Sticking close to what should be near to its target demo’s heart, MTV’s “Underemployed” is basically “Avenue Q,” just without the songs and puppets. A well-cast quintet of recent college grads fumbles through life, taking menial or low-man-on-the-totem-pole jobs to pay their bills while dreaming bigger. Mixing comedy and drama, the series hardly breaks new ground — indeed, it’s a virtual ringer for “I Just Want My Pants Back,” which tilled similar terrain somewhat better, and came to a premature end — but like that show, it doesn’t lack for breezy, highly relatable charms.
The five Chicago kids are introduced right after graduation, conveniently spelling out their grand plans to become great novelists, models, ad-agency gurus and the like.
Cut to a year later, and the wannabe writer, Sophia (Michelle Ang), is wearing a goofy hat in a donut shop; Miles (Diego Boneta) is desperate for a call-back; Raviva (Inbar Lavi) shows up pregnant, placing her musical aspirations on hold and creating complications for ex-boyfriend Lou (Jared Kusnitz); and Daphne (Sarah Habel) is working (OK, interning) at an agency, but engaging in a perilous flirtation with her boss.
Created by Craig Wright (“Dirty Sexy Money”) and loosely modeled on his son’s circle of friends, “Underemployed” — beyond the obvious recession-era resonance — represents the epitome of the line about life being what happens while you’re making other plans.
At the same time, over the course of the three episodes previewed, there are hurdles like coming out to your parents, sexual temptations and the age-old question of wholeheartedly embracing professional goals, however long the odds, vs. conceding hurdles might place them beyond one’s grasp.
Although the central players are TV-beautiful, they come across as vulnerable enough to merit sympathy, and viewers willing to add another soap to their DVR should bond with them pretty quickly. The fact these situations recall past coming-of-age fare is at best a quibble since, as the Occupy movement has demonstrated, every generation has angst of its own.
After largely inaugurating its move to programs only slightly more scripted than “Jersey Shore” with offerings that are high-concept (see “Teen Wolf”) or overtly provocative (“Skins”), MTV appears to be honing a scripted niche somewhere between the rawness of HBO’s “Girls” and the high-gloss of anything without monsters or superheroes on the CW.
The importance of this particular demo to advertisers ensures its concerns will never go under-dramatized. Yet to the show’s credit, “Underemployed” tackles the hardly original trauma associated with entering the post-college period without treating its characters’ uncertainty as if they’re the first to ever experience it, or letting them become unbearably whiny.
Like a lot of newly minted grads, “Underemployed” doesn’t qualify as an instant success. Yet viewed in the context of its ambitions, neither can it be dismissed as an underachiever.