Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick's "Quarterlife" begins with its main character, Dylan (Bitsie Tulloch), asking, "What is a blog?" and following it up with, "We blog to exist, therefore we -- are idiots." Living up to her answer, Dylan then proceeds to post videos of her friends and roommates online without their consent, as well as videos of herself pondering the existential questions plaguing her mind.
With her introspective narration, Dylan seems to be channeling her inner Angela Chase, but the series' exploration of the minutia of life and love makes it feel more like the cousin of HBO's "Tell Me You Love Me" (that's what Dylan really wants). The series lacks the truthful beauty that made Herskovitz and Zwick's "My So-Called Life" a cult classic. Both Angela and Dylan are imperfect characters and largely selfish and self-involved, a necessary evil for introspective narrators. But where Angela was young and naïve and a blank slate learning about life, Dylan's musings come off as pretentious ramblings about what the characters should be feeling rather than what they are feeling. None of them feel real or complex enough to be honestly tackling the Big Questions.
The real social networking site within the show, www.quarterlife.com, doesn't live up to expectations either. Designed as a community for artists and creative individuals, the site doesn't offer anything that much different from MySpace/Facebook/LiveJournal/insert social networking sites. The qLife section, more neatly organized than MySpace, consists of articles, artist portfolios and music videos that scream, "Notice me!" Like the show, they feel produced and lack genuineness.
From computer screen to television screen
"Quarterlife" is expected to make the jump to NBC on February 18 at 9 p.m. The 36, eight minute-long online episodes will be combined into six hour-long episodes, but it's hard to imagine the series fitting in between "The Baby Borrowers" and "Medium." "Quarterlife" is the first of its kind on the internet - a series with television level production values and an established Hollywood pedigree in Herskovitz and Zwick ("Thirtysomething," "Once and Again" and numerous movies), who have also enlisted Devon Gummersall ("My So-Called Life") as a writer and Eric Stoltz ("Once and Again," "Some Kind of Wonderful") as a director. On television, however, it's just another navel-gazing series about twenty somethings freaking out that will mostly likely turn off viewers looking for "Deal or No Deal."
Still, it seems that the internet is where television is headed, especially as the networks scramble to fill their schedules during these strike-addled times. After all, isn't that the central conundrum of the writers' strike? The writers want a little piece of the revenue when their series go online.
"Quarterlife" was an attempt by Herskovitz and Zwick to avoid the very problem facing the currently striking writers by introducing a new business model of television production. Unlike most television series, Herskovitz and Zwick own the show and have completely creative control over "Quarterlife," a tenant that they state will continue once the show moves to NBC. Thus, even if the show fails to garner ratings on NBC, it can and most likely will continue as a webseries.
In making the leap from internet to television, not vice versa which is causing so much conflict between the WGA and the AMPTP, "Quarterlife" is the first of its kind. Is current "it" boy Michael Cera and Clark Duke's "Clark and Michael" next?
With the dearth of new episodes and media companies increasingly looking to the internet for new talent, it's not too hard to imagine more webseries making the jump to television. Bill Lawrence's ("Scrubs") rejected WB pilot, "Nobody's Watching," went from almost being on TV to becoming a YouTube sensation to almost being on TV again, this time on NBC. In 2006, Carson Daly Productions signed YouTube star Brooke Brodack to a talent deal. Even "Quarterlife," which consists mostly of vaguely familiar television actors such as Majandra Delfino ("Roswell") and Scott M. Foster ("Greek"), who comes closest to turning in an honest performance, has an internet star in Dylan. Bitsie Tulloch, who plays Dylan and looks oddly like McDreamy's new nurse love interest, appeared in the infamous "Lonelygirl15" YouTube series.
A new model of television?
The series' jump to NBC has become a topic of contention and debate surrounding the writers' strike. The deal raises questions about the series' protection from the strike (Herskovitz insists the scripts were finished before the strike) and the morality of helping NBC fill its schedule.
Herskovitz, however, sees "Quarterlife" as opening up a new model of television production, explaining to Deadline Hollywood Daily, "I'm an independent production company in television -- an extinct species brought back to life. The fact that I can negotiate a separate deal with the WGA is highly significant. If enough companies do that -- for instance Google as you mention in your column -- the AMPTP will lose all its leverage."
Financed independently of the networks by advertisers and private investors, "Quarterlife" enjoys a creative and financial freedom not beholden to the networks. Unlike the television programs of the striking writers, it is not dependent on the networks and big media conglomerates for its well-being and existence. As Herskovitz points out, this new model of independently financed and produced television gives more control to the series creator, effectively weakening the hold of the production studios.
"Quarterlife" isn't a creative cornerstone, but perhaps Herskovitz and Zwick's independent production will be a business cornerstone for future writers and directors. Only time will tell.