5 Screenwriting Takeaways: 'Genera+ion' Gives Frenetic and Fun Spin To Teen Angst
April 19, 2021
Genera+ion has an inherent unique angle on teen angst in that it’s written by an actual teen: Zelda Barnz, along with her father Daniel Barnes (Cake). The show has a frenetic social media-fueled intensity to it, following a group of teens with mainly queer folks at the center of the story, not off to the side, which is a welcome change when romantic-driven stories are still often heteronormative. The group of friends explores their sexuality, parental judgment, and school social status in a world filled with sexually charged selfies, lockdowns, and near-constant existential dread.
Here are your five screenwriting takeaways from Genera+ion.
1. An Engine of Mystery. Genera+ion's pilot opener may not be totally original, but it is still captivating nonetheless. Two teens are on a shopping trip at the mall, but one’s locked in a stall going through terrible cramps she assumes are just her period until she yells out to her friend: “Can you Google how to give birth?” The line is funny and shocking and you immediately feel for both who are absolutely in over their heads. The birth and then the backstory of the pregnancy play out in the cold open of the show for the entire season — a great hook to draw in viewers even when the birth turns into a bit of a comedy of errors.
2. Playing With Structure. The pilot episode introduces the audience to all of the main characters via a “characters in the round” study. For a writer who has studied improv, the format of the pilot joyfully follows what is called a Deconstruction. The simple definition of a Deconstruction is that a series of scenes spawn off from a much longer anchor scene. In Genera+ion's pilot, the longer anchor scene is a party the character Riley (Chase Sui Wonders) throws. Audiences are introduced to and learn about each main character by unraveling the anchor party scene (and the before and after) through each character’s perspective. For any improv nuts, the pilot feels like a very satisfying homage to structure in general and merits a second watch to see how almost every character of the show is given a pivotal party moment that sets up their series arc quite nicely.
3. Queer Life is Front and Center. It is a pure joy to see a show all about teen romance and to have most romantic plotlines revolve around the queer teen experience, when for years these stories have been the secondary or tertiary plot lines. The A stories in Genera+ion are dominated by will they/won’t they, discoveries of sexuality, and self-discovery in why we make the choices we make (even though we know they may be hurting others or themselves), what does being bi mean, and how it’s misunderstood in society. This is just scratching the surface, but by putting frank discussions of sexuality at the forefront of a major studio production (HBO Max in this case), everyone wins.
4. Love Lives Can Still Drive Story. It also feels like a win to have a show embrace the fact that romantic comedy and drama are enough to drive a show. There are few gimmicks beyond following the love, lust, and romance of these teens. Perhaps because teendom is a time where you don’t have to worry about full-time employment, and you can let love, potential love, and failed trysts dominate your thoughts all day every day. But the escapism the show provides is pure therapy for anyone who enjoys the romantic genre the most. That said, these stories are tinged with Generation Z existentialism as the world faces the rise in gun violence, environmental crisis, depression, and general difficulties in the survival of the human race. It feels impossible to make a show of the now without addressing the near-constant state of crisis the world faces, but when scene-stealer Chester (Justice Smith) lays down satisfied and utters, “I loved today,” one inherently believes him. Because while the show addresses heavy topics, it also brings a lovely lightness with it making one feel dreamy and happy to be on the journey.
5. The Dramedy Lives. A lot of the drama in the show stems from fraught parental relationships. There’s religious Megan (Martha Plimpton), mother to Naomi (Chloe East) and Nathan (Uly Schlesinger), who is dismayed that her war-ing (and newly-out son) are ruining her image of the perfect family. There’s Arianna (Nathanya Alexander) who seems to enjoy torturing her two gay Dads with politically incorrect jokes. And then there’s Greta (Hayley Sanchez), whose Mom has been deported and she’s now being raised by her more permissive Aunt. Of course, the core group has ample drama among themselves with a notable arc of Naomi and Nathan’s fraught brother-sister relationship, as they both come into their sexuality simultaneously. It also feels rare a half-hour gets to so wholeheartedly embrace the dramedy of life, but Genera+ion does it with ease.
Final Takeaway: Genera+ion absolutely feels like a show for the modern-day teen — and anyone looking to better understand the Gen Z teen experience. Through inventive structure, a lovely lightness, and full embrace of both comedy and drama, the show is a refreshing addition to the coming of age genre.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/