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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
MY GENERATION (ABC)
(written by Noah Hawley; directed by Craig Gillespie; TRT: 44:47)
The network's description: "What a difference ten years can make. In 2000, a documentary crew follows a disparate group of high schoolers from Greenbelt High School in Austin, TX as they prepare for graduation, then revisits these former classmates ten years later as they return home to rediscover that just because they're not where they planned doesn't mean they're not right where they need to be. These students couldn't wait to graduate and head out into the real world. But the world they were entering got very real very fast. As these classmates return home to revisit their old hopes for their future, they'll discover that, even if you don't get exactly what you thought you wanted out of life, it's not too late to get what you need."
What did they leave out? The project was originally dubbed "Generation Y."
The plot in a nutshell: 10 years ago, a documentary crew - led by an unseen interviewer - followed nine students through their senior year at Greenbelt High School in Austin, Texas. Among them were the typical archetypes, complete with title cards: Rolly Marks (Mehcad Brooks), the jock; Jackie Vachs (Jaime King), the beauty queen; Steven Foster (Michael Stahl-David), the overachiever; Dawn Barbuso (Kelli Garner), the punk; Caroline Chung (Anne Son), the wallflower; Kenneth Finley (Keir O'Donnell), the nerd; Brenda Serrano (Daniella Alonso), the brain; Anders Holt (Julian Morris), the rich kid; and The Falcon (Sebastian Sozzi), the rock star. In the ensuing decade, nearly all of them went on to have lives far different than they imagined as teens.
It's through said crew, which is returning for a follow up documentary (think Michael Apted's "Seven Up"), that we learn overachiever Steven has tabled his ambition in favor of a low-key life of surfing and bartending in Hawaii; brainiac Brenda is a successful lawyer in Washington, but has no personal life to show for it; Falcon is a sad-sack DJ who drinks too much; beauty queen Jackie and rich kid Anders are happily married to each other but seem to smile through gritted teeth; wallflower Caroline is a slightly more outspoken single mother; nerd Kenneth is a perpetually single elementary school teacher, desperate to have a family; jock Rolly is currently serving in Afghanistan; and his wife, former punk Dawn, is pregnant with their child.
The meat of the show however is tied to their relationships with each other, past and present: Anders and Brenda were high school sweethearts and still quietly pine for each other; Caroline and her crush Steven had a one-night-stand after senior prom, resulting in her pregnancy (unbeknownst to Steven until the opening of the pilot); and Dawn and Kenneth were once close back in the day and now he plays surrogate husband while Rolly is away. Various plot devices, from the random to the life-changing, then cause our nine subjects to reunite where old wounds are opened and old sparks, platonic and otherwise, are rekindled.
What works: I really want to like this one - a soap about people roughly my age from a thoughtful creator and done in a distinct narrative style sounds right up my alley, but...
What doesn't: ...this didn't really click with me. First and foremost, despite its documentary style, everything feels very staged. Whether it's how scene after scene, everyone is conveniently caught having profound, life changing moments as the cameraman peeks around the corner; or how the characters not so subtly edit their reactions after realizing they're being captured on film, very few elements strike as honest and true. Not helping matters is that most of the characters are selfish and unlikeable as Steven and Falcon in particular act like unrelenting assholes, while Jackie is painfully shrill. Nearly everyone else either wallows in their high school years or pretends not to be, leaving a select few who seem to have actually embraced the present day.
And if the above wasn't trite enough, almost half of the characters altered the course of their lives as the direct result of the decade's most vivid moments: Bush v. Gore, 9/11, Enron, etc. That, coupled with the aforementioned staging, makes the show come across as far too cutely designed and pat. It's almost as if our nine heroes were Mad Libs instead of characters: (name) was (popular or unpopular) in high school, hopelessly in love with (name of opposite sex) and hell bent on becoming (idealized profession) however (historical event between 2000 and 2009) came along and made them want to be a (opposite of what you expected) but it doesn't complete them in the way that (previous name of opposite sex/facet from their high school years) did, or something to that effect.
In television we can accept one or two such transgressions, but the show seems to hinge on these types of constructions for every dramatic moment. Throw in the expected needle drops from the period, the prerequisite home movies of happier times when things were simple, and that's really it. I'm surprised as anyone to say this but...
The bottom line: ...this one isn't for me.