Created by Peter Magnusson and Martin Persson. Developed for US television by Noah Hawley.
Produced by ABC Studios, Stockholm-Copenhagen Productions, 26 Keys Productions
Aired on ABC for 1 season (8 episodes, 6 unaired) from September 23, 2010 – September 30, 2010
Michael Stahl-David as Steven Foster “The Overachiever”
Daniella Alonso as Brenda Serrano “The Brain”
Mehcad Brooks as Rolly Marks “The Jock”
Kelli Garner as Dawn Barbuso “The Punk”
Jaime King as Jacqueline Vachs “The Beauty Queen”
Julian Morris as Anders Holt “The Rich Kid”
Keir O’Donnell as Kenneth Finley “The Nerd”
Sebastian Sozi as the Falcon “The Rock Star”
Anne Son as Caroline Chung “The Wallflower”
The show is essentially a fake docudrama TV series that purportedly began in the year 2000, wherein the documentary crew followed a group of nine graduating students from a high school in Austin, Texas and interviewed them about their current lives, interests, career goals, and aspirations after they graduate. The show then picks up ten years later (the present!) and checks in on each of them, mining drama from their everyday doldrums and the re-established connections between some members within their group.
The nine subjects were: a high school overachiever that grew up to become a laid back bartender, a wallflower girl who had a one night stand and then found herself pregnant and raising a child on her own, a very much in love couple who broke up after their prom, a pushover nerd who had a short-lived romantic relationship with the rebellious punk girl during high school and then found himself looking after her during her pregnancy while her husband has been away serving in the army, and lastly a former beauty queen who is realizing she is in a loveless marriage.
Each episode of My Generation is made to appear as an authentic documentary series by incorporating home video segments, transitional animation, news footage, talking head interviews, etc. to give context to the characters and their current day narrative.
There have been many adaptations of foreign television series throughout America’s broadcasting history, most of which take the imported concept and simply tweak cultural context and location. It is quite seldom when adapting these properties that a show creator actually makes something that is truly unique without at least some broad echoes of the original program. My Generation is one of those rare shows that was not only able to take the foreign source material and adapt it well, but also produced a show that, while being familiar, was still completely original in its own right. The development that allowed for such a departure from the original material stemmed from the show’s creator, Noah Hawley.
My Generation was the second television series Hawley created for ABC, the first having been the quirky police procedural The Unusuals. When The Unusuals was cancelled in 2009, Hawley maintained a working relationship with ABC, which led him to develop their freshly acquired television prospect imported from Sweden. The original Swedish show God’s Highway (Blomsterdid) had been a fake documentary series about three young men who were interviewed and recorded during their senior year in high school by a filmmaker who is played by the actual co-creator of the series, Martin Persson. The series picks up 14 years later to see how much the three subjects have changed. The Swedish series, although attempting to blend in reality with scripted material, appears to be more farcical than dramatic, in particular since the three main characters are played by the same actor, Peter Magnusson. As well regarded as that series was, the American version as envisioned by Hawley would end up being very different.
In Hawley’s original pilot script (originally going under the working title of Generation Y), he expanded the scope of the premise by upping the subjects from three males to an assortment of nine very different characters that would be representative of both genders, a variety of ethnicities, and a sliding scale of wealth classes. For the sake of clarity, each of the subjects were given a moniker in order to classify each character’s individuality and make it easier to track their stories. This was an ingenious way to present the individuals’ distinctiveness, as it offered a quick sense of each character while also utilizing a shorthand that had been established by our own American pop culture tropes of high school films, specifically The Breakfast Club.
It had been a fairly quick process from ABC, who ordered the pilot into production in January, cast the series (which took a month and a half), and then began filming in late March. By May, ABC was confident enough with the show that they announced their Fall schedule and placed the now renamed My Generation on Thursday nights as a lead in for Grey’s Anatomy. During the summer, the network placed a huge marketing campaign for the show with large billboards, subway ads, and trailer promos presented in movie theaters. ABC spent a lot of effort to promote this series, and had high expectations for its performance against heavyweight shows like The Big Bang Theory, Bones, 30 Rock, and The Vampire Diaries. When the show finally premiered, it was to low ratings, which had been expected by the network. It wasn’t until the very next week, when the numbers went down further, that ABC decided to cancel the show and replace it with Grey’s Anatomy reruns in its time slot. The news came as a surprise for the show creators, as they were in the midst of final sound mixing on the production of the third episode. Although the series was canceled, Hawley and company still continued to work on the following six episodes that had been ordered, knowing that there would be no ninth episode. They also did not know if the six episodes that they were finalizing would even ever make it to air. Unfortunately for fans of the first two episodes, ABC never did air the final installments on television, but instead released them online with very little fanfare. Following the show’s cancellation, there was a brief time where a petition had been placed by the social media savvy viewing audience to bring back the series, a petition that did not succeed.
