Photos or it didn’t happen.
In TV’s newest teen drama Genera+ion, Gen Z kids won’t do anything without their mobile phones attached to their wrist.
Selfies. Insta. Emojis, SMS conversations, videos, d*** pics and sex-tortion -all of these things ring true.
There’s a lot of self-obsession, and sexual exploration in this look at Californian high school students. But there’s also a lot of energy and lighter moments than its natural TV sibling, Euphoria.
Genera+ion is the work of 19 year old Zelda Barnz and her gay fathers Daniel (both are co-creators) and Ben Barnz, who produce with Lena Dunham (Girls).
The backdrop is a high school in an affluent Californian suburb. The lead characters are a cluster of predominantly LGBT senior students including the charismatic Chester (Justice Smith), who defiantly snubs school code for midriffs, painted nails and bling. He’s also black and a champion water polo player whose sexuality is proudly on display.
When his attire lands him before the new guidance counsellor Sam (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), he begins to flirt, which would arguably be a bigger red flag if these were heterosexual characters. Should it deserve a free pass here? Maybe that’s the point…
“I’m like a lot,” he warns.
There’s Greta (Haley Sanchez) a reserved Latin teen with a crush on photographer Riley (Chase Sui Wonders), raised by her aunt but struggling to express her feelings.
Privileged siblings Nathan (Uly Schlesinger) and twin sister Naomi (Chloe East) are the children of vacuous mother Megan (Martha Plimpton) and Mark (Sam Trammell), who map out their week on a family whiteboard -right down to planned sex. But Nathan is also hooking up with Naomi’s boyfriend (Jack Connor Chavez) and has one eye on Chester.
At a teen party these narratives intersect from different perspectives in a storytelling device that echoes Rashomon, and all its various successors, such as The Affair and Gone Girl.
There’s also rebellious Arianna (Nathanya Alexander) who has two gay dads and is cynically straight.
Director Daniel Barnz (Cake, Won’t Back Down) adopts a dialogue-heavy, sometimes frenzied approach, to this busy world and it feels like a fair slice is improvised within the talented young cast. Justice Smith is the stand-out from the ensemble and his sheer life-force outranks any character traits that initially offset Chester.
But while Genera+ion rings true as authentic (there’s even ‘teen’ nudity), endearing us to the characters may be its biggest hurdle. Moments of silence, reflection, humility are welcome respites from the youthful drive and narcissism.
Genera+ion may be a next-gen Skins meets Breakfast Club (although detainment is not merely detention anymore).
Amid some familiar teen tropes there are flashes of originality, with a queer lens.
Genera+ion double episodes screen 9:30pm Thursday on FOX Showcase/ Binge