College should be a place that lends itself well to television, and doubly so when it comes to comedies, because it’s the second coming-of-age moment for most people. It can be another form of adolescence, and a time when young adults find themselves free of parental supervision and preparing for the “real world” — but mostly just screwing around and hooking up. With a college comedy, you can take more risks and explore more subjects — particularly sexuality — than you normally would in a high school drama. But collegiate sitcoms rarely do that well (especially when it’s a later season following an existing group of characters off to the dorms) and Hulu’s new acquired series Resident Advisors is no exception, though it at least takes a unique approach of filtering college life through the RAs’ perspective.
There are some television shows that have broken the college curse: A Different World, a Cosby Show spinoff that takes place at a historically black college, was a huge success; it’s currently streaming on Netflix and is the much better alternative to Resident Advisors. Undeclared, a spiritual successor to Freaks & Geeks, is the richest college-set sitcom but didn’t last. Community should go without saying, but fits every other genre before it fits into “college sitcom.” Resident Advisors, which boasts Elizabeth Banks as one of its Executive Producers, aims to fill the void in this tricky genre, but it suffers from trying too hard to rely on the raunch, the sex-crazed students, and the predictable collegiate fare to provide anything of worth.
To be fair to the sitcom, however, it does play more as a workplace comedy than a college one. At its center is strict and ambitious Resident Director Olivia (Jamie Chung, who I will always associate only with Real World) who tries to keep her residence hall in order while dealing with a bunch of fairly terrible Resident Advisors. Douglas (Ryan Hansen who, so far, is the only reason why I’ll keep watching; he has a knack for powering through underdeveloped characters) is on his fifth master’s degree and isn’t good at his job — in the pilot, Olivia is just waiting for his next mistake so she can immediately fire him. Amy (a wonderful Alison Rich) is the weirdo of the group who has to kick out her contraband pet dog and who says lines like “Before I got to college I was a virgin who was really into turtles. Now I get laid all the time and I hate turtles.” There is Tyler (Graham Rogers), the chill, cool RA who tells students that he’ll confiscate their booze and drugs for his own personal use. Tyler is the requisite pervert — he relentlessly hits on his residents, he sniffs Olivia’s sheets — and is a rich white dude only in college because his father paid for the stadium (he practically brags about this to the only black RA, Sam (Andrew Bachelor), who is poor and works six jobs to stay afloat).
In the first two episodes that were screened for critics (seven episodes were made available today on Hulu Plus), the cast does great work — particularly Hansen and Rich — but their performances just highlight how poor the rest of the series is. In the pilot, Douglas has to fix a situation in which a male student named Leslie gets accidentally placed in a room with a female. Doug’s ultimate solution is have Leslie pretend that he identifies as a woman in order to stay in the room (this way he can use his female roommate as a wingman!) and then gives a speech to the Dean about how gender isn’t binary. This is, I suppose, Resident Advisors‘ nod to Tumblr & co. about being a cool and progressive show but considering Doug’s selling point to Leslie was basically “hey, if you pretend to be a woman you can shower with women!” it only comes off as gross and uncomfortable.
The second episode doesn’t get much better as it revolves around hormonally charged students (sexiling their roommates, a plot that was done much better in Undeclared) and their RAs trying to … get them to have less sex, I guess? Because of a BuzzFeed rankings list about STDs? Anyway, the RAs spend most of the episode bursting into various dorms to switch faulty condoms with good condoms and none of it is really worth getting into. In fact, based on the first two episodes, I’d say the rest of the series isn’t worth getting into, either. If you’re really craving a college-centric show on Hulu, just trust me and watch the UK import Fresh Meat instead.