I’m probably just being reactionary, but the first thing that struck me as being a little off the mark about the first episode of quarterlife is the guiding assumption that videoblogging and writing are interchangeable, that speaking into a webcam is a natural extension of stringing words together on a page. Maybe that’s a more common conception than I realize, but I’ve always thought of vlogging in terms of performance. A writer wants an audience for her ideas; a performer wants an audience for herself.
But then I wondered if maybe quarterlife creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick are suggesting that their protagonist — a frustrated, 20-something introvert named Dylan, who condescends to work at an apparently shallow women’s magazine but not-so-secretly dreams of doing something of
pretension substance, and who we’re supposed to read as “nerdy” even though she looks like a supermodel — is not really a writer at all. If quarterlife is heading in the direction of videoblogging as catalyst for self-discovery — especially if “self-discovery” is going to be analogous to a self-styled, self-righteous scold realizing that she’s really a gossipy exhibitionist — then there might be something here.
Unfortunately, in the first episode, quarterlife mostly uses videoblogging as a catalyst for violating the old show-don’t-tell rule through constant, literal narration. “It’s my curse that I can see what people are thinking,” Dylan says in vlog-voice late in the premiere. That’s not a curse — that’s the experience that standard shot/reverse shot filmmaking offers the viewer. Ironically, with every narrative event mediated through Dylan’s diary, quarterlife often prevents the viewer from having that experience of interpreting what the characters are thinking by looking at an actor’s face.
Oh, irony. Dylan misuses the I-word in an encounter with her boss; on one episode alone, I can’t tell if the tone of the show is such that we’re supposed to laugh at our know-it-all heroine for such a slip, or if we’re not supposed to notice. But that very question draws attention to the difference between irony as a filmmaking device, and irony as a filmmaking subject.
In My So-Called Life, which Herskovitz and Zwick also created and produced, Angela Chase’s narration worked so well because her interpretation of the world was often directly contradicted by the images on screen, such as when she admires the way that Jordan Catalano is “always closing his eyes, like it hurts to look at things,” while we see him flooding them with Visine in a most stoner-like fashion.
In quarterlife, Dylan tells us that she doesn’t want to be like her drinky sex bomb roommate, in a tone of voice that tells us that she wants us to know that this is a pose, that she secretly harbors desires to have her moment as a drinky sex bomb, while we see images of her posing in front of the mirror in drinky sex bomb regalia. It’s redundant; the images on screen are merely confirming what we already learned from Dylan’s tone of voice. It plays like a missed opportunity to go deeper into the character by offering more contrast.
Of course, this is just the first episode, and a certain amount of stylistic stumbling, voice-defining and expository setup is to be expected. The good news is that, judging by the preview, Episode 2 will allow us to get out of Dylan’s head a bit in order to experience a dramatic event initiated by her videoblogging, and, happily, unmediated by it.
Editor’s note: Episode 2 is now available here. And while you can find the newest episodes exclusively on MySpace, you can see the social network (also called “quarterlife”) created for the show here.