blind date tells Brenda he has a small penis – in front of the camera, but whispering – you realise what’s actually happening here. The mockumentary conceit only exists to cover up the fact that this is cliche-ridden to the point of pestilence.
Yes, problem number 3 is that every character has been copied straight from the first week of a creative writing class. Falcon, now a DJ and small-time music producer, seems the happiest of all. So of course, he orders a comicly-oversized Margarita even though – as we’re reminded – it’s lunchtime. Every scene opens with a generic pop song. I don’t even want to talk about the nerd, who has somehow reached the age of 28 though being a complete bumbling idiot. He’s the kind of character who works in the laugh-track sitcom environment, but placing him in this format he just looks foolish. And the women? At least the male members of the cast get to deal with issues like family honour and repressed identities. The women are all just concerned about babies and cured meats! I honestly don’t hate the concept, as I said, but throwing together a bunch of stock characters in random permutations isn’t the same as plotting.
(I pause here to state that the cast all seem like good performers. Michael Stahl-David (Steven) and Anne Son (Caroline) stood out, and no-one offended my sensibilities, so this shouldn’t be seen as a reflection on these actors.)
Problem number 4: The show’s canvas is so wide that, like its predecessors Reunion and The Class, it already feels as if the connections are going to pen in our characters rather than let them free. Apparently, everyone must return to this small town to find their centre again. If Brenda, Falcon and the gang leave their lives to come back here for good, will the series even bother to keep up the pretense that they have friends or loved ones in their former home cities? At episode’s end, the announcer says that”these last 10 years were only the beginning” and in some ways, that’s completely true. It appears that these people’s lives have only changed in broad strokes in the last 10 years. What did Rolly do? He joined the army. That’s it. The punk chick got pregnant. We have no idea what the wallflower was like before, but she has a kid now, so that’s who she is. Falcon, Brenda, Kenneth and Jacqui are the same as they ever were, just in slightly different settings. Anders has “changed”, per se, but really this just means he has lost all trace of personality since he became a yuppie. The only person who has ostensibly matured is Steven Foster, which I guess explains why they’re heaping so much drama on to him, to remind us all that being content isn’t enough.
And problem number 5: September the 11th. I’m not against all of these ‘generational’ references. These moments do make our world, certainly, in the same way as Mad Men brings us the Kennedy assassination and the Beatles. But, My God, these people have suffered. The 2000 election. 9/11. Steven’s father was a top exec at Enron: these characters quite literally were made or broken by these events. Wait for next week’s reveal, when we learn that Anders and Jacqui got together after their lives were irrevocably changed by Hurricane Katrina. ‘Cause that happened this decade, you know?
Again, I don’t hate the concept, but this show is just lame. The mockumentary format – which surely has seen its day – serves only to distance us from the characters. We see Jacqui and Anders as caricatures living their perfect life (which, can you believe it, isn’t perfect!). The series wants to reap the benefits of the format – i.e., the unintended humour derived from their personalities – but next week, when Anders’ dreams fall apart, or when Jacqui’s sister gets breast cancer, the format will recede so we can all just appreciate the truth of the situation. Pick a side, show.
* As a fan of Lisa Kudrow’s The Comeback, I couldn’t help wondering about the people behind the camera. Will we ever get to find out anything about these incredibly manipulative, demanding shadows?
* Okay, the reveal that Jacqui had been on The Bachelor was funny.
* Who wants to take bets on which of the nine ends up being gay?
* Twenty minutes in, and I was already over this business of old footage from 2000. I sincerely hope the series isn’t structured with episodes that flashback to highschool and – as with the worst Lost flashbacks – seek to remind us how ‘trust’ or ‘honesty’ or ‘romantic betrayal’ echo through the years.
* Did anyone else shudder that Rolly’s highschool dream was that “our wives will be friends”? No? Just me?
* Oh, and seriously? I knew that America didn’t have universal healthcare, but you guys also don’t have a system that lets you pay for college afterward (once you’ve got a job) yet?