Updated: Nov 4, 2021
A girl realizes she’s pregnant (and giving birth) in a mall bathroom. A boy in a crop top struts across his high school campus to I Like Boys by Todrick Hall. A shy high schooler realizes her crush for a bold photographer classmate. And another guy secretly makes out with his twin sister’s boyfriend at a party. And this is only the first episode in this very queer look into Gen Z: Genera+ion.
Created by Zelda Barnes with the help of her fathers Daniel and Ben Barnes, the show follows a group of high schoolers in Orange County finding ways to be themselves against a conservative community. There’s Chester (Justice Smith), a flamboyant, openly gay student looking for love. Nathan (Uly Schlesinger) is figuring out how to handle his crush on Chester. His twin sister Naomi (Chloe East) is enjoying life and her friends with a boyfriend who may or may not be into Nathan. Greta (Haley Sanchez) is a shy high schooler who is starting to crush on Riley (Chase Sui Wonders). Riley is an assertive photographer who is dealing with her growing anxiety and her divorced parents. Arianna (Nathanya Alexander) is a foul-mouthed student who thinks she can make homophobic jokes because she has gay dads. Delilah (Lukita Maxwell) is a social justice warrior who inadvertently brings the group together to form a chosen family.
Genera+ion is one of my favorite pieces of media this year because of how down-to-earth and grounded it is compared to other high school-focused series of our time, despite what the introductory episode implies. Shows like Gossip Girl and Euphoria are too out there for a guy growing up in a small town in California. I didn’t throw lavish parties or do hard drugs like the 16-year-olds in those shows, and I presume that there’s a large denomination of people like me who have felt misrepresented by those shows. The kids in Genera+ion have small-scale parties, talk with friends, and share anxieties just like anyone else. There's a sense of authenticity being shown on screen that’s unlike anything else of the coming-of-age genre. For example, Chester asks Riley if she’s into girls, and she replies “what’s hot is hot,'' with the casual coolness that many Gen Z kids will employ when considering sexuality. A field trip detour leads to a fun game of Truth or Dare in the hotel. The show takes its characters and ideas seriously, but also revels in the fun and queerness of the teens of today; something that few previous generations have got the chance to experience.
The switching of perspectives between the many colorful characters helps avoid the boring conventions of a lot of similar TV shows. A prominent stylistic element in Genera+ion is the fact that certain episodes will have events play out from multiple points of view. For example, in the Pilot episode, we see what a normal day at school is like for Chester, before ending the night at a party at Riley’s house. We then flashback to the beginning of the same day to watch events unfold from Nathan and Greta’s points of view, and how their lives overlap before coming together for the conclusion. This element is critical because it helps reinforce the show’s main themes: diversity, inclusion, and no character too small. Every event means something to someone. Chester’s mini Magic Mike show in the school courtyard becomes a source of longing by Nathan. A positive comment about Riley’s photo from Greta might not seem like such a big deal but, in the show, it means a lot. It’s Greta’s first attempt at flirting with anybody. In the world of Genera+ion, special attention is given to these types of character details.
In September, HBO Max decided to cancel Genera+ion. And I’m still in shock. This show hit all the beats of being young, aimless and queer, while never being over the top, like other hit shows like Euphoria. When you have something that feels made exactly for you, you embrace it with every bone in your body, and make it yours.
So why should you see this show? Watch for the relatability of the modern teenage years. Watch to see Chester wear absolutely stunning outfits and not get bullied by jocks like he would in average TV shows. Watch to see an entire episode dedicated to Riley and her relationship with anxiety. Watch to support people of color in queer roles. And watch to see a messy group of queer students become a family in a special way. Over the course of 16 episodes, a generation of youth come alive for the world to see. And what a very special generation of people it is.