HBO/HBO Max 2021 Winter TCA Press Tour Panel Interview: Genera+ion

Genera+ionThe first three episodes of the new original series, Genera+ion, premieres on March 11th on HBO Max. Two episodes of the dramedy, which was created by Zelda and Daniel Barnz, who also serve as executive producers, will follow on March 25th, with another on April 1st. The rest of the season will come later in the year. Genera+ion is a 30-minute series that follows a group of diverse high school students and their exploration of their sexuality as they deal with what life brings them.

Stars Nathanya Alexander, Chloe East, Lusitania Maxwell, Haley Sanchez, Uly Schlesinger, Justice Smith, and Chase Sui Wonders, as well as Zelda, Daniel, and executive producer Ben Barnz, recently joined the HBO Max TCA panel to talk about the series with journalists.

Zelda and Daniel Barnz, who are also both writers on the show, talked about balancing the issues of race and sexuality through the eyes of multicultural characters.

According to Zelda, “We drew a lot of inspiration from authenticity and real-world influence when we were writing and creating the show.  I think if you're basing a show off something real and authentic, something that's real and authentic is intersectionality and people who identify across the gender and sexuality spectrum and with different races and different ethnicities.  So, I think it’s important to remember that they're not just people who are straight and gay; there's a whole spectrum and all those identities deserve to be represented.”


Genera+ionDaniel, her father, who is also a director on the series, added, “One thing that I will also say, is that Zelda felt very passionately about the beginning, even when we were writing our very first draft of the pilot. She wanted to make sure that the characters were identified in the script by race and ethnicity, because I think she felt like, and sometimes this is true, that when people read scripts, they tend to read characters with unspecified race and ethnicities as “white.”  It was so important to her to make sure that all of these characters would ultimately be cast predominantly by people of color,  and that those stories that we're telling would be about the ways that they identify across the gender and sexuality spectrums and about their race and about them as people.

With Genera+ion being a coming-ofage series on HBO, it will likely draw comparisons to Euphoria and We Are Who We Are. Daniel talked about how the series is different. “I think our show is really quite different, and honestly, I think when you watch them, it’s just abundantly clear that they are different shows, even though on paper, I agree. I know…that there're some overlaps and similarities, but I think they feel very different.

“I think that one of the most obvious differences is that Euphoria is an hour-long show, and ours is a half-hour show, and that's not just the time difference.  You know, the real beauty and excitement of being able to work in that half-hour format is that there's less pressure on story, and you're allowed to let your characters live and breathe and experience.  One of the things that Zelda’s always wanting us to do with the show is to reflect the actual experiences of teenagers which sometimes is kind of random or weird, and you go off on tangents and strange things happen. We wanted to reflect that in the storytelling as well.”

Chase Sui Wonders, who is a fan of the other series, added, “I think what is cool about the landscape for these young stories that HBO is choosing to tell right now, is the incredible specificity with which they tell all these stories and how these stereotypes are just ripped open, and you can just see the underbelly and the minutiae of all these different characters. I feel like this show does that to such an extent that, obviously, the comparisons are there, but because you’re just taking a microscope to these individual people it feels like an entirely different world and an entirely different set of idiosyncrasies.”

Justic Smith also added, “I feel like when you have content about adults or people who are older it’s like, yeah, they curse and they have sex and they do drugs and they do this, and they do that, and no one’s saying like, “Oh, that’s exactly like all these other movies.”  But, for some reason, when you focus on young people, and you show them authentically, everyone’s like, “Oh, these are all exactly the same.”  It’s like, no, these are all very different stories, but it’s just we’re in a new zeitgeist now where we’re accurately depicting what adolescent life is like.  So, I’m also grateful for HBO Max to kind of like be this platform to say, “Here are these three different shows, very different shows, that all accurately depict what adolescent life is like,” because I think shows about teenagers is a genre when I don’t think it is a genre, but it’s been made into a genre, if that makes sense.  Sort of kind of like ripping that genre open.”

