Every new teen drama wants to be the show that gets Generation Z right.
Capturing that vulnerable part of life with drugs, pimples and awkward sex is not exactly an easy task — especially when the series’ director, Daniel Barnz, is a 50-year-old man.
HBO’s new series “Generation” is one of many valiant attempts to encapsulate the Gen Z experience, but this show’s effort ends up feel- ing more like a knock-off brand of its popular counterpart “Euphoria” than an introspective look into teenage life.
But “Generation” does find some sense of stable footing in reality, thanks to 19-year-old queer screenwriter Zelda Barnz.
The series centers around the lives of high school teens living in Orange County, California, crusading against parents and teachers as they explore their sexuality and gender fluidity. A majority of the high schoolers are LGBTQ+, and while it seems the characters don’t know who they are, they certainly know who they want.
Chester (Justice Smith) is a popular water polo player, whose troublesome dress code violation leads to a complicated relationship with his 35-year-old school counselor Sam (Nathan-Stewert Jarrett). Greta (Haley Sanchez), is a little less risqué, nursing her crush on the daring photographer Riley (Chase Sui Wonders), who likes to photograph people having sex for fun. Nathan (Uly Schlesinger) openly explores his bisexuality, though in questionable ways — like when he sexts a boy who is dating his sister Naomi (Chloe East). Naomi’s friend Arianna (Nathanya Alexandra), is in a different boat from most of the other characters — rejecting her two gay dads in an attempt to establish her “straightness.”
The storylines of these characters are chronically fractured. The opening of the first episode is set three months ahead of the original timeline, in an ambiguous mall bathroom that serves as a birthing room. It’s hard to decide
if this scene is purely comical, or supposed
to make some big impact on each character’s development.
Either way, the plausibility of teenagers pulling off an under-the-table birth seems unlikely. Which is why “Generation” isn’t nearly as revolutionary as it thinks.
This series always strives so hard to be edgy and dramatic that reality gets lost in translation. It is classified as a “dramedy,” which gives it some space to exaggerate, but the way it depicts a generation is a little too much to feel real.
With the exception of Greta and Nathan, none of the characters seem particularly insecure about their sexuality or their bodies. And that is fine. It’s great to see a group of confident teenagers, but it seems to diverge from the whole reality of the teenage experience.
Then there’s the fact that the characters use their hyper-progressivism as an excuse to be assholes — a common trope associated with Gen Z. This includes Arianna stealing cups from a lemonade stand, stating that they’re “reparations” for America’s sins. But it just feels sloppy. But, most poorly-written comedies use bullshit excuses to drive the plot forward.
Despite this, “Generation” does have the strong foundation for a good show. A diverse cast, with a storyline that follows the sex lives
of a historically and continually oppressed generation of people, is a good start. It doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of messy teenage sex lives, nor does it gloss over the naivety of first love. At times, it does infuse some genuine comedy into its characters. Chester’s fashion sense, particularly when he paints his nails with the phrase “pussy power,” is a fun watch.
But “Generation’s” surface level progressivism isn’t the recipe for a good TV show. Its story rings hollow, racking up a series too gimmicky to feel genuine.