College is often a place for dramatic self-invention. And what could be a more dramatic than a sex change? So it seems apt that the Sundance Channel documentary miniseries Transgeneration follows four transsexuals, two male-to-female and two female-to-male, as they negotiate the twin minefields of college and gender-reassignment surgery. But where Transgeneration's gender-bending subject matter borders on groundbreaking, its style is pure MTV circa 1996. The editing mirrors the spastic rhythms of music videos, the music cues are ubiquitous and overly dramatic, and the content is tilted heavily toward big dramatic moments rendered even bigger by heavy effects. Thankfully, the series' subjects are smarter, more psychologically complex, and more socially engaged than their MTV counterparts.
This being reality television, the subjects of Transgeneration have a lot of drama in their lives beyond the tensions and conflicts inherent in changing gender. Raci struggles to make ends meet even with a full scholarship, and buys hormones illegally on the street. Virginal fellow male-to-female transsexual Gabbie looks like Napoleon Dynamite star Jon Heder in awkward drag and tests the patience of her family and friends with her narcissism. The female-to-male transsexuals are more grounded and stable. Lucas and his best buddy don't let the fact that they were born women keep them from acting like stoic frat brothers.
Transgeneration is at its best at its beginning and end, when dealing with its subjects' volatile, complex relationships with their parents. In between, it too often feels like boilerplate reality television, or a very special season of The Real World. In the end, it's hard to say which constitutes the bigger transition: changing gender, or graduating from college and the self-infatuation of youth.