Monday, March 5, 2018

TV REVIEW: YouTube Red's 'Youth & Consequences'

YouTube Red will premiere its new original comedy series Youth & Consequences on Wednesday, March 7. The comedy stars Anna Akana, Sean Grandillo, Katie Sarife, Kara Royster, Sophie Reynolds, Piper Curda and Savannah Jayde.

Read on for my thoughts on the new comedy after screening its first two episodes.

When YouTube Red first launched, it was with the mission statement of developing exclusive content from YouTube's top content creators. It was a business model that planned on optimizing the amount of younger viewers watching videos on the platform and the people who have become famous through that. And now, the service is acting more like a network or streaming service. It's aggressively pursuing scripted content that has no previous connection to YouTube. It's looking for shows to help broaden out the audience. It wants to be an all-servicing platform for everyone. Of course, it still lacks the amount of content to make the price point enviable for an extended period of time. It's original shows have been pretty average and bland so far. Over the last few months, it has started releasing some of its more high profile entries into this space. It's been competing with the top dogs like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. But there was nothing to Lifeline, Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television and Do You Want to See a Dead Body? that helped identify why YouTube was a serious player in this space. The launch of Step Up: High Water at the end of January promised to be a huge breakout. And yes, based on the viewing statistics from the premiere, it has been a solid debut for them. But I haven't seen a whole lot of coverage about that show lately. I haven't heard it breaking into the cultural zeitgeist. That's still something that remains elusive for YouTube Red. All hope may come down to The Karaoke Kid sequel series coming later this year. And yet, the service is launching a new comedy on Wednesday that plays more to the original pitch, Youth & Consequences. Yes, it was another debut that could sneak up on audiences who have no clue what it even is. But after screening the first two episodes, it's the first series from YouTube that has my interest piqued.

Despite being in my twenties, I never really get into the age of YouTube personalities. As such, I had no idea who Anna Akana was before watching this show. And now, I do walk away recognizing her talents as an actress. She is also a key figure behind-the-scenes of the show. In the promotion of the series, she has said that she loves the collaborative nature of putting a television series together and wished more YouTube personalities were open to it. That willingness to collaborate and not need to be the center of attention allows these opening episodes of the show to have a specific voice to them that is completely distinct. Yes, it's playing in a familiar space. It's a show set in high school with actors who don't look like they belong in high school in the slightest. It's about the various cliques that operate in this space vying for popularity and to be noticed so that they can attend the best colleges in the country. The students all believe their concerns to be life or death. If a rumor spreads, then it has the potential to ruin their entire lives. The show plays into all of these familiar tropes. Akana's Farrah leads a pack of mean girls who apparently run the school. But this show positions all of this more as a delicate business arrangement. Farrah is nothing more than a power broker cutting deals to effect change in the school while serving her own interests in the process. It's apparently a skill she picked up from her father - who has since abandoned the family. She wields it well in order to be in charge of this environment while determining the fates of her various classmates. Her friends are loyal to her but she could cut them at a moment's notice as soon as they are no longer beneficial to her.

On the surface, it feels like Farrah could be a hard character to watch. She's unsympathetic to a central tragedy that happens at the school right before the series starts. She instead uses it to gain personal information about her fellow classmates. With her, it's all about cumulating information to use whenever it best suites her. She knows how to give people exactly what they want while ensuring that they remain indebted to her. These opening two episodes focus almost entirely on the race for student body president. It's a position that looks good on a college resume even if some believe that person has no real say in the way the school is run. The two leading candidates, Ilo and Hope, are looking to make deals with Farrah to ensure their victory. They are making their campaign promises and reaching out to the various cliques of this world. They are pulling stunts to earn votes. The show delves into the behind-the-scenes machinations that have to be so well-crafted in order to succeed. Farrah is just sitting back and examining the lay of the land. She's in the position of everyone wanting to cut a deal with her while she is being withholding and refusing to make an endorsement until the last minute. She is keeping her options open to see which candidate can provide her with what she really wants - a cosmetic change to the school that seems superfluous while later on revealing a new sympathetic side to the character. Farrah does care about her classmates. But her close personal relationships are hard to come by. No one truly knows the person behind the power moves. Even then, she has to be careful to ensure that those close bonds can't be exploited later on should someone ever challenge her rule.

This show is essentially an allegory for power and perception. Farrah is the person we all wanted to be in high school. She's the one controlling the narrative and change the entire system in an instant. She has the influence and awareness to get it done and completely change lives. She knows how people will react long before they ever get into that specific situation. It's also a story about how hardened and knowledgeable the new generation actually is. Farrah is hardly the only person playing this game. She does what she can to keep people in their place. But there already are people whose lives have been affected by her actions. Some see her as this phenomenal friend to have. Others look back at her involvement in their lives as the moment it all went wrong. As such, it seems inevitable that the story of the season will spiral out of control for Farrah. The opening two episodes are all about showing Farrah in her groove and doing what she does best. The second episode ends on an enticing note that this life isn't all that it cracks up to be. It seems like a precarious ecosystem that is bound to cash at a moment's notice. It's Farrah doing whatever it takes to fix the outward problems of the world instead of focusing on her own. She always has to keep moving forward. That's difficult to do when she's faced with a crumbling home life. It's such a fascinating story with a perspective that is fresh in the genre. Is it enough to get me to sign up for YouTube Red? I don't know. But I do definitely want to see more episodes to see just how crazy and destructive this specific world can get.