February 26, 2008 Jill

quarterlife is premiering on NBC so maybe it’s time to take a look at what they’ve been doing on the web.

quarterlife is the product of writer-heroes Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick who gave us two landmark tv series: thirty-something and My So Called Life. Their web drama series has been available since November. There are currently 32 web episodes on line. New episodes are posted to the web every Sunday and Thursday at midnight.

The web episodes range in length from about 7 minutes to over 10, not counting the 7 second title sequence and the 1:20 of tail credits. Every six episodes share a title, which means that a web episode is the equivalent of one act of a television hour.

quarterlife is the story of a group of twenty-somethings grappling with the beginnings of their careers and with their relationships. It’s something that I’m a sucker for; emotional porn. Herskovitz, who wrote the first (6) episode(s), is a master at coming in close on the feelings and having every character talk about them.

The show is about seven friends. Herskovitz quickly establishes the bonds between each of the characters and also the tensions between them. Dylan shares an apartment with Debra. Debra is going out with Danny who works with his best friend Jed. Jed is in love with Debra and Dylan is in love with Jed. Jed and Danny are trying to make commercials, Jed wants to be artistic, Danny wants to satisfy the client. And everyone talks about how they feel and tries to reveal the truth about themselves and each other.

What follows is part of an exchange in Part/Act 5 between Dylan and her third flatmate, the beautiful but emotionally stunted would-be actress, Lisa:

Dylan: A job is where you check your soul at the door and do the bidding of people who are trying to exploit humanity.

Lisa: Say that again.

Dylan: Where you give up your dignity in order to help strip others of theirs; where your greatest asset is inauthenticity. That’s a job.

Lisa: You know you make me mad.

Dylan: Because I blogged you?

Lisa: Because you walk around acting like a victim when no one’s ever done anything to you. Nobody can do anything to you because you’re the toughest person I’ve ever met.

There are six story threads running through the first hour/6 web episodes. Jed and Danny are making their first commercial. Dylan is experimenting with a video blog and using it to reveal her friends’ secrets. Lisa’s acting teacher tells her she doesn’t know who she is and isn’t in touch with her feelings. Debra and Danny are planning to move in together, but he appears to have cold feet. There’s a story line about Dylan at work and then there’s the major love triangle with Jed in love with Danny’s girlfriend, Debra and Dylan in love.

Online, quarterlife is part of larger site that includes a social network, taglined “A community for artists, thinkers and do-ers”.  You can join and put up a profile page, much like your profile on Facebook.  You can also look at the characters’ profiles, their blog entries and video uploads.

Comments (5)

  1. Saw it last night. This is “Twentysomething” and I really hated it when it was “Thirtysomething.” It has diminished with age…

    Zwick and Herskovitz are mining the same territory they always have, and I have to say the soil is all played out. Nothing can grow there except kudzu…

  2. I don’t know about kudzu but I have to agree with the noted similarities to “Thirty Something”. I caught “Quarterlife” last night too and my immediate reaction was: “Ahhh, as these guys get older their trying to swim upstream to the shores of the younger demographic.” That can be kinda sad, in a way.

    I’m eager to see how the online component plays out both in and of itself, in relation to the broadcast component and, ultimately, in how either side feeds (or impedes) the other.

    At first blush the characters are the usual quirky mix that attempt to cross a range of types and thereby attract a wider cross-section of the desired audience. How closely these characters – and what obsesses them – hew to their “target” I don’t really know. I’m a curmudgeonly 50 year old who has to concentrate when watching shows like this so as not to have his perceptions tainted with envy at the young – regardless of how facile their lives may seem.

    Shows like this have, traditionally, “grown” as opposed to bursting on the scene as a complete audience phenomenon. They require time (an increasingly limited resource, it seems) to develop with their audience and find the richness of the characters and bond with the viewers. Perhaps the online aspects of this narrative will help speed up this process or dig a little deeper into the consciousness of the crowd. I don’t know.

    I do know we can expect to see more and more of these kinds of “diary entry” narratives, where the self-expressive technologies that are increasingly pervasive in our day-to-day communicative lives get reflected (finally) in the dramatic discourse that passes for entertainment. Having it reflected within one format is one thing – seeing it broken apart and spread across formats, to truly use the “web” of communication we are clambering through (or caught up in), will be a true reflection of where we are as a culture.

    In the meantime, I’m content to sit in the kudzu and watch it grow – before deciding to either water it or cut it down.


  3. admin

    I explored the quarterlife site yesterday for the first time in months and one thing that struck me was that it was not well used. For example, Dylan — the lead character in the series — only has about 300 odd friends. She doesn’t have thousands of comments. That really surprised me and suggested to me that they haven’t been promoing the social networking aspects of the series. I’d be interested in knowing how many people are watching the show online. Is it a big hit? Most of the press I’ve read about have highlighted the tv-web and back to tv side of the story. I haven’t read anything about viewers being totally addicted to the series or a huge audience. I sure would like to know.

  4. As I was watching last night, I kept yelling at the screen,” Would you like some cheese to go with that whine?”

    And then, lo and behold, after the 2nd act the cheese showed up all on its own…

  5. Stephen

    For what it’s worth – I’m from the generation that loved thirtysomething because it was so accurate. That makes me a little old for quarterlife’s demographics.

    That aside, I found the acting stilted, many characters mailing in their lines without much emotion, and the plot was so well hidden that it escaped the writing staff. If anything is going anywhere, they aren’t letting the audience in on the secret.

    And… I would have assumed a webpage somewhere, maybe even a mySpace existence, but nobody told me about it for the time I could stomach watching the show.

    Honestly, it was surprising how little show seemed to care about anything.

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