Empty10-11 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 26
It has come to this at we-don't-need-no-stinking-pilot-season NBC: In order for a scripted drama to make it onto the network primetime air, it must first prove itself on the Internet.
At least, that's the gestation process that led to six hours of life for "quarterlife" (lower case "q"), the brainchild of "thirtysomething" (lower case "t") creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick that we might rightly call "My So-Called Blog" -- given that these guys also were behind the short-lived teen angst hour "My So-Called Life." The breakthrough component here is that "quarterlife" began its life, and continues to exist, as a cyberspace phenomenon that has to date shot 36 eight-minute webisodes that aired first on MySpace in November and then later at quarterlife.com. It is said to have generated about 250,000 viewers per installment, a massive audience for the online world. To think it sprang from the ashes of a failed pilot that Herskovitz-Zwick shot for ABC in 2005. Lemons, meet lemonade.
One naturally might have some trepidation when approaching a new series produced exclusively for computer monitors, and indeed NBC's gambit to condense the 36 pieces into six network episodes is not without its issues. For starters, every commercial break tends to have a trumped-up dramatic feel, since in reality those stoppages signaled the end of a segment designed to tease you to watch another. But in fact "quarterlife" overcomes that stylistic shortcoming to deliver a slick, heartfelt soap opera populated by believable young characters and a quick-cut feel that dexterously walks the fine line between perpetual bathos and wry humor. Nobody is better at crafting this kind of ensemble dialogue, blended with "Big Chill"-esque interaction, than Herskovitz-Zwick, and this Net-generated hour is no exception.
The series revolves, not surprisingly, around a cyber conceit: a smart and conflicted aspiring writer named Dylan (Bitsie Tulloch) who has this nasty habit of exposing all of her friends' secrets on her video-driven blog entitled -- what else? -- quarterlife. She hangs with her fellow twentysomething pals (think "Dawson's Creek" with somewhat less precocious irony) in and around a nameless town. They include the hunky aspiring filmmakers Danny (David Walton) and Jed (Scott Michael Foster), the thinking-woman's slut Lisa (Maite Schwartz), the earthy-but-alluring Debra (Michelle Lombardo) and designated geekster Andy (Kevin Christy), easily the least interesting and most cliched of this group.
There's plenty of soapy elements here to attract not only the MTV-generation member of your household but anybody else, too. And as you might well imagine, much of it surrounds the libido. Danny is attached to Debra, whom Jed covets from afar (or a-close, actually). Jed is an artiste, even when he's shooting a car commercial, which appeals to the torn-jeans ethos of the self-absorbed Dylan. Lisa will sleep with anything that breathes, but she wants to change -- oh does she want to change. Danny looks early on to be cheating with a car saleswoman (Bree Taylor). And Andy craves anyone who will consider him.
Doesn't sound like the formula for compelling, consequential drama, but "quarterlife" manages to take these typically narcissistic young adults and make them legitimately interesting. We care about them early on, a testament to the writer-producers' effortless comfort in this milieu.
"Quarterlife" arrives at an auspicious time for NBC, having the advantage of getting a foothold before the onslaught of post-strike original product. Its success or failure ultimately depends on how well these characters play in their journey from Net to network. The two episodes screened (Nos. 1 and 4) make for surprisingly promising prospects.
The Bedford Falls Co.
Executive producers: Marshall Herskovitz, Ed Zwick
Co-executive producer: Joshua Gummersall
Teleplay: Herskovitz, Devon Gummersall
Directors: Marshall Herskovitz, John Sacret Young
President, quarterlife Online: Melanie Hall
Associate producer: Mickie Reuster
Directors of photography: Nicole Hirsch Whitaker, John O'Shaughnessy
Production designer: Chuck Parker
Costume supervisor: Lindsay McMichael
Editors: Jennifer Pulver, Lauren Schaffer
Music supervisor: Jennifer Ross
Music: W.G. Snuffy Walden
Casting: Joy Dickson, Nicole Arbusto
Dylan Krieger: Bitsie Tulloch
Lisa Herford: Maite Schwartz
Jed Foster: Scott Michael Foster
Danny Franklin: David Walton
Debra Locatelli: Michelle Lombardo
Andy Melman: Kevin Christy
Brittany: Barret Swatek
Carly: Bree Taylor