Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Two Altbro Hipsters on MTV's "I Just Want My Pants Back"

By way of introduction, RJ Cubarrubia and Jon Blistein are two altbros living in Williamsburg. They’re both trying to be music writers. RJ and Jon consider themselves quite culturally aware, but also recognize that their existence is made up of run-of-the-mill hipster clichés—hipster clichés which are now reaching larger audiences thanks to things like Bon Iver, Wes Anderson flicks, Honda commercials with Vampire Weekend, the term “buzz band,” etc. Some of this has been good; other stuff… well. Now there’s MTV’s "I Just Want My Pants Back," a show about four attractive post-grads living in Williamsburg, rife with pop-culture references and a hipster soundtrack. As solid members of the target audience (though admittedly more sedentary and maybe less beautiful than the actual characters on the show), RJ and Jon came to "Pants" with morbid curiosity and an open mind, due to their deep love of TV. Also, they’re narcissists.

Jon: Well, this is a show about h-words—oh, screw it, it's not worth trying to beat around this ridiculous bush. "I Just Want My Pants Back" is the show about hipsters, and its relative accuracy is impressive yet unnerving. Feeling the latter often makes it difficult to acknowledge the former, especially since it’s airing on the "Teen Mom" network and has one of the greatest lead-ins of all time, "Jersey Shore."

In "Pants," Jason (aka Jay) and Tina are hip young post-grads who smoke pot in bar bathrooms and talk about their sex droughts and screwy relationships in a post-Juno repartee that doesn’t seem too impossible, but maybe that’s cause you like to think you and your friends rap like that. But maybe you kinda do!

Exaggeration is always somewhat necessary in television, but what’s really neat about the first two episodes of "Pants" is that everything holding it together seems somewhat real and familiar. Premise: Jay gets laid and his titular pants stolen—and obviously finding said pants (and mystery thief, Jane) becomes a metaphor for discovering oneself. Jay’s best friend Tina wasn’t given a whole lot to do in the pilot except spit out some solid one-liners, but she showed signs of inner turmoil in episode two as she grappled with waiting for a post-fight text from her chocolatier/poet squeeze, Brett, as well as deflowering her 19-year-old intern. After the pilot I got the sense that Jay and Tina’s friendship would eventually morph into your typical will they/won’t they relationship, but I’m not so sure now—which is actually a very good thing, sitcom conventions be damned. And straight up, I like that "Pants" hits so close to home on a level that goes beyond pop references and good location scouting (not that that’s not important), and lands somewhere much more personal.

For those who haven't yet indulged: to the preview clip!

RJ: When we first heard of this show, I was afraid. With stuff like "2 Broke Girls" and "The New Girl" lightly depicting youthful, hip, Williamsburg-inspired culture, I became almost defensive and territorial when you told me about this “more accurate” portrayal of hipster life. Not to mention the casual Wavves namedrop (and the non-casual score collaboration), some nug huffing, and a so-bored, yet positive-minded protagonist whose current life’s a chore. Holding down a shitty job as an assistant to a strangely perverted and outrageously cruel casting director (played by the always stellar Chris Parnell), Jay reaches out to hilarious, wackadoo magazine publisher Lench (who’s latest project, All Naturals, focuses on environmental sustainability and hot chicks—“think models with 70’s-era bush in hemp bikinis teaching you how to compost”), because he’s thinking of getting into “music journalism.” I’ll admit I was hating myself for not being an investment banker when they dropped that on my dome, but I ended up finding all of it endearing. Sure, it’s hard to see my lifestyle and career choices caricatured onscreen. But if it didn’t feel real, would I feel this exposed?

Now, hipsters vs. suits is an eternal struggle on par with cats vs. dogs, the Empire vs. the Rebel Alliance, and Lana Del Rey vs. the word “authentic.” Standing in stark contrast to Jay and Tina, their friends Eric and Stacey aren’t quite typical suits (that title goes to the sexually repressed lawyers that Jay and Tina seduce at the All Naturals launch party), but their chosen path of grad/med school over Jay and Tina’s free wheeling lifestyle represent some sort of “safer” route and perhaps even a minor case of “selling out.” Eric and Stacey aren’t culturally clueless; I’m pretty sure Eric fits Urban Dictionary’s definition of “blipster” while Stacey’s the one who initially name-drops Wavves, wanting to momentarily reclaim her punk past by celebrating her birthday at a super secret show. Instead of keeping up with an “alternative” lifestyle into early adulthood (like Jay and Tina), Eric and Stacey have chosen a domestic path with more structure and security. Tina digs the couple as they make out over the crock pot Eric gifts to Stacey, but beyond her snark lies an unsettling contrast. While Jay and Tina can act like their life choices make them too cool for adulthood, they can’t deny Eric and Stacey’s genuine happiness and fulfilment as they struggle to find their own, professional and personal. I’ll take it one step further: as a 23-year-old freelance writer living in Williamsburg who took a year off from undergrad, ditched Politics for a fresh English degree and a maybe-career in music writing, seeing just how happy Eric and Stacey are makes me wonder about my path myself.

