Underemployed is the network's best scripted drama in years, but the channel's fixation on increasingly outlandish reality TV may have killed audience appetite for programs like it.
Ever since Lena Dunham's Girls premiered to the alternately rapturous and outraged reactions upon which zeitgeists are made, networks have been scrambling to find "a voice of a generation" of their own. Just last week, Comedy Central ordered a pilot of Broad City, a comedy web series about a pair of friends trying to make it in New York. A few days later, NBC announced plans to develop a sitcom based on the Tumblr blog "Fuck! I'm in My Twenties." But MTV must have worked fast: Its version, Underemployed, premieres Tuesday night.
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The comedic drama follows five college friends' post-collegiate lives in Chicago, playing up the incompatibility between these creative types' lofty ambitions and the bleak career prospects that now await most newly graduated humanities majors. A bookish and sexually innocent academic achiever takes a job in a doughnut shop, complete with a humiliating doughnut-shaped beret. An idealistic conservationist must beg his polluting businessman father for a corporate job after his ex-girlfriend surfaces, nine months pregnant with his baby. Glossier and more self-serious than Girls, Underemployed's warmhearted portrayal of these characters and their relationships (not to mention its appreciably more diverse cast) makes it more than just a crass attempt to cash in on TV's vogue for aimless young adults flailing in urban settings.
As promising as the show is, though, it may already be doomed. Drama series have long been a dicey proposition for MTV, and most of its recent attempts at scripted programming that aims to realistically portray young people lives' haven't fared well. Although Underemployed could turn out to be an anomaly like Awkward, a remarkably smart and punchy teen comedy that will air its third season in 2013, its earnestness may consign it to a fate more similar to last year's notorious flop, Skins. The heavily hyped American adaptation of a risqué British teen drama generated plenty of controversy but couldn't attract enough viewers to survive past its first season. I Just Want My Pants Back, which followed the personal and professional lives of 20-somethings in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, suffered from a similar lack of interest.