Not long the pilot of Generate + ion, new HBO Max drama about a group of high school kids coming into their gender identity, Chester receives a text from a secret admirer. Nathan, a classmate, is overwhelming. He’s bisexual, possibly gay – the show, to its credit, is slow to suggest simple definitions – and has recently taken a liking to Chester. “Your crop top is cute,” he sends, but Chester doesn’t have time to play. His answer will be familiar to young people who are fluent in the cadence of contemporary social life, a perfect illustration of our ever-connected age: “Who is it,” he replies.
From the very beginning, Generation wants us to know that this is a show about representation, a real-time portrait of what teens experience today, how they communicate and the paths they travel to be understood. There is a youthful literacy built into the series that is refreshing even when it fails to capture and maintain real meaning. What Generation works well, what he understands is how kids socialize – through texts and hookup apps, uploading selfies on Instagram, uploading horny cock pics on Snapchat and swiping way embarrassing in DMs.
However, the chemistry of the series does not completely merge as we hope. Co-creator Zelda Barnz was 17 when she wrote the screenplay, along with her father Daniel Barnz, screenwriter and director. This suggests, it is assumed, a first-hand glimpse of the world we interpret onscreen. But knowing your audience, the issues teens face, and how this emotional chasm is much wider than it was a decade ago, doesn’t necessarily translate into convincing TV: Generate + ion fails to speak to his audience with any full body interiority.
Keeping up with prestige television standards, and certainly the variety of high-end dramas that HBO produces regularly and that we expect from the premium cable company, Generate + ion is a bummer. (Don’t expect anything from the artistic intensity and cinematic flicker of Euphoria, you won’t get that here.) It’s not stylistically subversive in any format. Not that it has to be, because it can be enjoyable and chaotic at times, and so derailed in the same way that adolescence can be for teenagers that it seems at least trying to have fun. But the show has a weird fetish for the big shock that I can’t really explain, only to say that this effect seems to be a symptom of its immaturity and performative waking state. Cumulatively, it all feels very high school, which is perhaps the point.
Smith J. (Lowering, Detective Pickachu) plays Chester, a gay water polo star with an average of 4.1 GPA who has a soft spot for new guidance counselor Sam (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). “My tolerance for giving a fuck is, like, minimal,” he tells Sam when they first meet. Later, upset by a small matter, he declares: “I am the asteroid, you are the dinosaur.” From a writing standpoint, that fetish comes out of the jump, which is a way to make sense of the series. Past all the cranky maximalism, that’s what Generate + ion viscerally represents: big empty statements and a lot of nothing.
It is not at all bad nothing; some of it is pleasantly satisfying. Things do happen of course, and somehow just keep happening, which is disappointing because that kind of narrative speed suggests a lack of soul-searching that is so important in teenage lives. Yet the serendipitous moments of the series are the most beautiful, the most sought after, however rare they may be.
Thematically and tonically, the show’s nothingness space is where Barnz finds the revelation she can. In the third and fifth episodes of the series, Chester, Greta (Haley Sanchez) and Riley (Chase Sui Wonders) spend the day together, crossing Los Angeles, freed from their daily demands, smoking weed, sharing secrets and visiting. the aquarium. , where Chester and Greta solidify their bond. It’s a tasty sequence of scenes that in a way rivals what director Luca Guadagnino has perfected. We are who we are, another recent coming-of-age drama from HBO about two sexually curious American teens living on a US military base in Italy. The technique allows space, stillness, and viewers to find their own meaning instead of pushing it over themselves. This is where the series reaches a creative stage, in moments of adolescent drift, when interactions, experiences, and confessions don’t feel strained or laborious, when they just are.