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Things are different now. The kids in MTV's demographic, us dag-gone millennials, can't really remember a time when MTV messed with music videos. With all these reality shows, the brand they know has always traded on other people's established fame or notoriety for 30 minutes at a time, and that's not such a draw. So now that you can have almost all your fun online—and because Real World-Road Rules: Sexting won't happen—MTV is making scripted TV, hoping to call its signature demo back to the house.
I'm sort of fascinated by the couple of scripted MTV shows that are aimed at my peers, the failing, entitled, sardonic college grads for whom finding work is a lot harder than it was when their parents graduated. HBO made waves—like, praise-from-the-New York Review of Books waves—on that part of young adult life with Lena Dunham's Girls. MTV cancelled its first go at twentysomethings, the brilliantly crappy I Just Want My Pants Back, about a wannabe actor living in Williamsburg who couldn't get even a little bit of his act together. Last week, a more heartfelt successor-in-ennui premiered: Underemployed, a comedy about five recent grads futzing around Chicago trying to actualize their lofty professional-life dreams.
I'm not going to tell you that the pilot was great. It's not. At all. But treading water in a shrunken, maybe still-shrinking economy is a terrifying and very real prospect for a lot of us today, and it's going to be really interesting to see how MTV makes that look. So over the next couple months, or for as long as I can take it, I'll be recapping each episode the day after it airs in an effort to provide reality checks, if not fact checks, on this show that like totally probably gets me. The second episode airs tonight at 9 central, but first, let's go over all the OMG and WTF from last time, ranking them, as the pros used to do, on completely subjective scale of plausibility and awesome:
• The show opens with a shot of a blank computer screen. -1 Computers are totally over, Dad. Can I have $300 for an iPad Mini?
• The owner of that screen is trying to write . . . something, narrating, perkily: "It was the best of times, it was the best of times. No, don't start with a reference, that's so lame." Referring to your reference, which you probably don't even understand? So millennial. +1
• Wait a second, this is all its own reference to Carrie Bradshaw's narrative overgeneralizing over her column writing on Sex and the City! Meta: also so millennial. +1
• Neither the narrator, Sophia, nor her four best friends got their dream job after college. -1 Every kid working the cash register at a doughnut shop like Sophia (or interning or stripping or working the streets for Greenpeace) knows someone who lucked out with a job on Wall Street or something.
•Two of those friends, who are dating, apparently, break up after a very tender discussion at the end of college "because that's what adults do." Then they have sex. -1
•She shows up at his door many months later with a very distended belly, and her first words are "Look who turned out to be pro-life!" +5
•Hot cultural reference: Angry Birds. -1
•One character, who wants to be a model, has a bulimic, Russian-speaking girlfriend, and his roommate mocks her eating disorder ("toothy McToothpick"). -5
•Oh, and they live in an amazing loft next to the river, despite being "underemployed." -1
•An intern at an ad agency asks her hot boss to get paid for her work, gets asked out to lunch in return, and hooks up with (at Gibson's!) him in his car and he's not a dick about it. Let's call that a wash
•But he turns out to have a girlfriend. +1 for realism!
•Speaking of Gibson's, or its exterior, anyway, this was shot at a ton of real Chicago locations. We'll see if that lasts, but for now: +2
•The show seems to be cool with casual sex—the model kid is psyched about "nailing" this "hot cougar" to get into a Calvin Klein party, and there's some superfrank and fulfilling-seeming girl-on-girl sex, for cable. +1
•But Sophia's first time makes her look noticeably different to her BFF, a pernicious myth about sex I thought a whole lot about before learning first-hand it's totally not a thing. -1
•"If you don't have a big boy, wrap it in a tortilla." +1
•Remember that pregnant couple? The guy is pretty damn calm about the whole thing, considering he learned about it days before the baby is born. -1
•For a cable show, there's a remarkable paucity of traditional, Seventh Heaveny families. +1
•"Dad, consider pants." +2
•Awful lines: "That is the worst thing that anyone has said. Ever." Can we as a culture get over the "worst thing ever" thing? Ever? Also: "Welcome to the real world," "Settle down, bitch, Daddy's home," and "Hey, life is weird. And let's admit it, kind of miraculous." -4
Final score: -1
That's a pretty strong showing for a show with acting this bad, but I might have been a bit easy on it. The characters are so sure they'll conquer the world, despite the predatory bosses and the cougars and the pregnancies. That's the show's biggest lie—I'm not convinced it's still possible for just anyone to make it in America—but it's also true that, at least among my friends, we're a little too preoccupied with finding a job that pays good money and not enough on doing something we can take pride in. That reminder, more than anything, is why I'll tune in for the next episode.