In the future, people will watch television on the Internet. Every show will be eight minutes long and feature good-looking, long-faced white people who say things like, "It's my curse that I can see what people are thinking" and "The net is nasty slow today." (Also, indie rock will sound really, really pussified.) I have seen television's future and its name is Quarterlife—or rather I have seen media hype proclaiming the new MySpace web serial the future of TV. But based on the first three episodes—Quarterlife debuted Sunday and part three went up today–I'm not ready to gas up the flying car just yet.
Quarterlife follows the lives of six 20somethings through the eyes of Dylan Krieger, a wannabe journalist who is stuck working as an assistant at a fashion magazine she is obviously too good for. (See Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada.) Dylan alleviates the bummer of her work life by indulging her dreaded curse of seeing what other people are thinking on her video blog. At first the words come nasty slow: "To say something I would have to reveal something and God forbid I do that," she confesses. But soon she's condensing her totally brilliant observations about her roommates and life in general into pithy proclamations anyone can relate to. "Sometimes I cry for no reason." Me, too! Especially when I'm watching TV on MySpace!
Along with Dylan, Quarterlife features sexy bartender Lisa, aspiring filmmaker Dan, his smarmy business partner Jed, Jed's girlfriend (and Dan's unrequited love) Debra, and nerdy hornball (is there any other kind?) Andy. Most of them live under the same roof. (It's kind of like Rent without songs and AIDS.) Each of Dylan's buds finds out about the blog and what's she saying about them, and the shit understandably hits the fan after Dylan smugly declares Lisa an alcoholic ho-bag and dishes about Dan's crush on Debra. "I have to be honest!" Dylan shrugs.
Cringing yet? My shoulders are sore from being hunched up so high during the first 24 minutes of Quarterlife. I think I've already made clear my hatred of Dylan—only a show as earnest as this one would not have her bitch-slapped by her friends for her "honesty"—but I'm not sure hating the characters necessarily makes Quarterlife a bad show. Insufferable? Without question. But the hateability of the characters is undeniably authentic. I know people like this, and I hate them in real life, too. It's the same problem I had with thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, two other shows from executive producers Marshall Hershkovitz and Ed Zwick. Hershkovitz and Zwick are great at realistically portraying irritating, self-absorbed nimrods. If I hate their characters, well, I'm supposed to hate them, right? Dylan might be a pseudo-intellectual dullard who needs to get over herself, but so are millions of other people out there who think his or her personal post-college malaise is an endlessly fascinating phenomenon that must be documented on a video blog. The problem is that the characters on Quarterlife—and all characters in the Hershkovitz/Zwick TV universe–have zero self-awareness. (Self-regard, yes. Self-awareness of how stupid they often sound, no.) If Quarterlife is really the future of TV, and Hershkovitz and Zwick really want the audience to help shape the show, here's a great suggestion: introduce a character who will mock these fools on our behalf, or at the very least bitch-slap Dylan.
I will give them this: Quarterlife works surprisingly well as a series of eight-minute episodes. It's a different kind of storytelling I didn't think would work, but each installment of Quarterlife feels like a complete piece with both self-contained and ongoing storylines. Of course, I didn't like the actual stories being told, but at least I admire the mechanics. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must tend to my video blog where I share my frustrations with my 20something artist friends. You should totally check it out, though it may make you cry for no reason.
Grade: C- (for the first two episodes), C+ (for the third)