NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- I never got into either of the two Marshall Herskovitz/Ed Zwick shows that celebrated the hopes and dreams of the generations they chronicled. I skipped "My So-Called Life" because I was a happy, angst-free teen with a gaggle of friends, relatively clear skin and a gift for decoding parental efforts to mark liquor bottles (only Mr. and Mrs. Deutsch, whose methodology involved turning the bottles upside-down and then leaving a barely visible dot in the middle of the label, were worthy adversaries). I skipped "Thirtysomething" because, well, I have male genitalia.
Herskovitz and Zwick have returned with "Quarterlife," a web-only series (for now) that does for whiny 20-something artistes what "Thirtysomething" did for whiny 30-something yuppieheads: namely, make me want to punch them in the throat. The six central characters, naturally, live next door to one another. They frequently find themselves enmeshed in love triangles, love hexagons and love parallelograms. They have names like Dylan and constantly struggle to express themselves creatively. They banter. Oh, lord, do they banter.
In short, the folks who populate "Quarterlife" have exactly nothing in common with real-world 20-somethings, outside of a desire to look fetching in vintage T-shirts. While ordinarily this wouldn't be a problem -- if you're monitoring escapist dreck for cultural verisimilitude, get some help -- "Quarterlife" strains to present itself as authentic and generationally attuned. The existentialist career crises, the relationship hopscotch, the let's-do-nice-things-for-the-environment-because-we-kids-today-really-truly-care-about-like-carbon-emissions-and-stuff nods; "Quarterlife" plays like a show conceived by somebody whose entire generational knowledge was gleaned from a four-minute conversation with a 20-something niece at a family wedding.
The leaden acting is more or less what you'd expect; the actors were chosen for their cheekbones, not their winning ways with a soliloquy. What you don't expect, especially from the usually observant and subtle Herskovitz/Zwick team, is dialogue seemingly lifted from the pages of a young-adult novel. Frustrated blogger gal Dylan, who has a poet's soul and a model's everything else, utters lines like, "Things just come out of me -- I'm a writer!" You and me both, sweetheart. There's medicine for that.
I understand "Quarterlife" is trying to appeal to short-attention-span 20-somethings in a novel way (more on that in a bit), but the banality of the scenarios it presents isn't going to lure viewers reared on "The Hills" and "The O.C." I question whether web-happy 20-somethings want to watch a bunch of pretty 20-somethings struggle with creativity; I suspect they'd rather pursue their own creative endeavors. I also wonder why "Quarterlife" was meticulously drained of all traces of wit before it went public. The show makes sincerity-fests like "October Road" feel like "Wet Hot American Summer" by comparison.
As has been exhaustively documented, "Quarterlife" has taken an unconventional path to the small screen -- the 'puter -- upon which it currently airs (new eight-minute episodes go up twice a week on MySpace and Quarterlife.com). The creators view the show as considerably more than a simple web serial, however. They bill Quarterlife.com as "a new social-networking site for artists, thinkers and doers," tapping fans for comments, video and whatever the hell else they can pump out between text messages. Ambitious? Certainly. Likely to catch on with the target audience? Probably not. If the experience feels too corporate to a peevish coot like me, chances are the young'uns won't bite.
So far, marketers have had a minimal presence in "Quarterlife." I viewed the show at Quarterlife.com, which is an ad-free environment; Toyota is onboard as the title-page sponsor of the show's MySpace page, which gets the episodes first. Not surprisingly, the show pushes product integration quite hard, with blogger Dylan's Apple laptop getting as much face time in the first few installments as the characters themselves. By sheer happenstance, the Coronas always happen to positioned so their labels face the camera. And really, where better to go for a private conversation between pals than into a Toyota Yaris? "Clumsy" doesn't begin to describe it. Youth-baiting brands (cellphones, fashion imprints) ought to stay away until "Quarterlife" proves it can handle such arrangements more tactfully.
So while "Quarterlife" gets points for trying, ultimately it's just another show about young adults with active social lives and nice hair. When it reaches the bigger screen in a few months -- it'll air on NBC -- the novelty quickly will wear off. Put it this way: Nobody's going to wonder why ABC passed on the pilot the first time around.