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Home > Entertainment, Film / TV, Quick Hits, Review / Recap > Quick Hits: Pilot Season — My Generation

Quick Hits: Pilot Season — My Generation

September 24th, 2010

It’s Pilot season in America. There certainly seems to be more shows that at least have the potential to be intriguing. There’s the can’t miss in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the LOST clone in NBC’s The Event, the waiting-to-see-if-it-can-deliver in AMC’s The Walking Dead and a host of other intriguing new shows. I may not drop thoughts on all of them, but I will try to give my initial thoughts on some of those that catch my eye. On Tuesday, I reviewed NBC’s The Event. Today is NBC’s spy series, Undercovers.

My Generation debuted last night and was, quite simply, great.

Sometimes it’s hard to project the performance of a show out from its pilot. Often this is because a pilot is produced with significantly more elbow grease and attention to detail than a standard episode will receive in its normal course. Other times it is because you’re not sure how characters will play out over the course of a series run, as opposed to in the short term.

ABC’s My Generation is a bit different from either of those two scenarios. Getting out of the way immediately that I thought the pilot was great, I think competent writing and production will allow the characters to work long term and that there’s no immediate concern regarding production value and attention. The one point of caution is whether or not it is a series concept that can function over the long haul. Perhaps it is aspirational to think long haul on a pilot that was panned by more critics than it was hailed by, but like the New York Times, I found My Generation to be a unique spin on a familiar concept and I found it to be the pilot with the best potential so far this season.

I do wonder whether or not it’s going to last and be able to fulfill that potential. It’s the type of show that probably won’t find a Network audience and therefore belongs on cable. It’s not fast moving, action packed or sexy. It’s about people, their expectations and their failures. In other words, it chronicles life.

I’ve stated before that the four core concepts that I look for in a show are a) a solid score, b) production value, c) a solid cast and d) a plot with something to draw you in. That formula works in the context of a big production. That’s not what My Generation is all about. This show is a bit different in that it will be entirely character driven, but will rely on the side items in important, but secondary, ways.

More thoughts and my quick hits, after the bounce.

Despite the rebalancing of the formula, I’ll go ahead and run down the four prongs. From a score perspective, the producers of My Generation have displayed that they intend to use a pop-culture approach to music. It’s not a show that will be driven by original composition, but will instead use its audience’s own preconceived associations with music to help navigate the tales of the character’s lives.

The cast lacks any real established stars, but has the potential to deliver a few breakout winners, if the show sticks.

From the perspective of production value, the show ought to be able to work for two reasons: they can pull of their filming style in an inexpensive manner in the long run and the audiences have been primed to documentary style film-making. Ultimately, it’s hard to buy into the idea that we’re to believe that the entire action taking place on screen has been captured by documentary filmmakers. That’s said, we’re almost forty years removed from the drama of An American Family and we’ve become attuned to a reality television, Real World culture and we’ve become enamored with the mockumentary style of The Office. In other words, we’ve learned to believe that documentaries of normal Americans are… for lack of a better term, normal and that we can suspend disbelief with respect to what one can expect to find in such a show. Whether or not My Generation is better characterized as a docudrama (which may actually be a term reserved for dramatizations of real world events, I’m not sure) or a mockumentary is up for grabs.  I thought the show reflected the promise of documenting how lives might be affected by real world events, as well as the standard coming of age occurrences in twenty-something lives.  At the same time, there are some laughs in the show.  In other words, My Generation is the unique type of drama/dramedy that can survive on a relative low-budget style while still giving the “look” of meeting production value expectations.

As for the cast, the producers have assembled a team of young actors who have all done enough work to be reliable, but have not stood out enough to earn real recognition. That functionally means we can’t be sure if the actors can deliver top of the line performances, but that we’re at least a few seasons away from actors holding out for high end salary demands.  First among them is Michael Stahl-David who starred in JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield and the highly underrated The Black Donnellys. It appears he will be the “lead” among the nine person main cast, as Steven Foster, the “over-achiever”. The next most prominent actor is Jaime King, who’s best known for being a typical Hollywood blond in a variety of supporting, cheerleader-type roles. I’ll go into each of the actors and their characters below; however, I’m a little less confident on this characteristic than others. There was nothing to give pause in the pilot, but there aren’t a lot of noticeable accomplishments in the cast bios.  Stahl-David gives off the vibe of a serious actor, as do a couple of others, but there undoubtedly is a bit of a 90210 style vibe to some of the talent pool, which is a bit disconcerting.  Additionally, some of the actors are better at pulling off the ten year age range than others.  That’s really more of a makeup/production concern than acting one, but it is something that might strain the show going forward.

The show is not about who the characters were in high school or what they are now as 28 year olds. It's about how they went from one to the other and how they reflect upon the journey while looking back.

As for the plot and script, they were darn good for a show of this type. I can’t imagine this was an easy script to sell. The show’s concept reads, on its face, a lot like the FOX show Reunion, which was an abject failure of a mystery show. My Generation is very much so different in that it is a character driven drama. It is a show that asks not the details of a plot point, but rather examines the ideas of lost goals, failures, personal detours and, hopefully, appreciating the accomplishments that can be achieved when life doesn’t go as planned. The plot and concept is something I’m quite excited for as I think they’ve shown a sample that indicates they can accomplish this in a rewarding way. Certain character plot lines were accelerated more than I’d like to have seen (notably, the story of Kenny), but that’s to be expected when you have to show audiences where things are headed.

All in all, the pilot was imperfect, but showed more promise than any other new show in the last two yours (noting that I haven’t yet seen Boardwalk Empire and that I have high hopes for The Walking Dead). Most of the characters are likable and I actually want to tune in to see them play it out more. Even more importantly, I can identify with the age and the era in which the characters have come about. This is a story that speaks to my generation and, while everyone might not identify, I most certainly do and expect I will on an ongoing basis.

  • The characters and their bios are not without fault. The characters of Jackie (played by Jaime King) and Anders Holt (Julian Morris, who played the most obvious red-shirt in the run of 24) are a bit much, and not in a good way. They play the trophy wife who failed in Hollywood and rich kid who continued to be rich and landed a trophy wife. While the roles aren’t terribly inauthentic (especially to someone who grew up in Manhattan and went to Vanderbilt), they are tired and were introduced amid stereotype. Undoubtedly, of all the nine characters in the show, these are the two I really couldn’t care for so far. In fact, the most interesting thing about either is that Anders seems to be a character who doesn’t want to be the white shoe kid he became (presumably to meet his parents’ expectations).

Kenny and Dawn represent two characters who were over- and under-exposed in the pilot.

  • Anders’ real personality seems more tied to two of the show’s minority characters. The first is Anders’ high school sweetheart, Brenda (Daniella Alonso), a Latina brain who was converted by Bush v Gore from science aspirations to political reality. Anders best friend is another man changed. Rolly is the African American jock who turned from basketball glory to military service post-September 11th. In both cases, the show speaks to the transformational events of this most recent decade. How they pull off that metamorphosis remains to be seen, but Brenda and Rolly most certainly have potential, and both characters are key to making sure Anders is more than just a nuisance in the show.
  • Rolly’s is married to and about to be a parent with Dawn (played by Kelli Garner), the high school “punk” who is friends with Falcon (Sebastian Sozzi) the “DJ” hipster and who lives with Kenny (Keir O’Donnell) the teacher who cares most about family and yet is unlikely to get his own. All three characters have a ways to go to become truly interesting. In particular, the producers seem to have tried to advance Kenny too quickly for his own good. Dawn and Falcon seem more likely to be able to grow into their roles, which are yet to be defined.  One might see Dawn simply dealing with parenting issues, which would be a little disappointing.  Falcon evokes some of the attempting-too-cool-for-school hipster of HBO’s How to Make it in America.
  • The potential breakout star of the show could be Anne Son, who plays Caroline, the young mother of a nine year old fathered by Steven. While she’s the “wallflower” girl from high school, she steals the show’s scenes with a true understated glamor and, potentially, one of the better story lines.  She’s the high school quiet girl who ended up sleeping with Steven (the overachiever) on prom night and got pregnant with a now nine-year-old boy.  Part of her character will be driven with her reunion with Steven, who went from overachiever to surf bum. In what little we’ve seen, Caroline, and the actress Anne Son playing her, is the one I want to see more of.
  • The show draws on real events to dictate the lives of the characters. We see the impact of 9/11 on Rolly, the election of 2000 on Brenda, the Enron collapse (something particularly important in Texas) on Steven and Kenny, and one can expect more to impact the lives of the nine. While it’s easy to dismiss the characters’ reactions to these events as simple and stereotyped, that’s cutting off the show before it has had a chance to grow and develop the characters.  The same can be said for using yearbook superlative-stereotyped characters in general.  If done properly and with the deft hand I think I see in this production, the style of production and storytelling lends to the audience who was equally impacted by these events an ability to connect with the characters. While we’ll be looking at fabricated experiences, viewers should be able to identify.

All in all, I’m quite excited by the show, but I’m equally worried about its ability to draw an audience, especially on a night where it faces up against NBC’s comedy blockbuster lineup. It’s not an easy task; however, there are reasons to think the producers will have time to make the show work, if it can get beyond a lot of negative critical reviews.  The show ought not to need a huge budget. None of the actors qualify as real stars and the style of film making doesn’t lend itself to huge expenses. As such, one can hope that ABC gives My Generation time to grow.

As for you, the audience, give it a shot. It’s based on a Swedish show called Blomstertid and, though it’s not a proven formula, it should translate well and what kinks exist in the show ought to be able to be ironed out. I urge you to support it and I give it a solid A- for the pilot.

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