Generation Cryo: TV Review
Monday at 10 p.m. on MTV, beginning Nov. 25
MTV's docuseries zeros in on a very 21st century idea: What are the lives of children conceived by anonymous sperm donation like?
After a bevy of reality misfires, from the latest Real World to the obscene Buck Wild and the forgettable Washington Heights, MTV has come up with Generation Cryo, a documentary series that may actually carry some resonance. The teens and young adults featured in this six-part series are from all over the country, and have one thing in common -- they were all conceived via sperm donation from the same donor.
Generation Cryo focuses on one girl's journey -- Breeanna, 17 -- as she seeks out her half-siblings through the Donor Sibling Registry. Along the way, she also hopes to gain enough clues and support to meet the man who is half-responsible for 15 young lives. It's a subject that also is currently being portrayed in the Vince Vaughn movie Delivery Man, a remake of a popular 2011 French-language Canadian film, Starbuck, which takes a look at things from the perspective of the donor finding out about all those he helped create.
There are a lot of things about Generation Cryo that make it worthwhile, but number one among them is Breeanna. She's a dynamic, likable and self-assured focal point for the series. The half-siblings she sets out to contact and meet (some of whom have met each other in the past via that same website) also are -- at least as of the first two episodes -- incredibly normal. They actually look and act like teenagers, not the spoiled fashionistas or the conniving villains who usually populate reality shows. It's refreshing.
On Breeanna's journey (which, for all its charm, sometimes can feel a little too producer-prompted in its magical nature), she meets half-siblings whose families represent the gamut of reasons for choosing sperm donation, and also a spectrum of feelings about it. Breeanna has two mothers, but others were raised by single mothers, or in nuclear families where natural conception turned out not to be possible. In the premiere's most moving scene, a father tears up when discussing his insecurities with his non-biological children, "I failed in doing the one thing a man is supposed to be able to do."
These settings seem to inform how the children later react to the notion of being the product of sperm donation (a fact that it seems almost all of them have been told at a young age). The children (many are twins) of single mothers say they yearn for a father figure and want to find the donor, whereas others worry about offending the father they know and love, who raised them (ideas about nature versus nurture come up a lot). Issues about how the donor, if found, would fit into their lives, and what this means to all those affected are addressed frankly and, often, very emotionally. These are the same kinds of things also brought up in adoption documentaries, but Generation Cryo distinguishes itself both in the number of connected siblings at play, as well as the casual, but also sci-fi comments specific to sperm donation, like "Can I borrow your DNA?"
Though the mystery of the donor's identity and Breeanna's quest to find him drives part of the story (in fact, it's something one of her half-siblings disapproves of vehemently as an invasion of privacy), her new connections with her half-siblings are the series' core. The variety of the families met, in terms of where they live and their personal stories, is fascinating in its normalcy.
The character-driven docuseries format of the the show may at first look run-of-the-mill, but beyond its surface appearance Generation Cryo is genuinely engaging. It's also reminiscent of MTV's older documentary series, before the reality boom that it helped create. MTV is even keeping some relevance to the series' appearing on its channel by identifying for viewers the music that plays underneath the scenes during the episode, music that is occasionally actually under the radar. MTV being cool and culturally relevant again? Perhaps the most surprising thing unearthed by Generation Cryo is not the new ideas of what family means in the 21st century, but the fact that it is MTV that's driving the conversation in a meaningful way.