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TELEVISION REVIEW

When stereotypes grow up, they grow old

Jaime King (left) and Mehcad Brooks in “My Generation.’’ The show is about people who came of age in the 2000s. Jaime King (left) and Mehcad Brooks in “My Generation.’’ The show is about people who came of age in the 2000s. (Bill Matlock/ABC)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / September 23, 2010

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When I think of shows like “My Generation,’’ I wish they would all f-f-fade away, as the Who once sang.

This new scripted ABC drama, which airs tonight at 8 on Channel 5, is an attempt to draw a group portrait of those who came of age in the 2000s. But it ends up as a mediocre drama that probably won’t last very long, despite airing in the same ABC programming block as “Grey’s Anatomy.’’ It’s trite and forced, a collection of cardboard types rather than characters.

I like the narrative format of the show, which could have potential in the right hands. It’s a faux documentary, meant to be like the Michael Apted “Up’’ movie series that revisits the same group of kids (now adults) every seven years. Ten years ago, the show’s documentary crew tracked nine Austin, Texas, high school seniors. Now, the filmmakers hook up with the same group, to see if their dreams came true during the intervening decade. There’s the jock, Rolly (Mehcad Brooks); the punk, Dawn (Kelli Garner); the beauty queen, Jackie (Jaime King); the nerd, Kenneth (Keir O’Donnell); and so on and so forth. And those oversimplified labels aren’t mine, by the way; the show uses them as shortcuts.

Naturally, no one’s life went according to plan. The overachiever (Michael Stahl-David) is a surfing-loving bartender in Hawaii, and the wallflower (Anne Son) is a single mother (ah, prom night). But what strains credibility is that so many of them were somehow directly involved in all of the iconic events of the decade, including the war in Iraq, the Bush-Gore election, the Enron scandal, and Hurricane Katrina. It’s much too pat, especially for a show that is presented as a documentary. A strong and awkward sense of scriptedness pushes its way through the show’s documentary device; the content conflicts with the style.

Just as the characters were all in the right places in the 2000s to make “My Generation’’ seem representative and important, the documentarians always seem to be in the right places, too, to capture the big dramatic moments between their reunited subjects. All the “accidental’’ footage feels way too artificially planned. And those moments — pent-up confrontations, decade-old revelations — are unmemorable, anyway, since not a single one of the characters is especially sympathetic or distinctive. Indeed, of the many problems with “My Generation,’’ the lack of compelling characters is the biggest one. When it comes to serial TV, individuals need to trump the zeitgeist every time.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

MY GENERATION

Starring: Daniella Alonso, Mehcad Brooks, Kelli Garner, Michael Stahl-David, Anne Son, Jaime King, Keir O’Donnell

On: ABC, Ch. 5

Time: Tonight, 8-9