[30 September 2010]
At the beginning of The Breakfast Club, the five students are famously and immediately recognizable to the principal, the audience, and each other as their types: The Brain, The Athlete, The Basket Case, The Criminal, and The Princess. The new ABC drama My Generation uses a similar conceit with much less successful results. Instead of complicating characters and evolving plots as John Hughes’ movie does, My Generation is flashy, shallow, and painfully unself-aware. And, following the premiere episode’s low low ratings on 23 September, it is also in trouble.
The “mockumentary” follows nine individuals as they reunite for a high school reunion of sorts in Austin, Texas. The premise is that everyone interviewed way back in 2000, “when the world was very different,” will now discuss “how much things have changed while really staying the same.” And so: their introductory title cards have their high school stereotypes proudly displayed next to their names: Steven (Michael Stahl-David) is still “The Overachiever,” Rolly (Mehcad Brooks) “The Jock” (and the Black Guy), and Dawn (Kelli Garner) “The Punk.” Before we became overly fond of who they were, however, some participants revealed that their lives have changed—and not really stayed the same—due to the shocking world events of the last 10 years!
Despite such apparent developments, their 28-year-old incarnations are just as one-sided and vacuous as their high school nicknames. Victims of poorly written dialogue, the reunion-ites are afflicted as well with melodramatic plots (along the lines of, “I hate responsibility—but I just found out I have a son!” or, “All I want in the world is to have a family—but I just found out I’m infertile!”) that contrast sharply with the show’s supposed “realism.” My Generation has been promoted as a slice-of-life faux-documentary, illustrating a cohort’s common trials and tribulations, designed to resonate with those of their presumed viewers. But the sensational revelations thus far suggest that any resemblance to someone’s real experiences will be coincidence.
Over-simplification pervaded almost every aspect of My Generation‘s first episode. As it attempted to tie individuals’ lives to broad and recognizable events, the references—made via copious stock images of 9/11, President Obama, the Financial Crisis, etc.—were heavy-handed. We learned through the unseen narrator’s exposition that Brenda (Daniella Alonso), “The Brain,” was so disgusted with the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the 2000 presidential election that she changed her major to political science the very next day, just as Rolly reacted to the destruction of the Twin Towers by enlisting the very next day.
By treating these events as boxes to be checked in the list of important events of the 2000s, the show didn’t consider the broad or specific effects of the events, but took them as jumping off points for very regular soap opera. So, Brenda was set up to pine over a high school boyfriend and Rolly was driven to jealousy when his pregnant wife stayed with her ex-high school boyfriend (Keir O’Donnell). (Didn’t she have anywhere else to stay, like family or other friends who didn’t want to be the father of her child?)
Indeed, the nine characters seemed arranged as props in each other’s storylines. Some showed up married, to each other; “The Beauty Queen” (Jamie King) and “The Rich Kid” (Julian Morris) seem so poorly matched that their marriage must be solely a plot device. Caroline (Anne Son), “The Wallflower,” waits until the cameras are rolling to tell Steven that he got her pregnant on prom night nine years before, then spends the rest of the episode yelling at him for having daddy issues. (There are a lot of daddy issues in My Generation.)
Bombarded by such disclosures throughout each segment of My Generation, we’re left with little time to ponder what would seem to be at least one of the show’s questions: how have we all shared experiences and how have they shaped us?
John Hughes rarely made that mistake. By the end of The Breakfast Club, the kids have learned that each of them is not solely a Brain, a Princess, a Criminal, a Basket Case, or an Athlete, but individuals who defy categorization. If only the characters in My Generation—and its dwindling viewers—were afforded the same opportunity.