Let me be absolutely clear about how close to home the premise of Underemployed hits for me: I’m a relatively recent college graduate from a Chicagoland university living in downtown Chicago and trying to make ends meet as a writer. I live with two other artists. We (and our close friends) work day jobs and dream of entertainment and artistic breakthroughs by night. Initially, Underemployed looked like a much-too-soon mirror held up to all our comparatively small accomplishments in the face of other wunderkinds skyrocketing to success in our passions. But after a haphazard pilot that scuttled the hope for a measured depiction of the decrepit job market facing college graduates, “The Crib” steers further into the skid and departs from that narrative entirely, only to focus on defining a new-yet-familiar kind of dysfunctional family.
My biggest specific problem with the pilot—it has too many general inconsistencies to parse out again—is how Lou’s hesitation to believe with unflappable certainty that he’s the father of Raviva’s child is met by harsh reproach. His relationship with Raviva is the opposite of adult maturity; they lack even basic honest communication, and that festers even more in this second hour. Unemployed Raviva—who just showed up on Lou’s doorstep to introduce a baby into his life—panics about an entire day alone while Lou goes to a job he morally opposes in order to make money to support her and the child.
There is one logical explanation for her actions: She’s so nervous and scared about being left alone with her baby (and hasn’t given any forethought to the responsibility during the nine months she carried the child) that she reaches out with wild abandon in order to convince Lou to stay home for the day. But that’s not anywhere in the episode, not in the dialogue, not in any discernable action. Raviva is immature and hapless with hairline trigger as Lou repeatedly attempts to placate her with a scraped together facade of preparedness.
The piercing tonal shifts are still amped up to maximum strength, the best example being Raviva’s freak-out at the end of the day. Lou gets home, she quickly reaches a boiling point and threatens to leave for her mother’s house. But then his plan goes into motion, all their friends present the completed Bat-Signal tasks, and suddenly Raviva is satisfied and believes wholeheartedly in the absurdity that a group baby raised by college friends will somehow work out better than how their parents raised them.
There are so many shows that either shoot in Chicago or are set in Chicago that it’s hard to keep track: Boss, The League, Whitney, Chicago Fire, Happy Endings, The Mob Doctor, and Shameless all either film on location or use establishing inserts (and add in those cancelled, including The Chicago Code and The Playboy Club). Underemployed uses its location well in the sense that it gets in plenty of beautiful Loop views. But in a story about a group of friends struggling to make ends meet and succeed in a diverse array of career paths, some modicum of accuracy might help.
Lou and Miles’ apartment is an absolute joke even in the post-Friends rent-controlled sitcom paradigm. That Raviva has the gall to complain that there isn’t enough space for her stuff and the baby’s things in the gigantic loft is pointedly absurd. Guessing from the establishing shots and views out of the windows, Lou and Miles live somewhere in the West Loop, where they clearly don’t make enough money to live. Daphne buys baby clothes at Baby Gap instead of a thrift store, even though she just started getting paid at her PR job through blackmailing her boss—because that’s how all the healthy relationships start. Sofia works at a donut shop, Miles works catering, Raviva does not work. None of these kids can support the lives they lead without help.
Lou doesn’t have a great relationship with his dad, Daphne and Raviva appear to be children of divorce as well (so is Daphne’s older boss/partner), but it certainly appears that they’re getting help from the folks in order to make ends meet. That unspoken non-welfare safety net is a looming problem for thematic resonance—Girls at least attempts to skewer this aspect of post-grad existence for laughs at Hannah’s expense. I’m not asking for painstaking verisimilitude, but there has to be a happy medium between offering my cramped apartment to the producers and outright disregard for thematic compatibility with location scouting.
And yet, the disappointingly brief Sophia plot nearly saves the episode and makes it worthwhile, but it gets lost in the cacophonous faux-maturation squabble. She’s repressed, and her fears about being honest with her friends in light of her chaste image over their time in college is the one moment of real emotional resonance during the entire episode. It’s hard to come out to your friends, and poignantly more difficult a year after college, just after losing your virginity, and after the free-spirited college years where experimentation is taken for granted.
In the pilot, when Sofia, Raviva, and Daphne talk while they ride the El, they deride Lou’s obviously legitimate uncertainty as “the worst thing that anyone has ever said, ever,” and don’t dare to broach the possibility of Raviva sleeping with another guy since breaking up with Lou. But the question of Sofia’s virginity is too personal. This is the level of maturity Underemployed puts forth from its 23-year-olds. They act at maturity, pretend that they are well-adjusted, creating adult dwellings, but they’re deluding themselves.
Perhaps the fact that I’m living the premise of Underemployed makes me unable to see the forest for the trees. But on MTV, this show targets my age demographic, reaching at slightly older and younger viewers. It’s trying to speak to anyone who graduated college after the financial collapse in 2008, but after a wildly unfocused introduction, it gave way to the “friends as family” dynamic raising a group baby.
Underemployed is simply undercooked, even with an hour-long runtime, spread too thin to devote the time to develop its characters in some kind of discernable order. The pilot began and ended with Sofia’s narration, but that lens is absent in this second episode. Even a shifting protagonist structure—like in Happy Endings as the pairings rotate into the spotlight—would help Underemployed more than the molasses speed of dividing equally and incrementally, advancing the arc of every character. There’s already a show that tackles the post-grad, dead-eyed wandering of privileged intellectuals in a funnier and more personal fashion: Girls. That’s like choosing Franklin & Bash over The Good Wife.
- The only bright spot in the entire hour came in the final minute, as Miles paid out his bet to Raviva over Sofia’s sexuality. We didn’t need to see the history, just the exchange in the middle of the delightful acceptance. That was the only laugh of the episode for me.
- I watched the repeat airing of this episode directly after the première, so I’m not sure whether or not the commercial breaks lined up appropriately. A few times the show came back for about a minute and a half for one scene, then cut to another set of commercials. It was absolutely infuriating, a moronic narrative structure unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was like watching football when they come back for the kickoff only to cut away again for more beer, insurance, and car advertisements.
- The scene between Daphne and her boss where she asks about his in-unit washer/dryer was made up entirely of ADR, and again, it was obnoxious, just as it was in the pilot.
- Thanks to Farihah for letting me sub in this week to yell at the maelstrom. Back to your regularly scheduled reviewer next week!