The forthcoming HBO Max show “Generation” (styled “Genera+ion”) — created by 19-year-old Zelda Barnz and her father Daniel Barnz, and executive produced by Lena Dunham — is touting itself as an ultra-realistic look at high school life.
Unfortunately, last Thursday, “Generation” took verisimilitude too far. In a scene set in a biology class, the production used actual dead cats for the actors to dissect. A tweet on Friday by @Lilith_Rosex said: “Got word from a friend in the industry, HBO has a new show called Generation coming out. It’s produced by Lena Dunham and earlier this week they brought in real dead kittens for background to ‘dissect’ on set. No warning, people had trauma responses.”
The person went on to tweet that a camera operator had tested positive for COVID-19: “As a cherry on top of their traumatic experience, at the wrap of day two they were informed one of the camera men tested positive for COVID. That should have been disclosed earlier, but they clearly wanted their shots of these kittens.”
After being contacted by Variety about both issues, an HBO Max spokesperson issued this statement:
“’Genera+ion’ depicts the unfiltered experiences of high school students and is drawn from many formative moments in the lives of the show’s writers. The production recently filmed scenes depicting a biology classroom assignment involving dissection of animal specimens. These were ethically sourced in consultation with American Humane via a biological supply company that works with schools. Everyone involved was informed in advance that this would be a sensitive scene involving a real dissection; the assistant directors checked in regularly with all participants on set, and two background actors who expressed discomfort were released with full pay. However, after subsequent discussion with the creative team, the scene is being reconceived and will not appear in the series. We deeply regret that this occurred.”
The statement disputes @Lillth_RoseX’s second tweet, which said that those in the scene had been told it was a frog dissection — “but they showed up to real dead kittens and were expected to stay.”
Sources did confirm that a member of the crew had tested positive, and is currently in isolation. The sources said production had learned of the test results after the day had wrapped, contradicting the tweet. Production on “Generation” has been paused as of Thursday, and will resume according to safety guidelines.
The series features mostly unknown actors. Justice Smith and Martha Plimpton also co-star.
Dunham, a creative producer on the show, didn’t hear about what happened until Saturday after she was tagged in responses to the tweets, according to a source. When she’d read the script, she never imagined they would use actual animal specimens, the source said. Dunham hasn’t been on set — she’s currently in London shooting the movie “Catherine, Called Birdy,” which she wrote and directed.
Dunham issued a statement of her own to Variety: “I am committed in my life and work to the principled, humane and ethical treatment of animals. I don’t use animal cadavers in any of my work, ever, and I was not on set or aware that they were used in a recently shot scene depicting a biology classroom assignment. I fully support the scene being edited out of the show.”
There will be a panel for “Generation” at the Television Critics Association Press Tour on Wednesday, at which its premiere date is expected to be announced. Dunham was never going to be among on the panel, since she’s currently abroad.
This story was updated after publication.