Talk­ing about ‘My Gen­er­a­tion’

‘My Gen­er­a­tion’ fol­lows a group of twen­tysome­things with cam­era in tow. De­spite that, it’s fresh.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - MARY McNAMARA TELE­VI­SION CRITIC mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

In what could be ti­tled ‘twen­tysome­thing,’ the cast, in­clud­ing Anne Son, above, is the strength.

The mock­u­men­tary style of ABC’s new dram­edy “My Gen­er­a­tion” is both the best and worst thing about it. By chron­i­cling nine mem­bers of the class of 2000 in Austin, Texas, cre­ator Noah Haw­ley in­ter­twines the lives of un­likely archetypes and in­jects their story lines with so­cial sig­nif­i­cance — the BushGore elec­tion, 9/11, En­ron — as if it were Bo­tox. Yet de­spite such heavy-handed ma­nip­u­la­tion, the char­ac­ters and cam­era-aware per­for­mances of “My Gen­er­a­tion” are pre­cisely what make the show sur­pris­ingly fresh, vivid and touch­ing.

Like “thir­tysome­thing,” to which it owes an enor­mous debt, “My Gen­er­a­tion” fol­lows a group of friends as they en­ter the age of dis­en­chant­ment: Steven Fos­ter (Michael Stahl-David) is the “Over­achiever” turned surf bum who gets a sur­prise call from “Wall­flower” Caro­line Chung (Anne Son). An­ders “the Rich Kid” Holt (Ju­lian Mor­ris) has mar­ried not his high school sweet­heart, “the Brain” Brenda Ser­rano (Daniella Alonso), now work­ing on Capi­tol Hill, but “Beauty Queen” Jackie Vaches (Jaime King). Dawn “the Punk” Bar­buso (Kelli Garner) has like­wise dumped “Nerd” Ken­neth Finley (Keir O’Don­nell) for “the Jock,” Rolly Marks (Me­hcad Brooks), who, af­ter 9/11, ditched Stan­ford for the Army. Round­ing out the group is Se­bas­tian Sozzi as the Fal­con, a rock star turned DJ who is con­sid­ered the group’s “Rebel.”

None of them is par­tic­u­larly happy, and for mostly good rea­sons. De­spite their pre­vi­ous am­bi­tions, Steven and the Fal­con are adrift; Caro­line is a strug­gling sin­gle mother; Ken­neth still loves Dawn, who is preg­nant and liv­ing with him be­cause Rolly, her hus­band, is in Afghanistan. Like­wise, An­ders and Brenda se­cretly pine for each other while Jackie longs for big­ger things.

While other com­ing-ofage dra­mas aim to be time­less, “My Gen­er­a­tion” roots it­self firmly, in­deed ob­ses­sively, in the present. Rolly is not the only char­ac­ter shaped by re­cent events. Brenda-wanted to be a sci­en­tist but switched to po­lit­i­cal sci­ence af­ter Ge­orge W. Bush’s vic­tory-by-Supreme Court. Mean­while, Steven and Ken­neth were both vic­tims of the En­ron scan­dal, and Jackie did fol­low her dream to Hollywood, only to be­come a loser on “The Bach­e­lor.” (“It’s so po­lit­i­cal,” An­ders says kindly.)

Cram­ming all these cul­tural nods into an hour­long pi­lot de­fines overkill, but per­haps it can be chalked up to ex­po­si­tion, not to men­tion the hubris of the show’s ti­tle. Ei­ther way, it’s over­come by the charm of the cast, whose mem­bers quickly color out­side the lines of their stereo­types. Stahl-David (“The Black Don­nellys,” “Clover­field”), O’Don­nell (“Wed­ding Crashers,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”) and new­comer Son in par­tic­u­lar give their char­ac­ters an ex­ploratory shake or two be­fore punch­ing the fluff and dust right out of them. (As the lovelorn and earnest-al­most-Ken­neth, O’Don­nell has the heav­i­est lift­ing.)

But all the per­form­ers use the doc­u­men­tary setup to their best ad­van­tage, shoot­ing the om­nipresent cam­era know­ing, com­i­cal and an­guished glances, and gen­er­ally treat­ing it as if it were an­other char­ac­ter. There’s a nar­ra­tor too, but she seems su­per­flu­ous — it’s the cam­era that the char­ac­ters ad­dress. (In fact, they seem more com­fort­able in re­flec­tion than ac­tion.)

Twen­tysome­things are fa­mous self-chron­i­clers, and it’s this easy and ca­su­ally in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with the lens, rather than the ref­er­ences to En­ron, sperm donors or cur­rent leg­isla­tive bat­tles, that earn “My Gen­er­a­tion” its ti­tle — the first mock­u­men­tary dram­edy of the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion.

Bill Mat­lock

Bill Mat­lock

WHAT TO DO? Caro­line Chung (Anne Son) is cap­tured alone at a party in “My Gen­er­a­tion,” which fol­lows the lives of nine friends in high school and be­yond.

REBEL, REBEL:

Vi­vian Zink

Dawn “the Punk” Bar­buso (Kelli Garner) hangs with the Fal­con (Se­bas­tian Sozzi).

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