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Teen writer, 'Genera+ion' cast: Not all teen dramas are the same

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Justice Smith plays Chester, a gay teenager, in HBO Max's "Genera+ion." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/46784883157e985ec5e1d973348748ee/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Justice Smith plays Chester, a gay teenager, in HBO Max's "Genera+ion." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, March 11 (UPI) -- The new HBO Max drama Genera+tion, which premieres Thursday, follows a tradition of HBO teen dramas like Euphoria and We Are What We Are.

All three portray diverse groups of high school teenagers, but Genera+ion cast members and its 19-year-old co-creator Zelda Barnz told Television Critics Association members it's a mistake to lump the three shows together.

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Justice Smith said the teenage protagonists are the only similarities the shows have in common. Smith, 25, plays Chester, an openly gay teenager who gets in trouble at school for dressing too provocatively.

"These are all very different stories, but we're in a new zeitgeist now where we're accurately depicting what adolescent life is like," Smith said on a recent TCA Zoom panel. "I'm also grateful for HBO Max to be this platform to say, 'Here are these three different shows that all accurately depict what adolescent life is like.'"

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Barnz co-created and co-wrote Genera+ion with her father, Daniel. Zelda Barnz said it was awkward broaching subjects of teen sexuality with him.

"I want this show to feel real, and I want the show to feel authentic," Zelda Barnz said. "To commit to that vision, I'm really going to have to be honest and open."

Chester's classmates include Riley, a photographer who is beginning to explore sex with her boyfriend. Chase Sui Wonders, 24, who plays Riley, said the characters in Genera+ion make it unique to other teen dramas.

"These stereotypes are just ripped open, and you can just see the underbelly and the minutiae of all these different characters," Wonders said.

Riley's brother, Nathan (Uly Schlesinger), is experimenting with boys, but has not come out. Chloe East plays Naomi, a popular girl who hosts a party that brings all the characters together in the pilot.

East, 20, said she had not begun to see her generation represented accurately until the 2018 film Eighth Grade. Genera+ion captures the explicit and unique quirks of modern teen dialogue, in-person and on smartphone apps, East said.

"If anyone has ever gone to high school or met a high-schooler, like you know this is our language," East said. "This is not sugar coating anything. This is just truth."

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Zelda Barnes said she based Chester loosely on someone from her high school. She confirms Chester is not strictly biographical, but she knew an openly gay boy who was active in LGBTQ causes and popular among classmates.

"I was seeing a lot of shows where queer characters were bullied," Zelda said. "In my high school experience, there was this incredibly popular, beloved, very openly queer person who would perform drag for the school and would wear dresses to school."

Smith said he knows boys like Chester, too. Smith was impressed Genera+ion made Chester a central character, rather than a supporting one.

"Chester is this really bold, unapologetic personality," Smith said. "I feel like usually those characters are side characters or foil characters in other TV shows or media."

Zelda Barnes said many characters and storylines derive from real-world inspiration. It was important to her that Genera+ion tell individual character stories, rather than represent diverse minorities as a monolith.

"It's important to remember that they're not just people who are straight and gay," she said. "There's a whole spectrum, and all those identities deserve to be represented."

Genera+ion premieres Thursday on HBO Max.

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