I Just Want My Pants Back debuts on MTV tonight at 11 p.m. Eastern, immediately following the Video Music Awards. It will return with more episodes in 2012.
I hate the word “hipster.” I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just one of those things people can toss around as a vague insult whenever they don’t like someone’s taste in pop culture. I’m sure there are certain things that hipsters are best known for, like, I don’t know, riding fixed-wheel bicycles or enjoying vegan ketchup or something like that. But for the most part, I can’t say that when you say “hipster,” I have a fixed image in my head, beyond the vague idea that said person should wear thick-rimmed glasses and live in a particular neighborhood in a big city (Williamsburg, of course, is where my mind immediately goes).
That said, I’m pretty sure the characters in I Want My Pants Back are hipsters, and I’m pretty sure the show is a straightforward celebration of their hipster culture. You probably already know how you feel about the show from reading that sentence, and if you reflexively hate the many 20something white people of Brooklyn, well, this may not be the show for you. If, however, you’re hipster-friendly or hipster-neutral (such as myself), there are plenty of things to be enjoyed here, including an agreeably goofy (and occasionally filthy) sense of humor, nice use of Brooklyn locations, and a winning cast that’s solid at delivering the show’s pop culture-laden dialogue. The show’s a kind of hipster fantasia, a dream of what it might be like to be young and poor and living in Brooklyn— but not really poor, since that would keep you from throwing cool parties and everything. At one point, main character Jason says how low his bank account is, but he never really feels desperate for cash. Why should he? He’s living the dream.
The central figures of the show are Jason (Peter Vack), a young man who’s come to New York City to make his way in the world of… well, he hasn’t quite decided yet, but maybe music journalism, and Tina (Kim Shaw), Jason’s best friend who sees nothing wrong with sleeping with a guy because he has air conditioning. The show only works as well as it does because Jason and Tina are such appealing figures and because Vack and Shaw have such easygoing chemistry. It’s obvious the show will push these two characters together somewhere down the line, and it’s also obvious that will work whenever the series decides to push that button. But at the same time, the two have believable chemistry as friends, chemistry that doesn’t push too hard. The pilot opens with a lengthy scene where the two banter in a crowded bar, and it’s a nice set-up for what’s to come: lots of shaggy conversation and very little plot.
The supporting cast is a little less fleshed-out, but that’s to be expected on this kind of show. Jordan Carlos and Elisabeth Hower play Eric and Stacey, friends of Jason and Tina’s who have been together for a while and now are making their way through grad school while Jason and Tina brave the world of low-level employment. Eric and Stacey aren’t as completely thought out as the two leads (and it does seem as though every single show about young people in the big city now has a version of this couple—the driven young white woman and her upwardly mobile African-American boyfriend who’s soon to be an upper-class professional), but they’re appealing in their own way, and when all four characters are in a room together, the dialogue has a nice, bouncy energy to it. The show also features Sunkrish Bala as Bobby, owner of a local bodega where Jason stops before work every morning. Bala’s a lot of fun in the “older guy everybody turns to for equal parts mockery and affection” part, and his banter with Shaw made for some of my favorite parts of the episode. (Chris Parnell guest stars as Jason’s boss down at a casting agency, and he’s a lot of fun, too.)
Another nice thing about the show is its utter refusal to force any kind of high-concept premise onto the proceedings. This is just about a bunch of young people living it up in New York City, and there’s not much more to it than that. Indeed, the pilot barely has a plot. The closest thing to a storyline involves Jason worrying about how long it’s been since he had sex and being tasked to buy concert tickets for the gang for Stacey’s birthday. (The kids are going to see Wavves because of course they are.) That’s really it. The “plot,” such as it were, is just an excuse to hang agreeable hang-out scenes off of, giving everybody involved ample opportunity to bounce dialogue off of each other and goof around winningly. In the early going, Jason meets a young woman named Janie (a very winning Kelli Barrett), and she may or may not give the show the impetus for its title, but to say too much more would be spoiling what’s going on. Suffice it to say that Janie gives the show the slimmest possible semblance of an ongoing plot arc. What the show really wants to do is tell a sillier, dirtier variation on Friends.
I Just Want My Pants Back is also notable for the fact that while all of its characters are in their young 20s, their cultural references are much more appropriate to people who would be in their late 20s or early 30s. The characters banter about Dawson’s Creek and Say Anything, and an early, key musical choice is a song by Feist that’s at least five years old. TV about people in their 20s, of course, is usually written by people 10 years older (novelist David J. Rosen, who based the script on his book of the same name, and director Doug Liman, famous from films like Go and The Bourne Identity, are those people here), so the Friends were far more obsessed with ’70s culture than ’80s culture, the HIMYM gang was far more into ’80s culture than ’90s culture (usually excused via saying that in Canada—where the Robin character hails from—the ’90s were the ’80s), and the kids here are way more into ’80s and ’90s stuff than early ’00s stuff. I’m not saying this is unrealistic or anything (other than the fact that it has the nice benefit of making me feel younger than I actually am for making Dawson’s Creek references) since pop culture usually has something of a trickle-down effect, but it does feel odd that these kids aren’t tossing back and forth one-liners about The O.C. or Pokémon or something.
That said, there’s a lot to like in I Just Want My Pants Back, with very little to outright dislike about it. The wave of alt-culture references occasionally gets a little much, and the show sometimes makes the mistake of substituting pop culture references for genuine character development. (Also, I’m not sure Eric and Stacey would still be that much into their Wii, but quibbles.) And, of course, if you simply can’t abide “hipster” culture, you’re probably going to be tearing your hair out in agony. But what’s here is a very promising start. Here’s hoping that when the show actually becomes a show and not just a mini-movie, there’s enough here to keep things rolling along. I’m surprisingly intrigued to see where this all goes in 2012.