Jon: "Pants" never makes Eric and Stacey seem lame—I mean, they make couples Wii tennis, buying a mattress and quizzing each other with flash cards of diseases seem pretty dope. Sure, Jay and Tina take some jabs at them (“They’re hip, they’re new, they’re loud,” says Jay after Stacey expresses interest in the Wavves show), but neither lifestyle is really glorified. Jay comes across looking pretty awful when he forgets to pick up the Wavves tickets from the Craigslist dude cause he was finger-banging the freaky-deaky lawyer chick instead. With that in mind, what I find odd and almost off-putting, but ultimately compelling, about this contrast is that most, if not all, attractive-young-people-finding-themselves-in-a-big-city sitcoms revolve around these relatively stable characters like Eric and Stacey, by now so familiar that you kinda know people like them in real life. So when the ostensibly directionless, “just wingin’ it” hipster is juxtaposed with these tried-and-true characters, and you can relate to him on a more personal level than you ever could with Ross or Monica or Ted Mosby, you suddenly see yourself as a trope. Ugh, and then his references are spot on, and his one-liners kill, and then you’re watching the pilot for the first time and he drops that music journalism bomb and all you can do is yell at your TV but then not turn it off. Because it’s funny, and as much as you want to believe it is, it's actually not pandering to anyone, and the "Pants" people know that Arcade Fire isn’t performing at Music Hall of Williamsburg these days.

So it’s easy to be taken aback by "Pants" because it’s about a lifestyle and culture that prides itself on individualism and rejection of certain norms… a lifestyle that's already become commodified, even standardized. On the surface "Pants" seems like a consequence of those latter issues, but maybe the show’s existence is proof that this cultural movement [Editor's Note: Williamsburg is a cultural movement now???] that’s been building over the past decade-plus hasn’t so much cheapened but simply become a kind of pop culture in its own right. And there really isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that.

RJ: Kinda know people like them in real life? Try the vast overwhelming majority of my childhood and college friends. While most of them never were any sort of former “authentic punk” like Stacey, almost all of them are now young professionals working in banking or consulting, or drowning in 2L or clinicals. Yet they’re pop-cultural aware and consume with relatively careful curation; that Wavves exchange between Stacey and Jay happened in my life a few times almost exactly verbatim because my friends found Nathan Williams’ music on their own. The cultural lines that used to separate stale adulthood and “safe” career choices from hip, cool youth and a risky pursuit of passions and dreams are now blurred (I’m aware of “cool dads” but think of “superrad gnarbone dads” who take their kids to the skatepark with no helmets, let them eat cookies for breakfast, and bump Superchunk at Gymboree). I think you’re right, this is proof of a cultural movement that’s been building. [Editor's Note: Oh my God.] Many young adults take a path with “safe” career while intelligently and actively consuming culture. They’re not hipsters but they’re not exactly suits, and they’re certainly not suits just pretending to be hip. They’re something new and perhaps they’re the result of this movement that you point out.

So the question is: will "Pants" continue this blurred line? Or will it attempt to redefine those cultural boundaries between “hip” and “safe”? On one hand, seeing Jay and Tina’s successes may inspire Eric and Stacey to reject their “safer” paths, find their “true selves,” and relapse into freewheeling hipsterdom. But if Jay and Tina realize there’s a way to enter adulthood and domesticity without sacrificing their gnarly youth and authentic art tastes, wouldn’t that be more indicative of today’s culture, which has blurred the line where Stacey, Eric, and my friends exist between hipster and suit?

