Generation X hitting a midlife crisis seems to be the television zeitgeist right now.
First there was The Santa Clarita Diet, a show in which Drew Barrymore goes through a change of life (actually becoming dead) which causes her to iiterally start falling apart, while the husband furiously tries to cling to the old normal.
Then there's the utterly forgettable Kevin Can Wait, featuring Adam Sandler tumor Kevin James as a newly retired police officer who still has half his life to go and no idea what to do with it. Adding to the "soon to be cancelled list" is an execrable show with a balding "Joey" from "Friends" who now plays the kind of man who'd threaten his 12 year old's middle school sock hop date with a shotgun.
Then there's "The Great Indoors", a wonderful program about life changes. The gist of the show is that three generations of people combine in a small start-up style office, and interact based on generational tropes. The Baby Boomers are represented by an understated Stephen Fry who finally decided to join partner Hugh Laurie in getting some of that American money while Joel McHale represents Generation X. The cast is rounded out by a trio of Millennials who counterbalance the first two.
Ostensibly, it's about a magazine for outdoorsmanship and exploring. Stephen Fry's "Roland", an Oxford grad whose excursions were of an almost Colonial-era adventuring and which are recounted in explorer's clubs complete with oiled wood and fireplaces quietly pulls "Jack Gordon", a 40something X-Games style slacker/extreme mountaineering type to supervise the conversion of the magazine Roland owns and Jack was a field reporter for to a web-only presence - including babysitting "Clark", "Emma" and "Mason", none of whom have spent any appreciable time outdoors because their smartphones occupy their entire attention span.
Not to get too anvilicious, but the generational overtones are particularly cutting. Roland came from a very established society that rewarded his work handsomely and has allowed him to parlay his life into running a business mostly for the fun of it. He likes youths and energy and doesn't want to appear "the heavy" in any way, making Jack and his daughter be the ones to pull the fro-yo machine out of the break room to cut costs. Jack has just ostensibly returned to civilization from field reporting for decades to find that property and rents are too high but luckily for him his childhood friend owns a bar with a room for rent. As for the Millennial staff, they see no problem in dorm-like cohabiting, complete with all having sex with each other (with the exception of Clark, who is a virgin, a loner, and lives on his own in a room smaller than a solitary confinement cell) but are basically nowhere near able to get their lives started and therefore see work as an extension of college life. Jack is caught in the middle, seeing an affluence and respect that he was born too late to have and envying the young with their easy sex and drugs. He's also massively frustrated with Roland's tendency to drink in the afternoon and leave the details up to Jack, and the fact that he has a staff of outdoors reporters who've never ACTUALLY been camping, never mind mountaineering or kayaking. Most of the show's humor is based on the idea that Jack simply is not in either camp, and is a fish out of water in every circumstance.
The Millennial cast includes a black gay hipster, Mason, an Asian female writer, Emma, and the aforementioned perpetual virgin Clark - who deeply envies Jack's musculature, life experience, ability and good looks. They're not interchangeable, but have specific aspects of "Millennial jokes" about them that they represent. Emma is called upon when there's commentary on "selfie" culture or the cult of online fame - she actually considers herself over the hill in her mid 20s and drinks her sorrows away when she finds out an 18 year old has more "likes" and web traffic on her vlog than she does. Mason represents the whole trend/meme culture aspect, at one point becoming a viral sensation for a live webcam response to stumbling onto a missing trafficked tiger the city is looking for.
Clark represents the fear that some Millennial men have that they're totally rudderless. With gender now being a choice amongst 64 flavors and traditional masculinity being something outdated, there's nevertheless something in Jack that Clark deeply envies. He is good with web culture and easily and deftly translates modern slang and social media conventions for Jack, but deep down he realizes that time is running out on achieving the actual experiences and skills he blogs about for the website, and he in no way has any of the requisite material.
In a crazily symbiotic relationship, whereas Jack constantly mocks Clark, the world has changed around him. He has no idea how any of this meme/blog/vlog stuff is supposed to work and the trio is very happily his guide, especially Clark. More darkly, as a single man Jack's still chasing the same 20something age group, women his age either being married or wanting "something serious", but having everything that made him a stud in his prime is like having a stash of Confederate money after the Civil War was over. He's no idea what "swipe right" means and he is astounded to find that the casual relationship he's in is actually a five way, including her sleeping with two members of his own staff. Clark is once again there as a wingman. Clark realizes somehow that a combination of Jack's good looks, great body and obvious rugged masculinity and his own intimate knowledge of modern culture would produce a super-man, and hopes that osmosis will create twins of this.
The show is savagely funny, even more so to my Generation X colleagues in the unenviable position of managing Millennial staff on the behalf of Baby Boomer higher-ups. It has been critiqued for casting anyone younger than 40 as shallow, ephemeral, vain, unprepared for the workplace with weird expectations (Jack shows up for the salary and the chance to climb mountains, the younger staff show up because they have free Wi-Fi and fro-yo). The bulk of the jokes are actually at the expense of Jack, whose good-looking but still aging body houses an entire morass of Generation X anxieties. The only problem is that since Jack tends to be the "straight man" and the mirror in which the rest of the world is seen, it looks like the bulk of the comedy can seem to a casual viewer to be cheap jokes about selfie-obsessed children.
The choice of bartender "Eddie", a long time Generation X friend of Jack's as a voice of conscience is a great one. As the staff generally congregates in the bar, it allows a third party to comment on the tensions between everyone else, while he casually wipes down the bar surface.
Buried in the DNA of the show is a seemingly aborted idea from the pilot about Jack not being over a one night stand with Roland's daughter, who also co-runs the web magazine. Though they joke about her fiancé (a "I have a girlfriend in Canada" joke) they soon realize that that subplot would get in the way of the show's organic chemistry and quietly wrote in a real love interest for her to get her more out of the picture.
Its first season has done well, not only because of strong writing and some deftly produced comedy but also because it occupies a prime slot between monster hit The Big Bang Theory and Mom, the Chuck Lorre comedy about alcoholism. CBS would do well to keep it going past its first season.