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Jeremy Axelrod Headshot

"quarterlife": Gen-Y Bloggers Shake The Cradle

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In his hatchet-whirling review of "quarterlife", Slate's television critic Troy Patterson has also showcased the series' sole brilliance: its nauseating realism. "Protagonist Dylan Krieger is the chief self-absorbee," as Patterson describes her:

"Why aren't you happy?" one of her friends asks in a lighter moment. Dylan responds in a preteen pout: "I don't feel like it." It's supposed to be cute.

He's right: That ironically adolescent retort isn't cute, but Dylan thinks it is. Which is the devious point of this budding series about budding Brooklyn malcontents. The curse of an infantilized generation is its infancy, constantly in tug-of-war with adult contexts that cutesy pouting and self-interested blogging can't possibly work through. A genuinely charming pouter, or conversely a woman too mature to pout, would have none of the resonance that Dylan does with Gen-Y web-surfers, precisely because teenage vices are what make any televised twenty-something believable. The grating heartache and humiliations Dylan's peers suffer arise mainly out of how lame they all are, which is what makes them real enough to their viewers to eke sympathy in the first place.

"quarterlife" dives headlong into the fantasy of the Gen-Y blogger, who writes internet postings as though he or she doesn't truly expect to be read. Listen closely to the language of most youths' personal blogs--the kind which publish diary-style musings--and you will discern a voice that's anxious to authenticate itself by sounding unaware of how it will be perceived.

Dylan's bedroom soliloquies and I-just-bit-a-lemon frowns look like the usual diaristic fumblings of self-navigation that have snowballed lately into a culture of confessional YouTube clips--canonical descendants of the LonelyGirl15 character who, if she appeared back in the '80s, might just have written bad poetry and shelved it in her closet. Consider how Dylan airs her secret love for another character on her blog, only to delete the confession later when, serendipitously, the object of her otiose affection tumbles into the bedroom to gush privately over her foxy roommate. It's a sad, funny moment, but who cares -- what should interest us is that it's also a snapshot of an entry made in cognizance of what its audience will think. Somehow, the context of the personal blog always shouts, "I wrote this for myself, not for the impression it would give those who happen to read it," when the obvious narcissism at work tells a different story. This is not even quite self-love; it's love of the self projected on the blog; it's the love of an image Dylan wants her readers to think she sees in the mirror, and moreover, she wants to think she sees it too.

Many avid viewers of "quarterlife" probably recognize themselves somehow in the show, but they may not necessarily know why. Really, they are watching their own blog posts, edited and acted with more flair and better plot. Because "quarterlife" is about the social network it's launched, and on which it airs, the show quite literally models for bloggers the characters that they will concoct with their own, similarly formatted profiles -- even now that the show is on regular TV. But viewers who find "quarterlife" nauseating for the immaturity of the characters and the occasional shallowness of the plot should note that its characters are nauseated with themselves for the same reasons. Like bloggers, "quarterlife" characters are in possession of a conflicted double-image: They are children and they are adults, and the latter half shakes its cradle-bars in frustration.