NBC's new series "Quarterlife" is alternately insightful and navel-gazing, amusing and maddening, with characters you alternately want to hug and punch in the face.
So, I guess, mission accomplished: This is a show about the struggles of post-collegiate life, and when you're in your mid-20s, the contradictions come fast and heavy.
The question then becomes: Do you want to spend an hour a week with these people? Especially when, considering the show's origins, you don't have to?
"Quarterlife" began its own life as an online series, albeit one with the auspices of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, the producing team behind "thirtysomething," "My So-Called Life" and "Once and Again." It's been airing in short installments -- roughly the length of one act on conventional TV -- for the past couple of months. The NBC version will aggregate the 36 of the online show, compressed a little for time, into six one-hour installments starting Tuesday night and then moving to Sundays starting March 2.
The show centers on Dylan Kreiger (Bitsie Tulloch), a struggling "editorial associate" at a teen magazine who also keeps a video blog about her life and those of her close friends, including her roommate Debra (Michelle Lombardo); Jed (Scott Michael Foster) and Danny (David Walton),the pair of aspiring filmmakers across the courtyard; and bartender-actress Lisa (Maite Schwartz).
And it's there, of course, that the conflict arises. Dylan is often brutally honest in her observations about the people around her (and every once in a while about herself), but rather than speaking plainly to them she records her feelings on her vlog. Her friends eventually stumble on it, and the recriminations ensue.
Dylan half-heartedly defends herself -- she's a writer, she has to be honest -- but she rarely finds the spine to step up and do things, either at work, where she's a head-down afterthought, or in her personal life, where she pines for Jed, who in turn is pining for Debra, who's dating Danny. Somehow, though, Lisa still manages to think of Dylan as "the toughest person I've ever met."
The characters' romantic longing and inability to say what's really on their minds will be familiar to any fan of Herskovitz and Zwick's previous shows; "Quarterlife," in fact, kind of fills in a chronological gap between "My So-Called Life" and "thirtysomething" in their work. As with all their shows, it looks good, the acting is solid and the writing often sharp.
Tuesday's premiere has a fine moment when Lisa calls out Dylan for talking out of turn on the vlog, and Dylan protests that no one reads the site (also called Quarterlife) anyway because it's in beta mode. "My entire acting class saw it," Lisa wails, and it's all Dylan can do to contain her excitement at knowing she's not talking into empty space.
At other times, though, the dialogue sounds a little tin-eared. In that same scene, Lisa complains about Dylan putting her "all over the frickin' Net" -- does anyone call it the Net anymore? And even though the exploring the idea of the different ways we present ourselves online and in real life is an intriguing one, that built-in self-reflexiveness can be a bit much.
How much of that you're willing to take may depend on how far removed you are from the stage in life that "Quarterlife" depicts. I'm about 10 years older than the show's characters, which means that my mid-20s are not so far gone that I don't remember feeling like the king of all the world at times and at a complete loss at others. But I'm also removed enough from that time that I can shake my head and tell these kids to just get over themselves.