In today’s television landscape, characters born on the cusp of the new millennium (Gen-Z) are faced with constant and ever-present change. These shows depict the progressive and complicated drama of high school students, as well as career and life aspirations of young 20-somethings.
Since Gen-Z can be used to define anyone born roughly between 1997-2012, characters and viewers alike can resonate with an array of themes about diversity, sexuality, identity, and more. Euphoria has come to define this age, from the clothing and aesthetic to the very personality of the various characters – but it’s not the only modern series to highlight Gen-Z culture.
As its title would suggest, Sex Education follows a group of high schoolers as they encounter sexuality for the first time in their lives. But unlike the curriculum taught in a typical classroom setting, the show covers timely and difficult topics like sexual assault, coming out, and sexual exploration in general.
Where teen shows of the 2000s and 2010s often glossed over the sexual nature of relationships and growing up, Sex Education does the very opposite. Because love and sex are essential to one another, an idea that Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) preaches and learns for himself over the course of 3 seasons. Plus, who wouldn’t want to learn about the inner workings of humans from the one and only Dr. Jean F. Milburn (Gillian Anderson)?
Outer Banks is reminiscent of those neverending summers of youth; the kind that can be deterred by hunts for lost treasure and teenage love affairs. Set in Outer Banks, North Carolina, the show captures the wild (and illegal) summer events as told through the lens of John B (Chase Stokes), Sarah Cameron (Madelyn Cline), and their friends.
According to IndieWirethe show’s second season brought in 1,160 million viewers in just one month of being on Netflix. And the popularity isn’t dying down any time soon, with season 3 currently underway and entire Reddit threads dedicated to predicting what will happen to the so called “Pogues” and “Kooks.”
The Great may be based on historical events, but the show took creative liberty in depicting the Empress Consort of Russia and her Court. One of these being Catherine the Great’s (Elle Fanning) age, where she is depicted as a naive, ambitious 19-year-old upon marrying Peter III (Nicholas Hoult).
Like any 19-year-old today, Catherine demands change and challenges the status quo within society. The Great is very much a show about Catherine, and her fervent attempts at bringing art, culture, science, and civility to an archaic autocracy. And there is nothing more essential to Gen-Z culture than demanding (and enacting) the change they want to see in the world – be it big or small.
Genera+tion tackles every aspect of growing up, from navigating identities to relationships with parents and even teen pregnancy. It is a show about Gen-Z and for Gen-Z, from Nathan’s troubles with coming out to his family and peers to Greta’s upbringing in an immigrant household.
It is enlightening for both characters and audiences of Genera+tion to watch how predisposed beliefs and concepts of life can affect one small conservative town. And yet, as high school relationships often go, the ensemble group of characters get through it together with the help of one another.
There is nothing as relentless and cut-throat as the run for student government – until it trickles into real life. It’s relatable in large part thanks to Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), a power-hungry student who will stop at nothing to become president of his high school.
But high school isn’t forever, as Payton vies for a seat in New York’s senate while attending school there. Despite its name, The Politician isn’t as much about politics and the career as it is about Payton’s journey towards understanding himself, his past, and his ambitions. But he’s a part of of Gen-Z, so perhaps these are all intertwined.
For the older Gen-Zers, their careers are just beginning, and with that comes uncertainty and a need for guidance. Such is the premise of HBO’s award-winning series Hacks. So when 26-year-old comedy writer Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) loses her job, her agent assigns her the daunting task of reinvigorating the act of long-time standup comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart).
As Hacks showrunners told Collider“Even though Jean isn’t Deborah and Hannah isn’t Ava, something about the energy of both women is true and real, and that is both that they love each other and also that they’re very different.” While Smart won an Emmy for her role in 2021, Einbender is only getting startedlike so many other young twenty-something year olds. And in doing so, she is learning from older generations while carving out a place in the industry for herself (both on the show and in real life).
Back in the early aughts, Millennials had True Life. Now, there’s the Netflix original series Twenty-Something. The 2021 reality series brings eight young adults from around the country and houses them in Austin, Texas for two months.
There, they must navigate life by finding jobs, going on dates, and learning what they want from life. Following the lives of real people and real conditions, Twenty-Somethings depicts the reality of moving to a new city. Whether they are looking for love, careers, or to have funthere is something comforting about watching the emotional and logistical reactions of the cast as audiences themselves go through the same circumstances.
Sex Lives of College Girls
In Mindy Kaling’s latest small-screen project, four young women navigate freshman year at an elite private college. Roomates Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), Leighton (Reneé Rapp), Bela (Amrit Kaur), and Whitney (Alyah Chantelle Scott) arrive at campus from different background and expectations of what the next four years will look like. With the support – and sometimes opposition – of one another, they learn to navigate these expectations with what actually plays out.
Depicting the college experience on screen has proven difficult in cinematic history. It’s not just about the parties, but also isn’t framed around the educational experience entirely. Sex Lives of College Girls also shows the girls’ grappling with things like their sexuality, prejudices, life goals, and financial status. And it’s not always for the better. As Kaling told Collider in an interview“Life can be really hard on campuses for young women, and we wanted to show all of that, and not just the fun, sexy part, but the parts that were a little uglier, to be honest.”
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