Photo: ‘Generation’/HBO Max
Even before its release, the HBO Max Original show ‘Generation’ had a highly anticipated premiere and following. For one, it gained headlines for its advertised modern view on sexuality through the lens of Gen Z teenagers, a group whose perspective hasn’t been deeply explored yet in media. But not only that; the fact that the series was created by Daniel Barnz and his nineteen-year-old daughter Zelda Barnz drew a sizable intrigue. The show was to be bold and new, melding together the perspectives of old and young – something we’ve never seen before. In particular, it was expected to rival ‘Euphoria’ as the new teen show.
Months later, season one of ‘Generation’ has successfully aired, with its season finale ‘V-Day’ released just this Thursday. The sixteen-episode series is available to stream on HBO Max.
Generation Finale – The Danger of Secrets
‘Generation’ follows an ensemble friend group as they navigate the trials and tribulations of high school. In the beginning, they are mostly separate individuals, intertwined by their participation in their school’s GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) Club, but by the end of the series, they are a close-knit family unit. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t drama between its members – and at times, the unit feels more dysfunctional than functional. The show’s season finale, ‘V-Day’, tests those alliances in deep ways. Are they simply tied together by trauma, or happenstance, or even the fear of loneliness – or do they have a genuine love for each other?
In fact, ‘Generation’ explores several issues that slowly bubble to the surface over the course of the season. Things involved everything ranging from secret pregnancies, secret crushes, or even secret hookups. In ‘V-Day’, everything is exposed. Without giving away any spoilers, characters have to confront problems that they’ve been grappling with for a long time, whether that be to themselves or to others. And at the end of the episode, one tenet is clear: secrets are bad.
With the theme of “secrets” comes deep introspections into each character and the process they must go through to let go. This episode mainly follows the character of Riley (Chase Sui) and her admission to Greta (Haley Sanchez) in sleeping with another classmate, Luz (Marisela Zumbado), despite her and Greta having an ongoing flirtationship. Alongside this guilty affair, Riley is dealing with issues at home with her separated parents, leaving her feeling displaced and overwhelmed. While there are other secrets being explored in this episode, this one definitely takes front and center, allowing Sui’s acting abilities to truly shine.
Not keeping secrets is a tenet that rings true for every friendship, but especially ones that we want to hold onto and cultivate. Perhaps this is why this episode rings so true; it’s something we’ve all learned through the experience of high school. When these secrets come to light in ‘V-Day’, characters have to deal with the ramifications that follow, which now feel a lot more real and visceral.
Live Your Truth
There’s a catharsis that comes in ‘V-day’, though, and that comes through characters embracing who they truly are. Since episode one, we’ve seen the character Nathan (Uly Scheslinger) grappling with his Bi identity. Though this is something accepted by his friends and community, it drives a particular wedge in the relationship with his mother (Martha Plimpton). As such, the two are battling for control throughout the entire season, with one never truly ceding to the other. In fact, Nathan’s mother only gets worse throughout the series, until we see it actually affecting her marriage in ‘V-Day’.
However, in this episode, Nathan finally stands up to her. He tells her, in an almost rage, that she has never accepted him for who he is – and that it’s her fault that their relationship is so torn. It’s a vulnerable moment, but it has a tremendous payoff – one that we as an audience have been hoping for.
So, even though ‘Genera+ion’ follows the deep pain of teenage years, it also illustrates the beauty of being who you are. When you are able to fully embrace your identity, something beautiful is truly created. It doesn’t solve everything (ie: the character of Chester, who embraces his wild, raunchy personality but still isn’t able to escape loneliness), but it’s the first, good step.
‘Generat+ion’’s encouragement to live your truth cements it as a strong teenage coming-of-age piece. Though it’s filled with drama, humor, and romanticism, at its heart it’s about the growing pains of being a teenager. It’s about the journey of figuring out who you are.
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The Lasting Success of GENERATION
Overall, the first season of ‘Genera+ion’ has been a great success – a unique exploration into the Gen Z perspective that feels fresh, liberating, and honest at the same time. It’s funny throughout, but serious when it needs to be. The characters feel like real, age-appropriate teenagers too – making the show feel authentic, unlike many high school-based shows. And, ‘Genera+ion’ has done an incredible job of elevating queer voices and stories, with almost every character in the film being a part of the LGBTQ community. The cast is also incredibly diverse in terms of straying from the typical Cis, White perspective, which is so neat to see. Often, LGBTQ or minority characters are pushed to the side or tokenized, but in ‘Genera+ion’, they are front and center.
Justice Smith shines as a standout performance in the show for his portrayal of Chester – but that is not to downgrade the rest of the cast, who have contributed such incredible performances as well. As a whole, they’ve functioned well as an ensemble cast, growing more into their own in each episode. There’s no doubt that we will be seeing many of them very soon, with ‘Genera+ion’ perhaps being a career starter for many of these new faces. And in terms of who’s behind the camera, there’s a lot of promise for Zelda Barnz, Co-Creator of the show, who is now just in her twenties.
Even if they didn’t intend it, ‘Genera+ion’ is showing us who will be the leading voices of tomorrow.
Season one of ‘Genera+ion’ is now streaming on HBO Max.
CAST: Nathanya Alexander, Chloe East, Nava Mau, Lukita Maxwell, Haley Sanchez, Uly Schlesinger, Nathan Stewart-Jarett, Chase Sui, Justice Smith, Martha Plimpton, Marisela Zumbado
CREW: Created by Zelda Barnz & Daniel Barns
By Lana Nguyen
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Lana Nguyen is a writer and filmmaker currently pursuing a BFA in Film Production at USC. Her love for film stems from the belief that empathetic and humanistic stories can help enact cultural change, and is excited to review such releases in film and media. As a young Vietnamese American and Jon M. Chu scholar at USC, she is passionate about diversity and representation in film and hopes to contribute thoughtful and progressive commentary on these issues, aligning with Hollywood Insider’s mission to provide impactful and meaningful content.