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Review: College grads meet the real world — sorta — in 'Underemployed'

Five pretty people face life after college in "Underemployed," debuting Tuesday on MTV. And surprise, it is not what they expected. Neither is the show.

October 16, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Michelle Ang is one of the stars of MTV's new scripted series, "Underemployed."
Michelle Ang is one of the stars of MTV's new scripted series, "Underemployed." (MTV )

In "Underemployed," which commences Tuesday on MTV, the youth network, five pretty people face life after college. Shockingly, it is not what they expected.

The series, which is set in the lovely — and this season, much-used — city of Chicago, comes from Craig Wright, who created the ABC one-percenter soap "Dirty Sexy Money." It begins as a tightly knit clutch of graduating seniors imagine success in their chosen fields; then it jumps ahead ever so slightly to see where time has taken them.

One year on, Sophia (Michelle Ang), an aspiring novelist, is selling doughnuts in a silly hat. Miles (Diego Boneta), an aspiring Calvin Klein underwear model — you have your dream, let him have his — is delivering strip-o-grams. Daphne (Sarah Habel), who wants to be in advertising, is an unpaid and casually abused intern; Lou (Jared Kusnitz), who was going to grad school, isn't. And his college girlfriend, Raviva (Inbar Lavi), who had gone to Los Angeles to make it in music, as if it were 1987, has returned with news.

"Look who turned out to be pro-life!" she says, cutely, standing at Lou's door with her guitar and what is sometimes referred to as a bun in the oven.

They are sweet enough, this crew, but not one seems to have anything to say that the world needs to hear. You do root for Lou and Raviva to make it as a couple, simply because they have an innocent little baby between them, played by an innocent little baby. But you don't much care about their vague, indifferently pursued career goals.

Wright has said that the series was inspired by stories he heard from his son and his son's friends about their lack of traction in a changing economy. But your chances of becoming an underwear model, a published novelist or a pop star do not rise or fall with the jobs index; they've always been remote. And excepting Daphne, who will literally eat dog food to keep her not-a-job, none seems particularly dedicated or driven.

There is a story to be made from this, about aspiration and achievement and what goes on in the gap between them, but that is not a story that television, or any other form of American mass culture, particularly likes to tell. (They all do seem to live pretty well, nevertheless, in nice rooms with nice things.) "Underemployed" flirts with it but more often settles for flattering its audience, reflecting not only its hopes but also its resentments.

Most every detour on their self-declared paths to "world domination" is portrayed as a kind of affront — a sacrifice or a humiliation — rather than as potentially interesting or instructive. And nearly every adult they meet in the world is either feeble-minded or grotesque and is taking up space the kids might otherwise occupy. (Eventually, the series' attention wanders, more profitably, to sex and love.)

This is possibly how some young people see the world. Perhaps they will recognize their lives here, and stick around to watch themselves in the glass.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Underemployed'

Where: MTV

When: 10 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

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