The series is also different in the fact that it’s a father/daughter writing team, and although at first it was a little uncomfortable to talk to her father about some of the shows topics, it was important to Zelda for it to feel authentic. “I definitely think at first it was a bit uncomfortable trying to figure out what I could talk and could not talk about with my dad. I definitely got to a place where I was kind of like, “I want this show to feel real, and I want the show to feel authentic, and in order to commit to that vision, I’m really going to have to be honest and open.”  I mean, topics like sexuality and sexual identity have never really been taboo or shameful in my family.  So, it wasn’t particularly difficult to get to that place, but definitely there were moments where it was like weird to be talking to my dad about certain things within this language of this show.”

Her father talked to how they divide the work. “…We write them together.  We kind of loosely come up with the outlines together, and then we sort of split the drafts in half.  We do like a vomit draft where she writes fifteen pages; I write fifteen pages. Then we just keep handing them back and forth.”

He is happy to be able to teach Zelda, but he’s also learned a lot from her in the process. “It’s a blessing, as a father, to be given this opportunity to create something with my daughter.  It’s a very moving thing.  And, yes, there are a lot of things that I’ve been able to kind of teach her about stories, but there’s more that she’s been able to teach me. I think the real unintended blessing of collaborating on the show together was because Zelda wanted to be honest about it. It allowed us to be honest, not just about what was happening in the show, but what was happening in our real lives, and I think the opportunity to be taught to be more honest by my daughter is a gift.”


For more, be sure to check out Genera+ion when it premieres March 11th on HBO Max. You can also read the edited transcript of the panel below.


HBO and HBO Max
TCA Winter Press Tour

Genera+ion (HBO Max)


Zelda Barnz (Creator / Writer / EP)
Daniel Barnz (Creator / Writer / Director / EP)
Ben Barnz (EP)
Nathanya Alexander (Stars as Arianna)
Chloe East (Stars as Naomi)
Lukita Maxwell ( Stars as Delilah)
Haley Sanchez (Stars as Greta)
Uly Schlesinger (Stars as Nathan)
Justice Smith (Stars as Chester)
Chase Sui Wonders (Stars as Riley)

Los Angeles, CA
February 10, 2021


QUESTION:  I guess, this is, basically, for Zelda and Justice.  I find the Chester character really fascinating.  I've seen characters like him in other shows, but they're always kind of cliché. They're kind of nerdy; no one pays attention to them, and so forth.  This guy, even though he dresses very stridently, extra stridently, he's also a star athlete; he seems to get along with the jocks.  So, he's just a very different character from anyone I've seen on TV before.  So, if both Justice and Zelda can kind of talk about the character.

JUSTICE SMITH:
  Yes.  Also, first of all I just want to say hi to everyone.

BEN BARNZ:
  Yes.

JUSTICE SMITH:
  I'm so excited to be here with you all and with this amazing cast and crew.  I mean, Zelda, do you want to start first?

ZELDA BARNZ:
  Go ahead.

JUSTICE SMITH:
  I'm so honored to play Chester, because I feel like I know so many guys in real life that are exactly like Chester, and I haven't really seen representation of this kind of person before.  Chester is like this really bold, you know, non-apologetic personality.  I feel like usually those characters are side characters or foil characters in other TV shows or media.  In this, we really like centralize his psyche and his life to kind of expound on this person that I know exists within my life in the day-to-day.  So, I think Zelda and Daniel and all the writers did an amazing job of creating this multi-layered character, because I think it’s really hard to do with someone who comes across so - what's the word I'm looking for?  Like specific.  Like, you look at Chester and you already make assumptions about him, you know?  And I think that other writers kind of fear delving into the layers of someone like that.  I just am grateful to be in a show that has writers who are fearless in that way.

QUESTION:
  Zelda, could you add a little?

