Following the rousing success of Modern Family’s debut last season, ABC originally slotted two new mockumentaries for this fall: Detroit 1-8-7 and My Generation. Over the summer, 1-8-7 dropped the structure, which is not the one I would’ve picked if polled.
But for better or worse, the format is more integral to Generation, which catches up with a group of 28-year-olds ten years after they graduated from an Austin, Texas high school together in the year 2000. An interesting premise, to be sure, and one I was looking forward to. My review after the jump.
The cameras follow nine main characters:
The Falcon, “The Rock Star” (Sebastian Sozzi)
A blustery figure who struggles to make it in the music industry. When he returns home, he immediately reconnects with…
Steven, “The Overachiever” (Michael Stahl-David)
A youth who once dreamt of the presidency and now tends bar in Hawaii. As it turns out, on the night of senior prom he impregnated…
Caroline, “The Wallflower” (Anne Son)
A shy single mother reaching out to Steven for the first time about his now nine-year-old son, Tom. Too bad the father isn’t Tom’s fourth grade teacher…
Kenneth, “The Nerd” (Keir O’Donnell)
A nice, if exceedingly awkward, guy who would love to start a family of his own. He might respond to the affection of Caroline more if he weren’t so clearly fixated on…
Dawn, “The Punk” (Kelli Garner)
An exceedingly pregnant mother-to-be who relies on the kindness of Kenneth because with her husband abroad. Who would’ve thought “The Punk” would marry…
Rolly, “The Jock” (Mehcad Brooks)
A one-time college basketball star who abandoned his scholarship to serve in the armed forces. He’s best friends with…
Anders, “The Rich Kid” (Julian Morris)
A wealthy sales executive working at his father’s real estate firm. Though they didn’t associate much in high school, he married…
Jackie, “The Beauty Queen” (Jaime King)
A would-be actor who even landed a spot on The Bachelor, before settling in back in Austin, TX. Her marriage is troubled, in part because Anders’ heart will always belong to high school sweetheart…
Brenda, “The Brain” (Daniella Allonso)
A workaholic achieving feats of political importance under a congressman in Washington, D.C.
If the nicknames sound reductive, know that’s how the “documentarians” of the show refer to their subjects.
A great pilot would establish each character. Their interactions ten years after the fact would be engaging, especially coupled with insightful glimpses into their shared past.
A good pilot would present a handful of relatable characters, and perhaps remind me of certain members of the student body at my own high school.
A mediocre pilot would give me something, some character, some plot to latch onto. Anything, really.
My Generation is none of these.
The ambitions of the show are to some extent in direct conflict with the format of choice. A documentary approach makes sense in the attempt to link the actions of each character to life-altering historical events of the last decade. Rolly joins the army after witnessing the horrors of September 11th on TV. Brenda switches from a biology major to a political science track the day after the Supreme Court award George W. Bush the presidency in 2000. And the Enron scandal plays a major role in the arc of a pair of characters, major enough that I won’t spoil here, even though the untoward reveal is not really worthy of my protection.
Yet, a documentary implies some level of authenticity — particularly for a drama — and so calls attention to the paper-thin artificiality of the characters. We can attribute some of this to the needs of a pilot. My Generation has roughly forty-five minutes to establish nine leads: there’s bound to be simplification. But in the first episode, each character feels like a reluctant but necessary presence shuffled through various plots, as if they were pawns in some kind of self-righteous civic fable.
Such an awful foundation for a mockumentary, but this could be mitigated if any of the characters were likeable. Rolly comes the closest. Mostly, he is a basketball player who is now a soldier who is about to become a father. (In other words, his existence produces the most artifacts, which isn’t exactly a substitute for well-rounded.) But Rolly is also loyal. To his friend, to his wife, to his comrades, to hi country: to everyone really. And Brooks is the most natural amid a series of mannered performances. It would be unfair to tear apart the on-screen talent saddled such poorly drawn characters, but no one really manages to rise above the material. Garner infuses the show with a bit of spunk, and Son is pleasant enough in a role virtually free of the otherwise abundant prattling dialogue.
To their credit, the goals of creator Noah Hawley and the rest of the creative team are lofty. But in failing, the show falls hard. My Generation is terrible enough that there is a small possibility it’s intentional. That Hawley in Co. are actually satirizing bad documentaries. In which case, I might have to retract everything I said. I imagine My Generation annoys me in much the same way The Hills might if I watched. If the doc within the show is intended to be a hackneyed product of inept filmmakers… well, that could be fun. But for now, My Generation has just one obnoxious, insipid mess of a pilot to its name.
My Generation premieres Thursday, September 23rd at 8/7c on ABC.