Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Generation

I really wanted to like My Generation, and some early reviews suggested that it could be this season's version of My So-Called Life or Friday Night Lights or Felicity, a heartfelt, perhaps overly earnest look at people's lives and relationships. And there are moments in the pilot when it almost succeeds at doing that, but it's held back by a bizarrely limiting and inappropriate format, characters who are a special kind of one-dimensional and writing so reliant on coincidences and contrivances that it's almost comedic. This is the kind of thing that seems like a good idea in theory and then totally falls apart in execution. I really can't see how it can sustain itself as an ongoing TV series.

The idea is that a documentary crew followed around nine high-school seniors in 2000, and is now returning to document their lives 10 years later. So it's the suddenly popular mockumentary format, used for a relationship drama, and that presents problems right away. A show like this is predicated on the characters having many raw emotional moments together, and it stretches credibility even in the pilot that the camera crew (which is very much a part of the show, unlike on The Office or Parks and Recreation) would be there to capture it all. Plus, since the crew is only following these particular people, they have to all still hang out with each other (and only each other), and all still live in the same city. The pilot makes some concessions to a handful of characters having moved out of town, but by the end all but one (who is deployed in the military) ends up back in the same location.

Then there's the time-capsule element, which is supposed to show the scope of historical change in the last decade, but mostly just amounts to awkwardly throwing various characters into big historical events. One guy's dad worked for Enron! This guy joined the military after 9/11! Someone else was devastated by the financial crisis! It's silly and contrived, although not as much as the way that nearly every character has some sort of perfectly ironic about-face from their stereotypical high-school role. The overachieving go-getter? He's now a surf bum living on the beach. The punk rocker? She's now pregnant and married to a soldier. The shy wallflower? She got knocked up in high school and has a nine-year-old son. And so on.

Just one or two of these contrivances could be forgiven as necessary for the show's set-up or as byproducts of getting things in place for a pilot. But taken together they make it impossible to take the show seriously, and it doesn't help that the actual dialogue and storylines are mediocre. I'm all for a decent 20-something soap that wears its heart on its sleeve, but My Generation is way too much of a pretentious mess to fit that bill.

Premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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