ZELDA BARNZ:
  Yeah, definitely.  When I was in high school, there was actually a student who had similarities to Chester.  Obviously, Chester kind of became his own character.  But there was this student at my high school who was the President of our GSA which is our Gay-Straight Alliance or our Gender and Sexuality Alliance.  And they were also the student body president and openly queer.  And that was always so interesting to me that, I don't know, I felt like I was seeing a lot of shows where queer characters were bullied.  And in my high school experience there was this incredibly popular beloved, very openly-queer person who would wear -- who would perform drag for the school and would wear dresses to school, and had no problem being openly themselves.  So, yeah, definitely the inspiration for a character like Chester definitely came from that student and that influence in my life, yeah.

QUESTION:
  This probably is for the Barnzes.  It seems like every generation has its show whether it’s 90210 or The OC or One Tree Hill.  We're obviously in a much different time now socially and in terms of what can be done on TV, particularly on cable and streaming.  Did you take any cues from any of those earlier shows in terms of what you wanted the dynamics between the characters to be?

DANIEL BARNZ:
  Yeah, I mean I think we were inspired by a lot of different shows.  I grew up kind of a long time ago, and maybe my inspirations were coming from some John Hughes’ movies.  I think when we set out to create this show  -  and by the way I just want to say, this came from Zelda.  This was her idea.  It came from stories that she started to tell us about her Gender and Sexuality Alliance that were kind of poignant and funny, and we suggested that she write them down.  Then we said, “Oh, you know, it would kind of make an interesting TV show, just because the characters and the stories and the roles are so amazing.”  But we really didn't think that this TV show was going to get made necessarily.  Not because we didn't think it was a good idea, but just because, I don't know, you know, like queer kids of color in Anaheim, it just didn't seem like CSI, Bonanza material, per se.  But we did think it would be kind of an amazing opportunity for us as TV writers just to teach our daughter about how you think about conceiving a TV show and how you go about creating a world and characters.  And as it became a little bit more real and we realized we were actually going to go talk to people about it and try to pitch it, we still didn't think the show was going to get made, but we thought it was kind of an amazing opportunity to teach her about what it is to be a TV writer and how you, you know,  pour your passionate heart into these ideas.  You go into a room and you try to convince people to buy it, and they smile and nod and tell you it was a good idea, and then they turn around and reject you.  You know, that's maybe not a bad lesson to learn as a teenager just about grit and resilience and so on.  Needless to say, that's not exactly how it all turned out.  And I think Zelda’s kind of scratching her head and sort of wondering what we've been whining about for all these years.

But I do have to say, this is also partly our kind of visionary partners at HBO Max who saw that there could be a show like this with characters like this that a lot of people could see themselves in and relate to even if they were completely different ages and races and ethnicities and identified different ways across the gender and sexuality spectrums.  What we really hoped with the show, was that people who are of Zelda’s generation would see themselves in it and be like, “Oh, yeah, that's kind of what it feels like.”  And for people who are in my older John Hughes generation, that we might look back and be like, “Oh, god, yes, that is what it felt like,” even if they kind of all look and talk differently than we did.

QUESTION:
  I guess this question is mostly for the Barnzes, but any of the actors could also pitch in as well. With most shows that we see on television nowadays, especially teen shows, when they talk about race and sexuality, it’s either one or the other.  Then there's the one special episode that they talk about the other one that they're missing, and then it gets brushed off, whereas this series, it has a really good balance of the two.  How was it kind of finding that balance of both race and sexuality in the show through the eyes of all these different multi-cultural characters?

DANIEL BARNZ:
  Zellie, you want to kick that off?

ZELDA BARNZ:
  Yeah, sure.  We drew a lot of inspiration from authenticity and real-world influence when we were writing and creating the show.  I think if you're basing a show off something real and authentic, something that's real and authentic is intersectionality and people who identify across the gender and sexuality spectrum and with different races and different ethnicities.  So, I think it’s important to remember that they're not just people who are straight and gay; there's a whole spectrum and all those identities deserve to be represented.

