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‘Genera+ion’ Review: Gays and Confused

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The new HBO Max series “Genera+ion,” with a plus sign to reference the LGBTQ+ community — follows a group of high school students that, despite living in a seemingly conservative town, use their individuality to explore modern love and sexuality. Each episode focuses on a particular character, delving into their home and school life and showcasing the vulnerabilities that angsty teens face. These episodes also delve into the trauma that led the characters to be who we see on screen. Regardless of their struggles, this diverse group of Gen Z’ers seems to be able to overcome any obstacle when sticking together. 

This new comedy-drama was both performed and created by Gen Z’ers. It began when 17-year-old Zelda Barnz, now 19, came out to her two fathers, Ben and Daniel Barnz, both of whom are executive producers on the series. Her story inspired her to co-write the script while being a voice for struggling teenagers and helping bring awareness to the LGBTQ+ community in a way that would successfully represent the exploration of sexuality and identity. 

“Genera+ion” offers viewers a new form of realism towards Gen Z, with more perspective on what it means to be a teenager in 2021. Through her own experiences of being adopted into an accepting and honest home, Zelda offers a new perspective into understanding her three dimensional generation. 

“There is a lot of wish fulfillment getting to work on this and getting to see what Zelda and Gen Z looks like and their embrace of queerness and otherness and their ability to walk through the world being so many things and not defined by any one of those things,” Daniel told The Hollywood Reporter

Compared to the themes depicted in another HBO series “Euphoria,” “Genera+ion” delves into the experiences that modern-day teens face, including sexual awakenings and conflicts with their parents’ generation. While it doesn’t include the obscene amount of substance abuse that’s shown in “Euphoria,” it does include nudity and the characters chasing their sexual fantasies. 

The most notable aspect of “Genera+ion” may just be the fact that these teens aren’t questioning their sexuality, but are instead each communicating their own sense of authenticity by chasing after what they want. 

The fifth episode, titled “Gays and Confused,” acknowledges that the parents are the only ones falling under the “confused” category. A recap of the previous episode shows Nathan (Uly Schlesinger) coming out as bisexual at his older sister’s engagement party. While he feels very comfortable exploring his sexual needs and desires, his mom Megan (Martha Plimpton) reveals that she is excessively agonized over the idea, and eventually has a mental breakdown at the high school’s parent meeting. She can’t seem to grasp the fact that her son can honestly enjoy being labeled as someone that has sexual attraction towards both men and women. This aspect of the series exhibits the shift between two generations — one raised with and adopting conservative viewpoints and the other being accepting and genuine. 

“Genera+ion” uses what’s called a cold open — or teaser sequence — that begins every episode with a flash forward three months before the start of the main plot. There’s a countdown at the beginning of each episode before delivering the events in a chronological order. The eight episodes shift from different characters’ perspectives, overlapping the events from different viewpoints that work to connect the plot. This not only establishes who the principal characters are but also works to uncover the possibility that adolescents are often ignorant towards anything that doesn’t directly affect their life. These teens are so caught up in the experimental and emotional rollercoaster of high school that they become oblivious to the struggles of their friends and family members. However, the later episodes reveal the need for comfort and that they all share some form of the same struggle — wanting to be accepted and loved for who they are. 

In the premiere episode, released March 11, we see Chester (Justice Smith), an openly queer, straight-A athlete with a keen interest in unique fashion trends, dangling his feet from the top of a hotel building. He quickly snaps a photo of himself and the beautiful, yet terrifying view of Orange County — which would be a deathly fall — and emails it to the high school’s new guidance counselor Sam (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). Petrified that he is about to take his own life, Sam gets Chester’s phone number from his grandmother and immediately calls him. 

“You said this is what loneliness feels like,” Sam tells him. “Meaning it’s f***ing beautiful,” 

Chester reveals, highlighting the key difference between the two generations’ forms of self expression. Chester’s character is an accurate representation of just how independently artistic Gen Z’ers are.  

This series tackles everything from the struggles of growing up in today’s world, family conflict and relationships between different generations, to the emotional journey of exploring intimacy, sexuality and individuality. “Genera+ion” is a unique approach to examining how, despite their differences, a group of people can come together and empower one another. It directly relates to present-day society, making it an important series to binge. Every Gen Z’er, or adult that wants to better understand this accepting, individualistic generation, should watch the show.

McKenzie Boney is an Entertainment Intern for the Spring 2021 Quarter. She can be reached at mboney@uci.edu.