Review: Generation By Daniel Barnz, Zelda Barnz
The cool teens who intimidate you on the subway platform got their own TV show. HBO Max’s new teen drama Generation is pulling up to hold it down while Euphoria is away. Generation (Genera+ion, if you wanna reach that far away on the keyboard) follows the lives of modern high schoolers exploring their sexuality from the confines of their conservative community. Stolen glances, desperate Googling, and secrets you can’t even tell your best friend — all the drama of growing up, but with more diversity than the stuff you used to watch. The ensemble cast stars Nathanya Alexander, Chloe East, Nava Mau, Lukita Maxwell, Haley Sanchez, Uly Schlesinger, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Marth Plimpton, Chase Sui Wonders, and Justice Smith and a box of pink hair dye. Sorry to his curls. Produced by Lena Dunham, the series was created by 19-year-old Zelda Barnz with her dad, filmmaker Daniel Barnz. The first three episodes of Generation premiere on March 11 on HBO Max. BTW, the drama has already started. Earlier this week, Dunham had to apologize for using real cat corpses in a biology-class scene. Ah, trauma. Now, that takes us back to high school.
What better way to connect to today’s youths than to have one of their very own as a co-creator?
That’s what inspired Daniel Barnz and Ben Barnz, the married creative duo behind Jennifer Aniston’s 2014 film “Cake” and 2008’s early-career Elle Fanning starrer “Phoebe in Wonderland.” In the past, Daniel typically served as writer and director, while Ben produced most of their work. But for their new HBO Max series “Generation,” they’ve added a third collaborator: 18-year-old daughter Zelda Barnz. (According to Wikipedia, the name is an amalgamation of both men’s last names, Bernstein and Schwartz. Their company is named We’re Not Brothers Productions.)
The Barnz family was on hand to discuss the new project as part of HBO Max’s session of the 2021 TCA Winter Press Tour, and they were joined by a fresh-faced cast of relative newcomers. The idea for a half-hour high school drama that addressed gender and sexuality in a frank and contemporary way came out of Zelda’s stories from her own life.
“This came from Zelda, this was her idea,” said Ben. “It came from stories she started to tell us about her gender and sexuality that were poignant and funny. We suggested that she write them down, and we thought it would make an interesting TV show… but we really didn’t think it was gonna get made.”
Barnz cited his own reference points for high school stories as John Hughes’ movies, and was pleasantly surprised when HBO Max saw potential in the show, which features many people of color in lead roles. Barnz credits his daughter for writing race and ethnicity into the character descriptions, which ensured an inclusive cast from the start.
“HBO Max saw that there could be a show like this with characters that a lot of people could see themselves in and relate to, even if they were different ages and races and across the gender and sexuality spectrum,” he said. “But we really hope that people of Zelda’s generation might see this and see themselves in it.”
Filled with queer characters of color who express themselves across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, “Generation” is bound to earn comparisons to “Euphoria” and “We Are Who We Are,” two teen-centric shows on HBO Max sister network, HBO. But the young cast members pushed back against the impulse to view all teen shows as a monolithic genre.
“I am such a fan of ‘Euphoria’ and ‘We Are Who We Are,’ and the incredible specificity with which they tell all these stories and how stereotypes are just ripped open and you can see the underbelly and the minutiae of all these different characters,” said actress Chase Sui Wonders, who plays Riley in the show. “This show does that to such an extent because you’re taking a microscope to these different people. It feels like an entirely different world and an entirely different set of idiosyncrasies.”
Chloe East, who plays Naomi on the series, compared the authenticity of the script to another beloved title: Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade.”
“The first movie I saw that showed teenagers acting like teenagers was ‘Eighth Grade.’ They were quoting Vines, they were quoting real stuff,” she said. “When I read this script, I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I know this girl, I know this language.’ […] You see it on the page and it just comes to life.”
“Generation” stars Nathanya Alexander, Chloe East, Nava Mau, Lukita Maxwell, Haley Sanchez, Uly Schlesinger, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, and Chase Sui Wonders with Justice Smith and Martha Plimpton.