DANIEL BARNZ:
  One thing that I will also say, is that Zelda felt very passionately about the beginning, even when we were writing our very first draft of the pilot. She wanted to make sure that the characters were identified in the script by race and ethnicity, because I think she felt like, and sometimes this is true, that when people read scripts, they tend to read characters with unspecified race and ethnicities as “white.”  It was so important to her to make sure that all of these characters would ultimately be cast predominantly by people of color,  and that those stories that we're telling would be about the ways that they identify across the gender and sexuality spectrums and about their race and about them as people.

QUESTION:
  With the show being on HBO and kind of being about this coming-of-age, it’s bound to draw comparisons to Euphoria and We Are Who We Are.  This is kind of a two-part question.  Why do you think HBO Max continues to be the space for this kind of storytelling?  And two, how do you seek to kind of set the show apart from those series and kind of add to this conversation of a new growing up?

DANIEL BARNZ:
  I think, I mean, I would love to hear what the cast says about this show.  I'm a huge fan of Euphoria.  I think it’s an incredible show, and the craftsmanship in it is amazing.  I think our show is really quite different, and honestly, I think when you watch them, it’s just abundantly clear that they are different shows, even though on paper, I agree. And I know what you're saying, that there're some overlaps and similarities, but I think they feel very different.

I think that one of the most obvious differences is that Euphoria is an hour-long show, and ours is a half-hour show, and that's not just the time difference.  You know, the real beauty and excitement of being able to work in that half-hour format is that there's less pressure on story, and you're allowed to let your characters live and breathe and experience.  One of the things that Zelda’s always wanting us to do with the show is to reflect the actual experiences of teenagers which sometimes is kind of random or weird, and you go off on tangents and strange things happen. We wanted to reflect that in the storytelling as well.  But I don’t know.  What do you guys all think about our show and how you want to see it exist in the world on HBO and HBO Max?

BEN BARNZ:
  I’m Ben -

CHASE SUI WONDERS:
  I think I’ll hop in.  I think part -

[laughter]

CHASE SUI WONDERS:
  I think part of the beauty - I mean, I’m such a fan of Euphoria and We Are Who We Are. I think what is cool about the landscape for these young stories that HBO is choosing to tell right now, is the incredible specificity with which they tell all these stories and how these stereotypes are just ripped open, and you can just see the underbelly and the minutiae of all these different characters. I feel like this show does that to such an extent that, obviously, the comparisons are there, but because you’re just taking a microscope to these individual people it feels like an entirely different world and an entirely different set of idiosyncrasies.

DANIEL BARNZ:
  Totally.  I wish I could answer it better, like, why HBO and HBO Max are such perfect homes for it, but they are, and I just can only really express gratitude.

BEN BARNZ:
  Yeah.

DANIEL BARNZ:
  And a little gratitude for letting us explore all of these different characters who, again, are just so diverse and amazing and underrepresented on TV.

JUSTICE SMITH:
  I also feel like the main similarity between our show and shows like Euphoria, I haven’t seen We Are Who We Are, but I want to, but I assume it’s like an R-rated show about teenagers, and I feel like that’s just really the thru line, like, “Oh, it’s a raw-er look into what teenagers are actually doing.”  But that’s really kind of the only similarity.  I feel like when you have content about adults or people who are older it’s like, yeah, they curse and they have sex and they do drugs and they do this, and they do that, and no one’s saying like, “Oh, that’s exactly like all these other movies.”  But, for some reason, when you focus on young people, and you show them authentically, everyone’s like, “Oh, these are all exactly the same.”  It’s like, no, these are all very different stories, but it’s just we’re in a new zeitgeist now where we’re accurately depicting what adolescent life is like.  So, I’m also grateful for HBO Max to kind of like be this platform to say, “Here are these three different shows, very different shows, that all accurately depict what adolescent life is like,” because I think shows about teenagers is a genre when I don’t think it is a genre, but it’s been made into a genre, if that makes sense.  Sort of kind of like ripping that genre open.

QUESTION:
  Following up on Justice’s comments just now, I’m imagining for the actors, your generation, you guys didn’t grow up seeing shows like this.  You guys did kind of come up where it was just starting to edge there where they were allowed to say F-bombs and things like that.  So, when you started working on this show, were there moments where you were like, “Are we seriously allowed to say this on TV?  Like are they really going to let us do this?”

