Adapted from a passed-over ABC pilot by the producers of “thirtysomething,” “quarterlife” is one of those rare original web productions that doesn’t look as if it were shot for 20 bucks by film students featuring their classmates as stars. Yes, it focuses on twentysomethings and employs the tired device of a character speaking to the camera, producing a video blog about herself and her equally self-obsessed friends. Yet the segments — diced into 36 eight-minute installments — are well done and watchable, certainly comparable with some of the better angst-ridden “College is over, what do I do now?” dramas.
At the core is Dylan (Bitsie Tulloch), who’s working for a magazine but spends her spare time video-blogging about her friends and roommates, who are engaged in a “Friends”-like web of interlocking relationships/hopeless crushes/meaningless sex to forget about the hopeless crushes.
Aspiring filmmaker Danny (David Walton) is dating Debra (Michelle Lombardo), who Danny’s professional partner and pal Jed (Scott Michael Foster) stares at longingly. Meanwhile, wannabe actress Lisa (Maite Schwartz) capitalizes on her looks as she tends bar and sleeps around, but receives abuse from her acting professor (a cameo by producer Marshall Herskovitz).
Based on the six segments previewed, it’s all pretty familiar, been-there, logged-onto-that territory, but Herskovitz, partner Edward Zwick and their various associates — including the young cast — exhibit an admirable facility for zeroing in on the awkwardness of relationships, whether it’s the problems of teens (“My So-Called Life”) or young marrieds (“thirtysomething”). Here, it’s the twilight zone in-between, where Dylan can haltingly tell the camera, “I’m scared to say how I really feel” and the line resonates with recognition.
Everyone is waiting to see when the web will become a viable venue for original production (as opposed to short-form hit-in-the-crotch shots and busted-pilot theater). Fearnet’s “Buried Alive” — one of those aforementioned student-looking efforts, with kids locked in a coffin — also made its debut this month.
Against that backdrop, “quarterlife” marks a more ambitious step, though like its confused protagonists, the business model is presently surrounded by vexing questions and uncertainty: Can advertising alone support it? Will people block out eight minutes (an eternity in web time) to watch? And even if it does succeed, what then — other than perhaps birthing an afterlife on stale old TV?
The future remains murky, but if MySpace and its creative partners can make people ignore such matters and concentrate rather on whether Dylan will find happiness or Jed will resolve his issues with Danny, that would certainly be a big step for the really small screen.