One’s ability to fully enjoy “Quarterlife” depends on your willingness to overlook a few tiny liberties taken with some plot details. First of all, we’re to believe that a “blog” consists of confessional style video clips uploaded to a website, which is kind of annoying because we all know that a blog is technically something you write. Right? Second, is your ability to believe that said video blog of someone passive aggressively whining about their life and bitching about their friends is the kind of endeavor clearly destined to become an overnight smash sensation. Of course, in the real world the only individuals to juggernaut themselves onto center stage of the internet have traditionally been freaks of the Chris Crocker /Tay Zonday variety. And thirdly, everyone in “Quarterlife” refers to the internet as “The ‘Net,” which is a term I’m pretty sure no one has actually used since 1998. It’s partially for these reasons that I damn near gave up hope on “Quarterlife” five minutes into the pilot. But if you’re willing to stick it out as I did, you may be surprised to find yourself actually loving this show in spite of these minor nitpicks.
Helmed by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, the creative force behind “My So Called Life” and “thirtysomething,” it was only natural for the duo to finally tackle the in-betweens, a demographic which has largely been ignored by network television. In fact, the last time we really saw much attention paid to the post-college, pre-adulthood set was back in the 90’s with films like Singles and Reality Bites. And although I haven’t seen it recently enough to draw any nuanced comparisons, “Quarterlife” clearly owes a debt to the latter. The story centers around Dylan Krieger (Bitsie Tulloch, most notably of YouTube’s “LonelyGirl15”), poster child for apathetic low-self esteem and the aforementioned blogger of Quarterlife, a website she maintains as a creative outlet to unload all of her existential Generation Y angst (or Yangst). A budding writer, she works as an editorial assistant at a women’s magazine where she feels — as many of us do in our mid-twenties — unappreciated and undervalued. Dylan additionally experiences feelings of inadequacy due to her living arrangement, which consists of a fashionably haphazard IKEA-furnished apartment she shares with longtime best friend Debra (Michelle Lombardo) and roommate Lisa (Maite Schwartz), a promiscuous bartender/aspiring actress/alcoholic. In an apartment across the way live film school grads Danny (David Walton), Debra’s caddish, Matt Dillon-esque boyfriend; his best friend, the sensitive hottie Jed (Scott M. Foster); and their business partner Andy (Kevin Christy), who I’m not actually sure lives there but works with Danny and Jed in their basement film editing studio. So basically, it’s kind of like “Friends” only without all the wacky hijinks and unrealistic standards of living.
Naturally, between the six friends lies a messy, convoluted love triangle … err, hexagon? Jed is secretly in love with Debra, his best friend’s girl (feelings which Debra secretly kind of reciprocates); Dylan is in love with Jed; Andy is in love with Dylan; and Lisa is pretty much in love with whoever will pay attention to her and fuel her own shitty self-esteem issues. Many of these feelings, previously bubbling hot under the surface, come to light when Dylan’s blog hits the mainstream and catches like webernetfire. With a delicious wrench thrown into the group dynamic, the six friends are forced to come to terms with these underlying issues. For Jed and Debra this means exploring feelings for one another while threatening Jed and Danny’s friendship and fledgling film business. On the other hand, for Lisa it means some serious introspection and an examination of her sexuality. So unlike with say, “Gossip Girl,” where the whole blog aspect feels kind of tacked on and superfluous, Dylan’s blog actually provides an interesting plot element in addition to being simply a narration device.
Romantic entanglements and technological contrivances aside, I was pleasantly surprised how well this show realistically portrays this time in a young adult’s life, in dealing with the rude awakening of adulthood. For many, the post-college years rival only adolescence as being one of the most integral and confusing periods in the life of a young adult, complete with inflated expectations, crushing letdowns and ultimately, self-discovery. Because while you very well may have been a genius in elementary school or mastered the art of postmodern filmmaking in college, in the real world no one gives a shit about you, your obvious brilliance or your fancy degree. As Dylan perceptively sums up, “Having a job means checking your soul at the door and spending the day doing the bidding of people trying to exploit humanity, where you give up your dignity in order to strip other of theirs, and where your greatest asset is inauthenticity.” It’s kind of awesome to finally see a dramatic television show tackling this subject matter in a down to earth, realistic sort of way.
Going on the pilot alone, I see definite potential for “Quarterlife” to turn out to be a fantastic series, and definitely a must-see for fans of “My So Called Life.” Unfortunately though, as with the case of “My So Called Life,” I also see potential for it to be another critical darling that never manages to pick up widespread appeal. It all depends if television audiences are finally ready for a series featuring adults with adult problems instead of teenagers with adult problems. Or maybe, it’s just what we’ve all been waiting for.
(“Quarterlife” premieres on NBC tonight at 10 p.m. before moving to Sundays at 9 p.m. in March.)
Stacey Nosek is the world’s most articulate idiot, and a television columnist for Pajiba. You can also find her ripping on celebrities at Webster’s Is My Bitch.
"Quarterlife" / Stacey Nosek
TV | February 26, 2008 | Comments ()