When Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf takes an internship at W in Season 4, she has her boss’s job by the next episode. But when Hannah Horvath asks for a salary at her unpaid publishing internship in the pilot episode of Girls (premiering this Sunday at 10:30 on HBO) she gets fired. As any 20-something can attest, the latter scenario feels painfully real. Internships are the new entry-level job, and they don’t always guarantee advancement or pay (unless you do have a last name like “Waldorf”). Which of course got us thinking. If Hannah is “at least a voice of a generation” — someone who feels as lost as she does destined to be heard — which of her TV peers also qualify as real voices of today’s 20-something crowd? And who doesn’t? To investigate we did a survey of their career paths, ranking from “as real as your local government ” to “her work-shirt doesn’t have a midriff.” Please feel free to disagree, and add any we missed!
#1. Parks and Recreation: Tom Haverford, Department Administrator/entrepreneur
Like many 20-somethings, Tom Haverford believes he is destined for greatness despite being stuck in an unglamorous mid-level job. And while he certainly doesn’t lack ideas, one only needs to take a look at his list of failed ventures (including SnakeJuice, Tommy Fresh, Know Ya’ Boo, and Entertainment 720) to see that he’s more of a dreamer than a businessman. But it wasn’t until the demise of his media conglomerate that Tom came to terms with this. So this season, in the wake of his public humiliation, Tom’s treatin’ himself and “laying low” as Leslie’s Image Consultant/Swagger Coach.
A voice of a generation?: Yes, absolutely. DJ Roomba forever.
#2. New Girl: Jess Day, middle school teacher
As Jess alluded to in her “defense of girliness” speech, her chosen career path makes perfect sense for someone with her sensibilities: “I break for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children.” And sure, she plays guitar in the classroom, but which of you didn’t have a teacher who gave participation points for “group song time”? (Spanish class freshman year for this writer, and yep the website still exists.) At the same time, school isn’t all ribbons and sparkles for Jess. Her breakdowns with mean students and parents only demonstrate her “realness,” as well as the truth about teaching: it’s not an easy profession. The only difference between Jess and actual teachers is that when she gets in disagreements with parents they’re hot and they eventually ask her out.
A voice of a generation?: Yes, because what 20-something doesn’t live to the beat of their own theme song?
#3. Breaking Bad: Jesse Pinkman, meth manufacturer/distributor
If this were reality, Jesse Pinkman would be dead by now — in fact, the directors had intended to kill him off by the end of Season 1. But without Jesse, how else could we gauge the moral descent of Walter White? As creator Vince Gilligan pointed out, he is “the good guy of the two bad guys.” At the core of Jesse’s theatrical white-thug persona is someone with aspirations and a conscience, making him one of the most realistic dealers television has ever seen.
A voice of a generation?: Yes, because how many of us have accepted that we’re not going to be who we had hoped. Also, we overuse this word.
#4. I Just Want My Pants Back: Jason Strider, receptionist at casting agency, flyer guy, cleaning boy/prostitute, editorial assistant
A young Brooklynite trying to break into the music industry, Jason Strider takes on a number of crappy jobs, including a gig that involves dressing like a cake and handing out flyers for Restaurant Week. Of course, his crush runs into him in this state, with a glib co-worker in tow who asks, “Is this, like, what you do?” To which Jason stumbles through an explanation that includes the phrases “five-year plan” and “transition phase.” It isn’t until the final episode of Season 1 that he gets an editorial assistant job at a music website; anyone who has been through the interview ringer can relate to his private bathroom stall celebration: “Yes! Yes! Oh my God, finally!”
A voice of a generation?: Yes, because there is a distinct 20-something type that considers “solid” a vocab staple for its ability to be both adjective and noun. See Jason in Episode 12: “Thanks again for meeting me. As I learned in the Cornell Career Center, I should close by reiterating how much I love your site and that my background reviewing bands for the school paper would make me a solid editorial assistant.”
#5. 2 Broke Girls: Max Black and Caroline Channing, waitresses/aspiring cupcake shop owners
The bad one-liners and fake Brooklyn set can be grating, but the situation of these two girls reflects the real hope of many 20-somethings in the service industry: that their situation is only temporary. We also have to give them credit for not being ashamed to admit how broke they are. As Caroline confessed on this week’s episode, she had to use duct tape she stole from work for a bikini wax. (TMI, but a quick Google search proves that it is a thing.)
A voice of a generation?: We love you Kat Dennings, but maybe in a different show?
#6. Hart of Dixie: Zoe Hart, Doctor
Zoe Hart’s story is one many 20-somethings can relate to: she’s done everything right (graduating at the top of her class in med school), yet she still fails to get what she wants (cardiothoracic fellowship she’s dreamed of winning). It’s this initial premise that places Hart of Dixie in the highest position on the less-realistic side of this list. Then things get a little dubious. When she doesn’t get her dream job, Zoe proceeds to accept a mysterious invitation from a Dr. Harley Wilkes to work at his small practice in Bluebell, Alabama. With no other options she goes, only to find out that Dr. Wilkes is her father — and dead. Nonetheless she decides to stay (residing in a carriage house) and every sort of stereotypical Southern debacle ensues (including but not limited to snake bites, parade float crashes, heat-induced love spells, and a minister with syphilis).
A voice of a generation?: Because of this video, we have to say yes.
#7. Dating Rules From My Future Self: Lucy, app developer
Lucy develops apps at Finger Games, although it’s unclear what she does at her job except banter with in her co-worker Martin Starr, a grown-up fanboy who has found love and believes she can too. We do get to see Lucy pitch a “decision maker app,” and not soon after, she starts receiving texts from her future self, who informs her that she will go on to create time-texting technology. The rest of the season Lucy continues to text her future self for dating advice on the app she has yet to create.
A voice of a generation?: Except for the fact that she loves large slippers and her girlfriends, we don’t get a great sense of Lucy’s personality or professional drive. So we’ll chalk this up to a fair representation of 20-somethings’ reliance on texting.
#8. Gossip Girl: Chuck Bass, CEO of Bass Industries
As far as we can tell (because we aren’t privy to his “big business meetings”), Chuck’s job running Bass Industries entails hosting promotional costume parties, keeping his “bad boy reputation” intact (which according to his publicist is better for hotel business), doing interviews at Forbes, and trading his girlfriend for The Empire. We also recently learned that his idea of a corporate retreat is call girls and “blind-folded trust exercises.” And yet, he still might have a more realistic career than Nate, the, um, newspaper magnate.
A voice of a generation?: He will be remembered for these three words: “I’m Chuck Bass.” (see above)
#9. 90210: Caleb, Priest in Training
Recent happenings in America’s favorite zip code include Annie meeting a hunky surfer named Caleb, who (surprise!) is a priest-in-training (and yep, we’ve definitely seen the acronym PILF out there as a result). He may not be able to requite Annie’s love, but he quickly finds purpose as the group’s spiritual advisor in the wake of Raj’s death. This entails sexy grief counseling walks on the beach and saying things like “the truth will always set you free” to Annie by the glow of a night-memorial-service beach bonfire. At any given point the occupations of the characters on this show are completely absurd, but we have to say that “priest in training” tops them all at the moment. And if this turns out to be the classic “clergy fake out” soap device, well that’s even less believable.
A voice of a generation?: Try 50 years ago.
#10. 30 Rock: Cerie Xerox, Liz Lemon’s assistant
It’s never really clear why Cerie is at the office, and just when you think she’s left the show for good she appears in shorts to grab something off the top shelf in front of Frank and make Jenna feel insecure.
A voice of a generation?: As someone whose goal in life is to marry rich and design handbags… sadly, yes.