Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sepinwall on TV: 'Quarterlife' could come full circle from Web to TV

Today's column takes a look at Quarterlife, the HerskoZwick TV-to-web (and maybe back-to-TV) drama:
"Why do we blog?" asks Dylan, the heroine of "Quarterlife," a new online drama from "thirtysomething" creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick. "We blog to exist, therefore we... we are idiots."

Why do Herskovitz and Zwick blog? They blog to keep making their kind of show, therefore they... they are visionaries? Maybe?

"Quarterlife," about six friends and neighbors struggling to make sense of their 20s, was originally developed as a pilot (then called "1/4life") for ABC, where team HerskoZwick had previously produced not only "thirtysomething," but "My So-Called Life," "Relativity" and "Once and Again." The deal eventually fell through due to the famous creative differences, and even a few years ago, that would have been that.

But HerskoZwick weren't done with the idea yet, and there was this thing called the Internet (in case you haven't heard, it's a series of tubes) that was always hungry for new content. So "1/4life" has become "Quarterlife," a twice-weekly serial with its own Web site that's half devoted to the show - complete with the eight-minute episodes themselves, fictional blogs for the show's characters, real blogs for Herskovitz and Zwick, behind the scenes minutiae, etc. - and half to social networking. (It can get confusing whether you're making friends with another human being or a character, though I may just have trouble deciphering all the icons.)
To read the full thing, click here.


Anonymous said...

Alan, you are much kinder to this show that I was in my review. I don't know why, but everything about "quarterlife" rubbed me the wrong way. It screamed "fake" and "inauthentic" to me.

I'm actually a huge HerskoZwick fan, so maybe I hold them to higher standards. But I thought this show was painful to watch.

Or maybe I'm just at an age where I realize that people aren't very self-aware, and don't always say exactly what's on their minds (especially 20somethings). Most people can't even be honest with themselves.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Like I said in the review, Lizbeth, I think the blogging felt like two guys in their 50s trying to put their heads into people in their 20s -- thirtysomething and Once and Again were created at a time when Marshall ane Ed were those ages, and the other two shows had younger creators supervised by HerskoZwick -- but overall, the hyper-articulateness didn't seem different than on any of the previous shows. Teenagers are the most inarticulate form of humanity, and yet you had Angela Chase delivering weekly insightful monologues.

Anonymous said...

I guess my biggest problem with "Quarterlife" is that it actually felt like a parody of all HerskoZwick's other shows. As you pointed out, it recycled all those same elements HerskoZwick are known for (hyper-articulateness, moody, white affluent, educated whiners) -- without giving us anything original, new or actually insightful.

You know, as a parody, the show would work for me. Then, at least all that hyper-seriousness would be funny and fun to watch.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this yet, but I find the idea of an "internet" show being put on television to make up for original content while writers are striking over money from the internet....more ironic than most people could make up.

R.A. Porter said...

Woohoo. I'm Baby Bear between Alan and Lizbeth (though her review was the too-hard one and Alan's the too-soft.) Kidding of course. The days away have made me think I wasn't hard enough in my review.

I think the reason I cut it a bit more slack was that I found a lot of potential in the meta- aspects of quarterlife. The site within series within site notion *could* become more important to the show as it goes on, and if HerskoZwick (great name) let the characters breathe enough, the audience for this show could have far more impact on the direction of the show than any one that's come before.

Imagine someone's uploaded videoblog becoming the hit of quarterlife the community and crossing over into quarterlife the site. Dylan might be forced to confront her apparent lack of any real talent or depth through comments fans leave on her blog. Hell, someone *not white* might even slip through the bastions that way.

Of course if none of those things happen, this is just more whiny privileged people and I get enough of that when I open my mouth to complain of my lot in life. I don't need to hear *pretty* people doing it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm not sure how much HerskoZwick are going to be willing to embrace that aspect of the site, Richard. As the LA Times reviewer pointed out, outside of Dylan's webcam monologuing -- which is really just an updated version of Angela's diary narration -- "Quarterlife" is very much a conventional TV show that's just being shown on a website instead of a broadcast network.

The one thing about the blog-within-the-show-within-the-blog that bothers me -- though, admittedly, I'm about a decade older than these characters and didn't grow up with the Internet the way they did -- is Dylan's friends mostly not caring that she's airing their dirty laundry for anyone with a computer to see. She's using real names, even showing surreptitiously-shot video of them, and outside of Lisa the bartender's explosion (which gets forgotten an episode or two later), nobody really minds. Am I just that out of it, or are HerskoZwick trying too hard to be into it?

R.A. Porter said...

The few friends I have in that mid-20s age group are more circumspect than Dylan, for sure. I don't know whether that's because Dylan is a caricature or if it's because I avoid drama queens.

She also suffers quite a bit from the portrayal of writers in all media. She does *not* come across as a genius.

One of her lines from the premiere struck me as quite clever, but when I repeated it to my friend who'd not seen the show he thought I was reading too much into it.

A sad truth about my generation is that we were all geniuses in elementary school but apparently the people who deal with us never got our transcripts because they don't seem to be aware of it.

I heard that on two levels:
- HerskoZwick lamenting the fact that all children are told that they're special and brilliant and can be anything they want, and trying too hard to protect them from the harsh truths of life.
- HerskoZwick letting Dylan be self-aware enough to realize that.

My friend, maybe correctly, thinks it's just self-indulgence. Really believing that everyone's a hidden genius and everyone can do anything they want.

I guess for me, if the richer, self-aware interpretation is correct, there might be a show here trying to break out. If it's the latter interpretation, this is as bad as Dylan's vblogs.

And I'm very disappointed they're not going to try to create something new and original that really utilizes the medium. I suppose that's left to someone else.

Alan Sepinwall said...

For what it's worth, I interpreted the transcripts line the same way you did. It is, in fact, the main reason I kinda liked Dylan in spite of her epitomizing the whiny extremes of the HerskoZwick heroine.

And I'm not saying that Marshall and Ed definitely won't try to exploit the social networking half of the site, just that I'd be surprised if they did. They've been doing traditional storytelling for far too long; old dogs, new tricks, etc.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I just saw something online today that says "Quarterlife" *was* picked up for next fall:

Anonymous said...

Whooops...the comments chopped off the link I had in the last comment. Anyway, NBC picked it up and will be making it into 6 episodes.