Tuned In

Test Pilot: My Generation

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Test Pilot is a semiregular feature sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next fall’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But, premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…

The Show: My Generation, ABC

The Premise: In 2000, a documentary film crew followed a gaggle of high school seniors in Austin, Texas. Ten years later, it’s back to catch up with them and see how actual life is living up to their optimistic, pre-9/11, pre-market collapse, pre-adulthood expectations. Among the characters that this high-school-reunion drama (with some comic notes) checks in on are an overachiever-turned-bartender, an overachiever-turned-political aide, the class wallflower, the class beauty queen, the rich kid, the school rebel now married to the class’ top jock (and pregnant), and a sweethearted nebbish yearning for kids of his own. Some have been stuck in town since graduation, some have just returned because of personal crises. And.. roll cameras.

First Impressions: The mockumentary has somehow become an established genre of TV comedy (The Office, Parks & Rec, Modern Family). The mockumentary as drama has its own—probably more difficult—challenges, and on paper I wouldn’t expect this one to succeed. There’s the awful, predictable, anachronistic title. There are the character types, which seem drawn from a bad reality TV show. And there was the unimpressive trailer ABC showed at upfronts, which compounded matters by scoring the scenes to the also-anachronistic Boomer anthem “For What It’s Worth.” Yet something grabbed me about the full version of the pilot. As gimmicky as the setup is, the show has a voice and some nice light touches that keep it from wallowing in premature worldweariness (one character recalls an unfortunate stint as a contestant on The Bachelor, an ABC cross-promo that actually works here for once). It has the slightly wistful feel of a Zwick-Herskovits or Jason Katims relationship dramedy, a la Relativity or Once and Again. (That is to say, it seems like something that would have been on the air when these characters were in high school.) The actual mockumentary format is a mixed bag. Unlike the aforementioned comedies, the show plays it prominently, with an off-camera interviewers, voiceovers, file footage and the occasional boom mike. At times, it can play like the kind of facile network-news doc it’s imitating, straining to fit in 9/11, Enron and seemingly every other Event That Changed Everything in the last crappy ten years. (I’m just waiting for them to work in the Elian Gonzales controversy.) On the other hand, the format allows the pilot to do some interesting work with narrative time jumps and artfully revealed backstory. Oh, and also? Realizing that “The Real Slim Shady” is now nostalgia music aged me about ten years.

Do I Want to Watch Another Episode? Yes. I’m still not totally sure what to make of My Generation, but if nothing else it’s one of the most interesting and ambitious broadcast pilots for the fall.