Genera+ion follows a group of teens wrestling with their sexuality in Anaheim, California. They agonize over crushes and lash out at well-meaning adults. Early episodes are rough. A jumble of characters and tones without a through line. Half way in things improve. The writers narrow their focus, dispense with a cartoonish subplot, and allow everyone to breathe.
The result is a sort of LGBT+ utopia (That + is referenced in the show’s title). No one is bullied or ostracized for their sexuality. They’re given the freedom to figure themselves out alongside their cis straight peers.
Chester (Justice Smith) is an out and proud fashionista. His brash persona hides deep insecurities. Nathan (Uly Schlesinger) is a bisexual neurotic from a dysfunctional family. Chester offers mentor-ship but Nathan wants more. Queer male friendships are rare in media. The show could have paired them off or made the friendship toxic (ala Queer as Folk.) Instead, the dynamic remains messy but supportive as they pursue romances apart from each other.
Greta (Haley Sanchez) is a mopey introvert. She’s nursing a crush on Riley (Chase Sui Wonders), a cool photographer. Eventually the writers realize Greta is a drag and switch perspective to Riley. We learn that her chill persona is hiding a messy past and a simmering rage. The combination of actress and material transforms her from a cipher to most dynamic character on the show.
What’s Not There Yet
The series was created by the teenage Zelda Barnz with her father Daniel. She’s stated in interviews that she wanted to write about the lived experience of her Gen Z friends. So, it’s odd that the straight women on the show are shrill caricatures.
Chloe East, Lukita Maxwell and Nathanya Alexander play a trio of spoiled brats. Instead of your typical mean girls they’re woke scolds who give hypocritical lectures about feminism. An early subplot involves one going into labor in a mall bathroom while the others scramble to assist. It’s treated as a piece of slapstick with no concern for the safety of the baby. The writing feels cruel and out of touch.
Martha Plimpton works wonders with the role of Nathan’s prudish mother. A society lady who’ll drink with her gay friends but gasp in horror when her son kisses a boy. Her silly rants about the “kids today” are meant to be laughed at. But Plimpton transforms her into a deeply lonely woman who knows she has lost all connection to her son. The writers give her straw and she spins it into gold.
Spoiled for Choice
LGBT+ teen media is having a moment. You can find shows focused on romance (Love, Victor, Young Royals), comedy (Sex Education), tragedy (Euphoria, 13 Reasons Why), arty drama (We Are Who We Are) or pulpy mystery (Elite, the new Gossip Girl). Genera+ion is primarily a comedy. It offers LGBT and Ace rep with an interesting group of characters. Despite some early mishaps I enjoyed the show and would watch a second season.
The Genera+ion Podcast offers behind the scenes interviews with the artists and creatives. You can find more of my reviews on The Avocado and Letterboxd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.