As the petition signer’s comments would attest, My Generation was a different kind of show, one that had a novel way to get the audience invested in the characters’ choices, their regrets, their triumphs, and their everyday struggles. Not only did the audience relate to and care about the characters, but they found themselves captivated by their stories in a very short period of time. If only ABC had just given it a true chance to ride out its initial run on broadcast television, things may have turned out differently. Hawley had plans for this series, ambitious goals of further ingraining these fictional characters into real life landmark events to imbue them with an authenticity that would now never be realized.
One of the best things about My Generation is the technical presentation and how the series tells the story of these characters. It draws more inspiration from the sensibility of the compelling documentary films known as the Up series, which similarly follows a variety of subjects as young children, only to then check in on them every seven years. This show is really great at displaying the authenticity of the interviews and capturing the awkwardness and occasional superficiality of being in front of a camera to tell your story. Characters are reluctant with how they answer questions, have interesting reactions to information given to them, and their motives are shown very clearly in their responses and in the follow up questions they ask. For a scripted series, there is more of a sense of realism than in most reality shows, and more of an artfulness of capturing the naturalism of the “now” that falls more in line with that of a Richard Linklater film.
Besides the excellent production, the series features a very good ensemble cast who bring life to the characters in a way that exceeds what’s on the page. Michael Stahl-David as “the Overachiever”, who turned out to not be as successful as had been expected of him, is very likable in his role, and although he makes some choices that seem distasteful, he is still someone who the audience wants to see get his life together and achieve the goals he sets out for himself. One of the main stories of the show is that of the romantic relationship between Brenda (Daniella Alonso) and Anders (Julian Morris) who were deeply in love, but then suffered a rough breakup on Prom Night. The effectiveness of the culmination of this story line is very strong, and it’s because of the great chemistry between Alonso and Morris that it works so well. Another very significant story line is that of separated spouses, portrayed by Mehcad Brooks and Kelli Garner. Brooks had been deployed to Afghanistan during his wife’s pregnancy, so there is the drama of their separation that is played here. Both Brooks and Garner are extremely charismatic performers in their own right and seem to display chemistry with everyone in the cast, and in a lot of ways these characters are key to tying the mostly sporadic group together.
As good as the show is, it is far from perfect, as some elements did not always work But that is to be expected when experimenting with new ways of telling stories, wherein where it works, it is exceptional, but when it doesn’t work, there is still some merit to it because at least they were trying something different and innovative. My Generation had been an inventive series, mixing fiction and reality in a way that felt fresh and compelling, and had it been allowed to, would’ve warranted a much longer run.
This week commemorates five years since the premiere of My Generation, and although it got poor ratings and was canceled, this does not mean it was a bad show. It’s almost always a shame when a network is unable to commit to their programming schedule, and it’s only more disappointing when the show is one of quality that was just unable to find its audience in time. There’s no use in trying to elucidate why the show was canceled, it’s perhaps more suitable to appraise the show for what was produced, as little as there was. With its very short run and minimal critical recognition, it’s likely this show has been obscured by time, and with every year that goes by, it goes unnoticed. This should not be the case, as those who watched it could see that it was a show that had interesting stories to tell and stimulating ways to tell them, using the documentary style device to enhance the myth-making of the characters and the world around them.
Noah Hawley has recently gained recognition for his recent television adaptation of Fargo, which will be premiering its second season soon. There is also some attention given to Hawley’s first created show, The Unusuals, which has garnered some cult status due to having featured a young Jeremy Renner. It seems as though My Generation doesn’t get the same appreciation, and that could be because its run was so limited and viewership was so sparse. It may have been a series that didn’t last –with stories that seem to be just beginning, and with an ending that offers no real closure –but it’s still one that is worth seeking out and watching for the experience.
Michael Stahl-David later appeared on Person of Interest, Don’t Trust the B- in Apartment 23, New Girl, and lastly The Good Wife.
Daniella Alonso would appear on Mad Love, In Plain Sight, Rizzoli & Isles, be featured in Revolution and Night Shift, and will be next seen in season three of Being Mary Jane.
Mehcad Brooks would later appear in Alcatraz and Benched, be a main cast member on Necessary Roughness, and will currently be in Supergirl as James Olsen.
Kelli Garner became a main cast member on the short lived Pan Am, appeared on HBO’s Looking, and has recently starred as the titular character in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe miniseries.
Julian Morris would make regular appearances on Pretty Little Liars, Once Upon a Time, New Girl, and in Amazon’s new series Hand of God.