Right after finishing the very first episode and right before reading what the A.V. Club’s TV Club thought about it seemed like the perfect time to write my review of MTV’s Underemployed.
As a recent college graduate, the premise instantly caught my attention. Five young Chicagoans begin their first episode slightly buzzed on the eve of their graduation, dreaming about where they’re going to be in a year. Throwing lofty goals back and forth they’ve already begun planning their 1-year reunion where they’ll celebrate their “world domination.”
The characters are Lou and Raviva, the couple who broke up so that both parties could go on to pursue their dreams [grad school and music, respectively], Miles, the would-be model, Daphne, the aspiring advertiser, and author-to-be Sophia, who I lovingly dubbed “VA” for “virginal Asian girl” [I thought the full acronym somewhat inappropriate].
Flashforward to the present and, to make things easier myself, the friends find themselves making up the following list:
- Lou is street-canvassing [fundraising] for an environmental organization.
- Raviva is working at a bar in which music is played.
- Miles is a part-time male stripper.
- Daphne is an unpaid intern at an advertising agency.
- Sophia is working at a “Donut Girl” and is still a virgin.
Now, before I get any further, I’ll have you know that I am a sucker for ensemble shows. Friends is television gold as far as I’m concerned, and as a result I’m fairly into Community, and, even more recently [and into], Happy Endings. That being said, Wikipedia’s extremely scant article on the show categorizes it as a comedy-drama, or “dramedy.” The problem is, the show is heavy on the drama, and very light on the humour.
Raviva shows up at Lou and Miles’ apartment pregnant. This, of course, creates the situation of Lou realizing he needs to take care of her. How this is dealt with is almost painful, and awkward in a way that just isn’t funny. His clumsy attempts at trying to find out whether or not he’s the father aren’t even cringe-worthy in a way that’s entertaining [see: The Office].
Elsewhere Daphne lets her super-hunky boss know that she has been an unpaid intern for one year, a premise that made me so livid I thought I was going to spit. He, in turn, asks he out to lunch, where they kiss, and then proceed to have sex in his car [after promising her that he’ll work things out].
On the smaller side of things, a cougary woman gives Miles her card while he works catering at an art gallery, which piques his interests since it reads “GQ.” They later have sex. Sophia meets an old classmate who is, of course, on the pathway to success, and his boss, who is a lawyer.
None of these things in and of themselves are terrible, the problem is pacing. Almost everything that’s introduced is almost instantly resolved, meaning that as viewers we don’t have much to look forward in the next episode, or the season to come in general.
For starters, Raviva wastes absolutely no time in giving birth to a beautiful baby girl. Miles finds a job with his dad [albeit after many, many interviews], and Daphne confronts her boss and demands to be paid [and coming out with a great deal of $750 a week and a parking space]. On the comedic side even the joke of Miles thinking he’s gotten a modelling gig is explained away in seconds. The man he thinks is Calvin Klein straight-up tells him that “You’re here to serve mojitos, and mini tacos, and eye candy.”
As far as events that completely blindside the viewer out of nowhere, Sophia is invited out on the phone. We’re led to believe it’s her former classmate, but it’s his boss, which is surprising. What’s even more surprising is that his boss makes a move on her. And then they are having lesbian sex and I no longer had any idea what was going on.
You can tell that somehow the people at MTV realized how the plot leaves us without much to look forward to [save for Daphne’s continuing tryst with hunky boss] by how the episode ends. With a voiceover and caption saying “this season, on Underemployed” followed by almost two full minutes of what’s to come.
In the end, I found myself interested in watching future episodes, but only because of what the teaser provided. While Sophia hints at her search for sexual identity by telling Daphne that “I might be [different]” it takes the teaser to slap us in the face with her saying “I don’t know what my sexuality is.” In other news, new parents Miles and Raviva will struggle, and cheat on each other [just tongue action, as far as I can tell]! All of these things serve to pull the viewer in, but none of these hooks can be found in the pilot.
I’ll probably be tuning in next week to watch at least the second episode, but it’s not very likely. While Underemployed scratches the surface of what it means to find purpose in life after dreams crash and burn, its pacing and distinct lack of laughs also means that it offers a look at life after college that moves both quickly and joylessly.
Stray Observations [something the TV Club does and that I’ve always wanted to do]:
- None of these characters have average, run-of-the-mill names. To be fair, neither did most of the cast of Friends.
- For kids who’ve just gone through four years of college, those are some pretty unrealistic goals. Touring as a musician? Writing [let along publishing] a novel?
- It is oddly refreshing, however, to see an Asian character who majored in English and is big into writing.
- While I have complained about a dearth of humour, there was a line, said by Raviva’s mother, that I thought was funny: “She is like a set of Russian dolls right now, and every one of them is a total b-tch.”
- Finding out that Miles became a male stripper was also pretty funny.
- The episode ends with the five friends having dinner in the biggest apartment I have ever seen. I’m talking bigger than the apartment in New Girl, and a little bigger even than Dave and Max’s in Happy Endings.
- Finally, the show made the decision of actually saying the title of the show in the following line by Sophia: “If life is just about working and earning money we’re all screwed. But if life is about living, none of my friends are underemployed.” I hope they’re proud of themselves for that.
Tuesdays, 10 p.m. EST