Of the three terrible new shows debuting Thursday night, the ABC drama “My Generation” (which airs at 8) is the most disappointing. “$#*! My Dad Says” is a misguided cash-in project that nobody expected to be good, and hopes weren’t much higher for “Outsourced.” “My Generation,” on the other hand, had an interesting creative pedigree and premise.
It’s based on a Swedish series, and writer Noah Hawley’s last show was the flawed but memorable cop show “The Unusuals,” and the concept – a film crew that made an unreleased documentary about nine members of an Austin high school Class of 2000 returns to see what happened to them after a tumultuous decade that included 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Enron and more – had the potential to meld soap opera with national events in a way that felt like nothing else on television.
But the execution is just awful – leaden and predictable and eyeroll-inducing at nearly every turn.
We open with the characters back in those rosy days of the spring of 2000. None of the actors look in any way convincing as high schol students, which will be a problem if Hawley intends to spend a lot of time in future episodes bouncing back in time. The bigger issue, though, is the sledgehammer approach to setting up a series of dramatic irony revelations, each less surprising than the one before.
We’re introduced to our nine characters with subtitles “The Nerd” (Keir O’Donnell), “The Brain” (Daniella Alonso) and “The Rich Kid” (Julian Morris). They’re all given names as well, but the only two who register as actual characters and not broad types (and then only in the present-day scenes) are Dawn (Kelli Garner) the punk and Caroline (Anne Son) the wallflower. The off-camera filmmaker (Elizabeth Keener, a soundalike for sister Catherine) asks them to use one word to predict their futures. The Jock (Mehcad Brooks) says “victory,” The Over-Achiever (Michael Stahl-David) says “success” and The Beauty Queen (Jaime King) says “glamour.”
Ten years later, the filmmaker returns to find that, shockingly, everyone’s life has turned out exactly the opposite of that one-word prediction! Rather than victory, The Jock is now a soldier fighting an endless war in Afghanistan. The Over-Achiever is a college dropout who surfs and tends bar in Hawaii, The Beauty Queen is a bored housewife, etc.
If the point is that none of these characters are where they expected to be ten years ago – in the same way that the America of 2010 would be shockingly different to a time-traveler from the Clinton years – that’s fair. How many people actually live out their dreams to the last detail? But to have every single character wind up at a 180-degree angle from the futures they planned for – for The Rock Star (Sebastian Sozzi) to wind up as a bottom-rung DJ, or for The RIch Kid to marry The Beauty Queen when he and The Brain were so much in love – feels clumsy and cheap.
And the documentary device, which is even more overt and central than on “The Office,” never quite clicks. We’re in theory seeing everything the filmmaker does, but there are scenes where it’s either hard to fathom a character bringing the camera crew with them (The Brain goes on a blind date, and the guy doesn’t even bother to ask what the cameras are about until halfway through) or where the cameras are still there even when the characters have explicitly gotten away from them, and are doing things that even “The Real World” generation wouldn’t want recorded. We get it: these people grew up accustomed to being filmed 24-7, but exceptions are made when, for instance, you’re preparing to cheat on your spouse, no?
I respect series with ambition, but when the show continually falls so short of its lofty targets, it can be even more annoying than when something is bad without trying nearly as hard.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org