Monday, March 03, 2008


A few months ago, I came across the website for Quarterlife, which premiered on NBC last week. The "episodes" are put online about 10 minutes or less at a time; when I discovered it, the series had posted less than an hour's running time. Seeing as how there is now about six hours worth, I guess I can count myself as an early "fan", notwithstanding I will now spend several paragraphs trashing the show.

The show revolves around a group of beautiful twenty-somethings sharing a couple of apartments in what I take to be southern California. Debra works for her father, which arrangement she hates, and she eventually wanders off to New Orleans for vague humanitarian reasons. Dylan works for a magazine, which is cool, but has to take direction from a boss, which is most uncool. Lisa is a barista with aspirations to be an actress or singer, but she implausibly suffers from self-esteem issues. Jed, Danny, and Andy (the geek) are all trying to start their own film business making commercials -- but see, they're artists, and hate having to make products that their clients actually want to buy, which may have something to do with why they are so unsuccessful. Danny eventually gets a job at a car dealership, but literally walks away because being working in sales is "phony". (Who knew?) Eric, presented in the show as the coolest, most authentic of the bunch, doesn't have a job at all, but wanders around the country from left-wing protest to left-wing protest, and lectures everyone about -- wait for it -- global warming. (Pretty original, huh? I bet you never saw that coming.)

So, the characters lurch around between moral preening, low-level personal crises of various kinds, and bitching about the HUGE imposition of the "adult" world in, you know, expecting them to earn a living. Which frustration is understandable, since the necessities of their lives -- beer, stylish clothes, sex -- seem to fall from heaven as manna (even Andy the geek gets lucky). For their part, the adults -- Debra's Dad, the car dealer trying to get a commercial, the landlord who owns the apartment building -- these are all portrayed as being unthinking materialists living unauthentic lives who deserve to have their own ambitions frustrated by the artistically superior protagonists. Why this is, is never exactly explained.

The voyeristic appeal of the show isn't exactly hard to figure out: we love watching stinkin'-cute young people being vulnerable (i.e., accessible) in ways few of us get to witness in real life. I'm not sure how many twenty-somethings actually live like this, though no doubt it is the kind of life to which many aspire. I will give the show credit for a certain level of plausibility, but one plot thread left me skeptical.

Lisa, the aspiring singer/actress, is recruited into a local band on the cusp of getting some recognition from some kind of web-based contest run out of Los Vegas. The band hasn't "made it" yet, so it's not clear what the band members do for money. (Remember, money never seems to be a significant issue for anyone on this show whether the characters are employed or not.) Lacking any actual knowledge about the music industry at the start-up level, I would think that the band is some kind of collaborative enterprise. But this is not the way the band is portrayed. The band has a charismatic leader; all the other members are dramatic nullities. It surprises no one when the leader takes Lisa to bed almost immediately.

It probably says something that this is the only instance among the show's innumerable acts of fornication that rises sufficiently above our culture's background noise of sexual immorality to inspire a post complaining about it. Be that as it may, in this particular instance, the writers took a particularly long leave of reality. Is it really likely that this guy could, essentially, bring his girlfriend into the band, something that no other band member gets to do, and nobody else resents it? Granted, he's clearly calling the shots, but seeing as how nobody's making money yet, isn't his status as leader granted to him contingent on the expectation that he uses his authority to advance the common project, and not just to, um, sleep with the lead singer?

I may not be articulating this very well. It kind of goes to the reason why, for instance, the military, and other large corporations as well, issue rules governing "fraternization" between ranks, particularly when the relationship overlaps a superior-subordinate relationship. It's an abuse of power even when consensual, and it undermines good order and discipline.

No comments: