MySpace's Quarterlife: Sign of A New TV Rennaisance or a New Marketing Gimmick?
That's the question I'm balancing after viewing the first two episodes of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick's new series, created exclusive for MySpace (at least, so far), called Quarterlife.
The industry is paying such close attention to this project because Herskovitz and Zwick have such an amazing pedigree. As producers, writers or directors, they've worked on my So-Called Life, thirtysomething, Once and Again, Traffic, The Last Samurai, Legends of the Fall and Blood Diamond, to name just a few classics.
So when one of them stands up and says he's lost confidence in developing shows for the networks, you pay attention. "Network executives routinely tell producers to change the color of the walls on sets, routinely decide on the proper wardrobe for actors, routinely have "tone" meetings with directors on upcoming pilots and routinely give notes on every page of a script," wrote Herskovitz in a rant about the growing influence of the networks on TV series published in the Los Angeles Times.
Developed outside the network structure, Quarterlife is supposed to be an antidote to all that. The pair have even encouraged fans to submit text and video ideas to their web site.
So, does the team's new series live up to the hype?
Two episodes in, I'm ambivalent. The show itself feels awfully familiar --- six twentysomethings struggling with life and love just after college. The narrator, an underachieving magazine worker bee, reveals the inner workings of her friendship circle on her blog -- outing her pretty actress roommate as a promiscuous lush and revealing that her other roommate's boyfriend won't commit while his best friend is secretly in love with his buddy's gal.
There's a self-absorption here that feels more natural coming from twentysomethings who are expected to be obsessed with themselves, rather than the thirty and fortysomethings Zwick and Herskovitz once wrote about, who should know better. The goal here seems to be nailing the "quarterlife crisis" in the same way the pair once nailed high school angst in My So-Called Life.
Still, the result feels mostly like Dawson's Creek: The Post-Graduate Years -- right down to the knowing observations set to poignant, singer-songwriter tunes. And given that the cast is typically young, pretty, energetic and white -- the perfect marketing demographic for everything from McDonald's burgers to iPhones -- I have a hard time seeing what's so subversive about this series (indeed, NBC is rumored to be negotiating for the series to prop up its primetime as the writers' strike forces more shows into reruns).
Or perhaps that's the truly sad lesson here: That Herskovitz and Zwick are so far inside the machine, that even when they're cut loose, what they produce falls neatly inside Hollywood's bounds of thinkable thought.