CHLOE EAST:
  Yes.

[laughter]

CHASE SUI WONDERS:
  Yes.

JUSTICE SMITH:
  I was clutching my pearls.  I was like, “No, I can’t say it.  I can’t say these things.”

CHLOE EAST:
  The first movie that I saw that showed everyone or showed just teenagers acting like teenagers was Eighth Grade, and I think when I saw that movie I was like, “Dang.”  Like they were quoting Vines.  They were quoting real stuff.  I think that was the first form of media that offset this, and then all these other TV shows were coming out that everyone could relate to like Euphoria and then now our show.  And I think when I read the script, I was like, “Wait a minute.  This is, like, I know this girl.  I know this language.”  And it is weird to like - because I never went to high school.  I was homeschooled, and so I have like an idea of what everything is like, but then you just see it on the page, and it just comes to life, and it’s just truth. I think our show is just if anyone has ever gone to high school or met a high schooler, like this is our language, and the show just captivates you, and it just encompasses everything that it is to be a high schooler.  It’s just so authentic.  It’s so truthful, and I think, when I read the script, I was like, “This is not painting, sugar coating anything.  This is just truth.” 

NATHANYA ALEXANDER:
  Yeah.  I agree.  When I first read the script, I instantly freaked out, because I knew each and every character. And I love that each character is so bold and perfectly balanced, and each character has a freedom of expression, and they’re unfiltered, and that’s exciting to play, especially when you know these character in real life.

DANIEL BARNZ:
  We have the great benefit, too, because Zelda is the co-creator and EP…She’s such a strong north star for all of us, and because she’s just out of high school, she can tell us where we’re getting it right, where we’re getting it wrong.  I can’t tell you the fierce notes we’ve gotten about how our texts are written in the show and what it means if you put a capital letter or a period at the end of a text, how it’s a sign of aggression, and we better not do that.  So, thank God for Zelda for keeping us on track.

ZELDA BARNZ:
  Thank you.

QUESTION:
To expand on what you just said, Daniel, I’m curious about a father/daughter writing team…So, who writes them?...How do you make it authentic?  Say, if the father writes it, does the daughter fix it or something like that?  Is Zelda the punch-up woman in this operation here?  And, Zelda, a lot of times, teenagers can’t tell their parents everything or most anything.  Are you able to tell your father everything?

ZELDA BARNZ:
  Yeah.  I mean - oh, sorry.

BEN BARNZ:
  Go ahead.

ZELDA BARNZ:
  Okay, cool.  Well, starting with the last part, because it’s the freshest in my mind, I definitely think at first it was a bit uncomfortable trying to figure out what I could talk and could not talk about with my dad. I definitely got to a place where I was kind of like, “I want this show to feel real, and I want the show to feel authentic, and in order to commit to that vision, I’m really going to have to be honest and open.”  I mean, topics like sexuality and sexual identity have never really been taboo or shameful in my family.  So, it wasn’t particularly difficult to get to that place, but definitely there were moments where it was like weird to be talking to my dad about certain things within this language of this show.  Yeah, for sure.

DANIEL BARNZ:
  Yeah.  I will say I never had conversations like that with my parents.  There was a lot of blushing going on in the writing of this show.

But I will say, to answer your first part of your question, we write them together.  We kind of loosely come up with the outlines together, and then we sort of split the drafts in half.  We do like a vomit draft where she writes fifteen pages; I write fifteen pages. Then we just keep handing them back and forth.

It’s a blessing, as a father, to be given this opportunity to create something with my daughter.  It’s a very moving thing.  And, yes, there are a lot of things that I’ve been able to kind of teach her about stories, but there’s more that she’s been able to teach me. I think the real unintended blessing of collaborating on the show together was because Zelda wanted to be honest about it. It allowed us to be honest, not just about what was happening in the show, but what was happening in our real lives, and I think the opportunity to be taught to be more honest by my daughter is a gift.

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