Indeed, it's not easy to capture this phase of life, which has been so thoroughly colonized by sitcom tropes, yet Levenson's sensitive, often hilarious script is spot-on, as are the half-dozen fully adult actors who -- under Adrienne Campbell-Holt's smart direction -- rise to the challenge of playing young without resorting to condescension or cliché.
The era in question -- 1995 to be precise -- was a time of relative innocence: as the program puts it, "After Kurt, before Monica." High-school freshman Margo (Heidi Niedermeyer) is hosting a party in her parents' rec room to introduce her friends -- or sort-of friends, since social life at this age is always in flux -- to her boyfriend from camp. First, though, she rhapsodizes in fits and starts, as if on speed, about one of their more romantic encounters -- which wasn't, she's quick to qualify, "what you think it was!"
Arriving embarrassingly early to the party is Wade (Matthew Stadelman), the dweebish son of a friend of Margot's mother's. His idea of a compliment is to blurt, "Your eyes look great in regard to your shirt." And there's no need to agonize on Wade's behalf over his excruciating self-consciousness: he has got that job covered.
When two more girls and two boys pile in, you'd swear you were observing what child psychologists call parallel play: there's no crossover between the males and females. A bit of horseplay is the first indication that people-pleaser Phoebe (Kristen Connolly) and hunky jock Hunter (Joe Tippett) might be a couple. Wade, of course, demands immediate clarification.
Further developments in this delightfully skittish, fragmented script will reveal the flaws in this tentative relationship, and within the two lovebirds themselves.Soon the two remaining guests, caustic Ballard (Erin Felgar) and playful Derek (Teddy Bergman), will be suffering some pangs of their own, while making questionable overtures. Whether Margot's putative boyfriend will ever show up becomes something of a moot point; meanwhile, the teens turn to escalating games of Candyland, Spin the Bottle, and Truth or Dare to quell their existential angst.
The only segment that doesn't quite ring true (although it may be a fantasy) is when Margo maps out for Derek her plan for the ideal life. She foresees a comfortable, fairly staid future, not unlike the model set by her own family, from the sound of it. One can't help but wonder if she wouldn't be hankering to rebel and banking on a bit more excitement.
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