Reality Bites is outdated, nauseating, and tacky -- yet totally wonderful -- all at once. Released in 1994, the movie is Generation X’s first look into those frightening few years after college. The quixotic characters are exhausting and, at times, a bit over the top; Troy (Ethan Hawke), for all intents and purposes, is a product of the times: a Kurt Cobain clone, sans plight and debilitating drug use. But, hey, that’s Hollywood. Last year’s Young Adult, about a 37-year-old alcoholic divorcee (Charlize Theron) facing her shortcomings and past poor decisions, feels like the unofficial sequel.
Our generation has, for the most part, been devoid of our own Reality Bites -- modern films or television shows that tap into the insecurities, ambitions, and general disillusionment of “direction” that pierce every post-graduate's consciousness during those pivotal “What now?” years. The natural heir to the throne was MTV's The Real World, but the producers decided instead to create a hotbed for stereotypical casts who break the fourth wall while accentuating their expected demeanor, thus exposing their self-awareness. HBO's How To Make It In America skated around these concepts but skewed too old and strangely felt like Entourage for hipsters.
Enter MTV's I Just Want My Pants Back. It's easy to dismiss the show as a vehicle ingratiated in shock value -- for the most part, its plotlines are unabashedly salacious -- but to its credit (or its detriment?) Pants doesn't mask itself as something more.
In the first half of the season, the show’s story arcs ranged from “We've all been there or known someone who's been there” (a pregnancy scare) to “I know someone who did that” (a foursome) to “I've been there myself” (an STD scare; just kidding, not me!) to “I know a guy who knows another guy whose cousin did that” (having sex in a refrigerator). And as ridiculous as it is on the surface, Pants, the first season of which came to a close this past Thursday night, wants to tap into the misguided notion of “I'm growing up! Wait a minute, I did what last weekend?!”
I'm not saying it's riveting television, but in its own twisted way, Pants succeeds.
“I look at it as that time in life which is the golden age of screwing up and screwing around,” said Pants’ producer, David J. Rosen. “You are sort of getting away with stuff. You don't really realize you're getting away with it, but when you look back at it, you think of stuff you did because maybe you were bored or you didn't want to sit around alone.”
The show adapts many of its incredulous stories from the book of the same title, which Rosen wrote. Both entities hone in on the main character of Jason, who’s struggling with the lack of progress in his life, both personally and professionally.
“[The show] really looked at life in Brooklyn, where you have times when there are prospects and times when you don't,” Rosen said. “You're injected into this world that you thought you had to be an adult when you were in college. Now, you really have to be an adult. You're out, living on your own. What are you going to do? Literally, what are you going to do today?”
The book is far weightier in its content than the TV adaptation. For instance, Rosen and company decided to omit Jason's neighbor, Patty, who finds out she has lung cancer. Another sequence involves Jason learning how his selfish desires can alter another person's life when he unknowingly takes the virginity of a med school student. But Rosen assured me that the suits at MTV are not averse to broaching serious plots. He said if the network orders a second season of episodes, he’ll focus on more in-depth storytelling rather than cursory tales of the bedroom.
The TV adaptation does, however, offer an exemplar of the conventional route to combat Jason's sophomoric lifestyle through the engaged couple of Stacey and Eric, described by friends as the “power couple” because the former is in law school and latter is finishing up med school. Their insertion into the show provides a traditional narrative: You go to college, then maybe grad school, and finally, you get married. But more importantly, Stacey and Eric give the show balance, proving that not everyone in the Pants universe tampers in errant behavior. Rosen said he’s not opposed to structured life decisions and included the two characters to create a realistic atmosphere, but he concedes that their path is not central to what Pants is about.
“Some people latch on to things immediately because it's easier than opening your mind up to the assault of possibilities,” he said. “But really, this is the time in life when we get our best stories -- the ones you spend the rest of your life telling. [The show’s creators] got together and said, 'Let’s make a show telling these stories.’”
That’s why, as I watch a character date the lead singer of a Green Day cover band on Pants, I shrug. I’m not particularly intrigued, but like Rosen said, it’s one of those stories we keep telling -- even if it only makes sense to us.
Did you watch the first season of I Just Want My Pants Back? What did you think of the show?
About Ryan -- Ryan Hadfield is a writer for WEEI.com, predominantly covering the Boston Celtics and hosting a media podcast. He is currently working on his first book, The 25th Year: 12 Months of Suspect Choices and Strange Events. Follow him on Twitter @R_Hadfield.
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