Post-college, coming-of-age MTV series misses the mark
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org October 15, 2012 6:52PM
The cast of MTV's new scripted comedic drama "Underemployed." From left to right: 'Miles' (Diego Boneta), 'Daphne' (Sarah Habel), 'Sophia' (Michelle Ang), 'Raviva' (Inbar Lavi), 'Lou' (Jared Kusnitz)
9 to 10 p.m. Tuesday
Updated: November 17, 2012 6:03AM
I don’t envy today’s starry-eyed Millennials, clutching their college diplomas and ready to take on the world, only to be greeted by a dismal job market where unpaid internships are considered a career coup and dating is a lot more complicated than deciding who to take to the sorority barn dance.
The early 20s can be a scary time, a seemingly endless obstacle course composed of angst, disappointments, anemic bank accounts, self-doubt and — mercifully — the occasional triumph. No wonder it can make for compelling coming-of-age television, as it does in the HBO series “Girls.”
Or it can make for an unfunny dramedy populated by unrealistic characters, as it does in MTV’s underwhelming show, “Underemployed.”
Set and filmed in Chicago, “Underemployed” is the creation of playwright Craig Wright. Wright’s TV-producer experience on “Six Feet Under” and “Lost” gave me high hopes for his latest venture, which he says is based on experiences encountered by his own recent college-graduate son. The show chronicles the lives of five friends trying to make their way in the real world, post-university.
A year has passed since aspiring author Sophia (Michelle Ang) delivered her school’s commencement address. Instead of autographing copies of her Great American Novel, she spends her time playing Angry Birds, selling donuts and embarking on a journey of sexual discovery that feels as fake as the pastry she’s forced to wear on her head at work.
Daphne (Sarah Habel) harbors hopes of becoming a hotshot ad exec, but for now she lives at home with Dad. She’s an unpaid intern reduced to eating dog food during a client meeting at the behest of her boss. But he’s really cute, so she sleeps with him anyway. Girl power!
Daphne’s fortunes must eventually change, because a later episode has her living in a 2,000-square-foot apartment decorated by Jonathan Adler. “It’s a masterpiece of credit,” she explains.
Miles (Diego Boneta) dreams big: He wants to take that college degree and turn it into a gig modeling Calvin Klein underwear.
Miles’ roommate, Lou (Jared Kusnitz), has to put his dreams of graduate school on the back burner when ex-girlfriend Raviva (Inbar Lavi) turns up nine months pregnant at the door of his cavernous, exposed-brick loft. This reunion leads to an implausible “Why didn’t you email?”/“I thought you didn’t want me to email”/“Why would you think I didn’t want you to email?” exchange.
Raviva has the baby. And wouldn’t you know it? Being a young mom isn’t nearly as tough as people make it out to be. You just take your little bundle of joy with you to Uncommon Ground where you spend your days sipping coffee and flirting with the guy at the next table.
“If life is just about earning money, we’re all screwed,” would-be writer Sophia says in a “Sex and the City”-inspired voiceover. “But if life is about living, none of my friends are underemployed.”
If “living” is about winning your local bar’s trivia competition and fending off horny cougars and invites for threesomes, then yes, her friends have a fully punched timecard.
The show’s humor is tepid at best. The characters are mostly annoying — and bereft of the vulnerability and honesty that make you want to root for the similarly self-involved twentysomethings in “Girls.”
Watching the “Underemployed” ensemble navigate the choppy waters of adulthood is like watching a baby learn to walk on the L tracks, but with one big difference: You care what happens to the baby.