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My Generation 1.01 – Pilot

The cast of ABC's My Generation


Genre: Period Drama

Grade: B-

Verdict: Watch to form your own opinion

Too Long, Didn’t Read: An extremely difficult show to rate, enjoyment of My Generation will largely be based off of your experiences in high school and your life over the past 10 years. But maybe that’s the point?

My Generation‘s is possibly the most difficult episode of television I’ve ever had to review, let alone assign a grade to. As a whole, My Generation is an unconventional and ambitious concept to place on network television. It tells of nine students, most of whom were close during their four years of high school and their lives ten years later. It’s about how the world has affected them, how the their dreams never really materialized and that there is still unfinished business in Austin.

Ambitious, sure. But it’s also highly improbable and forced. What are the chances that nine students who did relatively well in high school all end up in back in Austin? To be fair, three of them no longer live there currently though one of those is in the military. What are the chances that they all are still close? So much of the show is improbable that my ability to immerse myself in the narrative was eventually impeded. It’s something I can potentially let go of eventually since it’s expected that the pilot would reunite all nine in a way to weave each one back into another’s life. The ways in which this occurs throughout the hour is so unrealistic that suspending my disbelief anymore would be practically impossible.

One of the reasons that I’m so critical of the episode’s fiction because of how well crafted the dialog is. There isn’t any other show on network television that captures a natural vernacular as well as My Generation does. With very few exceptions, the ways in which characters talk and interact throughout the pilot are extremely natural. The director captures the natural pauses that people make, the back-tracking on points to explain further, even reactions of general awkwardness. The way Caroline (played by newcomer Anne Son) laughs and reacts to seeing her baby daddy, Steven (The Black Donnellys‘ Michael Stahl-David) captures exactly how any normal person would react to Caroline’s situation. There’s the laugh of nervousness, anger and disbelief that make what could be a small and minuscule aspect of the episode so powerful.

It’s not just Son and Stahl-David: ABC gathered an amazingly talented cast for the series. Every single one of the main cast provides believability and reality to their roles. It’s one of the reasons that My Generation is so easy to critique – because of how real these characters seem and because of how much they might resemble people we know from our own lives, it’s easy to see anything that would be out of the ordinary as blatantly unimaginable. Maybe that’s just me inserting my experiences from life into the drama. Though I’m not 10 years out of graduation, my experiences with high school are already extremely different from those exhibited by the characters of My Generation. I’m sure there are those out there who still have lingering thoughts about their high school days and yearn to both redo their mistakes and rekindle old flames. It’s just not me.

Other parts of the story don’t quite mesh as well as they could: while the character respond extremely realistically to being filmed, the use of the documentary filming became tiresome extremely quickly. Sometimes there were legitimately interesting uses of the camera, like when Steven and Falcon step outside and don’t invite the filmer or when Jackie tells the camera to “f**k off”, knowing full well that her poor decisions would be caught on camera. Yet the different angles and constant movement eventually hindered my immersion into their world. I understand the realism that they wish to project, but something as unimportant as how often the camera jitters should never interfere with an audience’s ability to connect with the story. It’s also frustrating that instead of letting the audience understand how none of the characters’ dreams have come true, we’re constantly reminded of that by the narrator. “Oh, you used to be such a overacheiver! What happened!” “But you were punk!”. Trust the viewer more. It’s possible to understand the irony of each character’s situation without having to have it be forced fed.

The biggest travesty of the characterization is forcing many of the characters to have unnecessary connections to major events during the past 10 years. While I have no qualms with Rally wishing to join the army or Steven and Kenneth’s fathers losing everything during the Enron scandal, it’s ridiculous to assert (twice, no less) that some pivotal event caused at least two characters to change the entire direction of their lives the next day. Are we really to assume that Rally, who was a starter for the Stanford basketball team, gave up everything the day after 9/11 to go into the army? And did the Bush v. Gore debacle really push Brenda to switch her major to political science? It’s a contrived way to connect the characters to the past decade. Instead of being moving, it reeks of poor storytelling.

Otherwise, the pilot provides some great drama and characterization. “The Nerd” Kenneth (he was Todd in Wedding Crashers) is easily the most sympathetic character of the series besides Caroline. One of the points that the pilot conveys so well is his want for a family; his inability to even offer that to someone he doesn’t know is tragic. As funny as Baby Bjorns are, Dawn’s inadvertent reminder that he will never have a child of his own is easily the most touching scene of the episode, as is her reaction.  There are more moments of brilliance throughout the episode, the last half-hour in particular providing extremely strong entertainment.

What makes My Generation so frustrating is its amazing potential. The past decade has been extremely volatile with few stories explore its effects. Unfortunately for the show, it’s not quite the period piece it wants to be. One of the reasons that I am so critical of the show was because of how much I actually enjoyed it. Memories from the past ten years rushed back, as did memories of high school and my aspirations. Characters reminded me of my friends and those to whom I haven’t spoken with since graduation. With the right amount of work, Noah Hawley can create an amazingly reflective piece of television. It isn’t quite there yet, but it’s only the pilot; we still have 12 episodes to go.


One Response

  1. […] My Generation (ABC – B-) Verdict: Watch […]

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