In case you didn't hear about it, and I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case, Quarterlife made a very quiet debut on NBC last night. For a little background, Quarterlife is a series made specifically for the Internet, spanning six episodes cut into six parts each, but produced with veteran talent and equipment you aren't going to find lurking in the garage anytime soon. Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick helmed thirtytsomething for ABC back in the late 80s, early 90s, winning 13 Emmy Awards over the course of four seasons, including Best Drama in 1988. Though I'm not familiar with that series, from what I gather, Quarterlife -- which I have seen -- is basically thirtysomething with a younger cast.
You've got a couple of guys making commercials on the cheap; the central character is a young woman blogging about her life and that of her friends although I've yet to see an actual blog on this show -- so far all she's been doing is making webcam videos better suited for YouTube -- who works at a newspaper of some sort fighting to get her ideas pushed through into the paper, and failing miserably at it.
I could go on, but with an hour pilot in the books, Zwick and Herskovitz didn't really give these characters very much depth in ways that I can relate, and as a twentysomething, that's obviously a problem. This experiment won't be going very far without strong ratings from my demographic, which brings me to the bad news.
Quarterlife scored 2.7/5 in the ratings. For comparison, Tuesday's topper was American Idol with 13.9/21, with NBC's best being The Biggest Loser at 5.1/8. I'm can't agree that those numbers are in any way disappointing, though. Bad, sure, but disappointing? I don't think anyone had high expectations for the first Internet-to-TV series, airing on NBC in the horrible 10pm slot, for what is in my opinion not a terribly good show in the first place.
I was actually surprised NBC spent money on something this low key. It's very much a "light" version of any genre you care to place it in. Comedy? Just barely. Drama? Only marginal. Suspense? Not here folks.
Sounds pretty good for an Internet series, but this thing wasn't meant for and doesn't really belong on television. Not when the networks are killing off shows like Jericho that are very entertaining, well produced, have an actual following, and still pull in a 7 share. For whatever reason, 7 for a drama means cancellation, but 8 for a reality show means it will never, ever die.
As for the show itself, I'm not going to make any rash judgments based on the first episode. When you develop for television or film, I understand that you've got to hook people right out of the gate, and that's going to seriously cramp your style. Quarterlife didn't have to contort itself to fit that mold and consequently didn't give me a whole heck of a lot to hold on to, or want more of. While I dislike that atmosphere and what it does to your creativity, that doesn't mean there isn't an upside to being forced to try to addict your audience with the pilot.
There were an initial set of storylines set in motion here that I don't care about at all. The characters were fairly thin and there were probably too many for comfort. None of them seem to have any kind of real goal in life and so whatever happens seems random and unappealing. I can't get behind them and their cause if they don't have one. Succeeding at your totally average job hardly counts as a cause that can drive a television show, not unless they cut the length in half and add about 99% more funny.
As a sitcom, this might work. As a..whatever it is, probably not. Quarterlife is a great experiment, and a necessary experiment, just one without legs. I'll watch a few more episodes once it takes up its regular timeslot on Sunday nights (even worse than where it debuted) and as always, I suggest you do the same and give it a fair shake.
Just don't expect very much.
As for when this trend continues, I have much higher expectations for Sanctuary. What you've got there I believe is a more traditional structure. It's created for the Internet, but it's still a TV show at heart. I think Quarterlife is missing that, and it's going to die because of it.