Jon: I want to see where they go with this dichotomy too, but based on the endearing portrayals of both sides (I suppose props should go here to creator David Rosen, who also wrote the book the show’s based on), I can’t imagine "Pants" singling out one as more “authentic” than the other. If "Pants" went the path of glorifying the indie-artistic-doobie-blowin’ lifestyle as a means of achieving self-actualization as opposed to the aspiring-doctor/yuppie weekend warrior, well I’d be out. Luckily, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here at all.

Though I dug the pilot, episode two wasn’t as solid: Eric and Stacey’s mattress plot allowed for some good jokes, but ultimately went nowhere; and while Jay and Tina’s sexcapades were pretty funny (i.e. the bartender Tibetan throat singing her ex’s name while boinking Jay), only the “Tina & The Intern” storyline was that compelling, albeit completely unrealistic—there’s no way a virgin could ever gaff so hard and still spit such courageous game like that to his boss. And get laid. Twice. I mean "Pants" is kind of absurd, enjoyably. No one’s boss would deliver a chop-licking monologue about nailing a pregnant woman, like Parnell does—but then we’ve all had fucked-up bosses.

But that leaves me with one last obnoxiously hyper-conscious question: Do I like "Pants" more because it’s written, acted and shot quite well and tells an engaging story? Or more because I get a narcissistic kick out of seeing an sensationalized version of the culture I live in—and maybe even parts my life—on-screen depicted with enough accuracy (the devil’s in the details, bro) that I feel like my life is important and legitimate and could totally be a sitcom? I dunno, probably a lot of both. Stoked for next week.

RJ: I’d tune out immediately if "Pants" became some self-righteous arms race of authenticity or fulfillment, but I don’t think it’ll come to that either. I’m a little afraid that the show might devolve into a hookup Chronicles of Gnarnia, but Jay’s “music journalism” plot looks to be the real force here, or so we (egotistically) hope. And of course, he still needs those pants back. Let’s be real, that narcissistic joy manifests so well because of the writing: it feels dangerously close to our real lives and cultural interests, adds heavy spice (because everyone knows music writers are really huge dweebs who would be terrified to fridge fuck), and drives us to consider our own journeys (which, really, have just begun). We’ll see if our lives and this culture are television worthy in the long run, but at least right now "Pants" shows they’re entertaining and substantial enough to warrant closer examination by both hipsters and non-hipsters alike. As two obnoxious, former-suburban, Willburg-livin’ altbros, we’ll take that iota of validation.

Jon Blistein and RJ Cubarrubia spend their afternoons at Billboard and have also written at places like, The L Magazine, Impose and

27 Comments / Post A Comment

"hipsters vs. suits is an eternal struggle on par with cats vs. dogs." I guess these guys didn't read The Baffler. So that's about as far as I made it. Best of luck.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

I'd much rather watch an American remake of The Young Ones.

seentwagg (#8,810)

I can't wait to spend the rest of my twenties worrying how TV makes me feel.

beatbeatbeat (#3,187)

Can't decide if this makes me want to kill myself, or everybody else.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

It's like Singles 2.0 with tighter fitting clothes. I'll be interested when they discuss the Occupy Movement and they all get bedbugs.

melis (#1,854)

Is that Nick Kocher at 1:16? If so, this show is getting a free pass from m, no matter how dreadful.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@Maura Johnston It's dispiriting, how much mileage can be wrung from that clip.

Adonal Foyle (#212,562)

With basketball finally in full swing, I am glad I can read columns like this instead of watch the actual show

flossy (#1,402)

@Adonal Foyle Don't even front, you've been retired for years.

Adonal Foyle (#212,562)

@flossy I'm still heavily involved in the magic organization and have a job with the front office, and I haven't even been retired for 2 years.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

I have never been so glad that I'm in my forties as I am right now.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Prairie Home Companion will take your apologies now, New York.

iantenna (#5,160)

Many young adults take a path with “safe” career while intelligently and actively consuming culture. They’re not hipsters but they’re not exactly suits, and they’re certainly not suits just pretending to be hip. They’re something new and perhaps they’re the result of this movement that you point out.
i thought this was just called being an "adult" and that it has been going on forever. i mean, my dad smokes pot, listens to soul 45s, votes peace and freedom party, and collects a pension from his 30+ years as an engineer.

flossy (#1,402)

"'Pants' never makes Eric and Stacey seem lame—I mean, they make couples Wii tennis, buying a mattress and quizzing each other with flash cards of diseases seem pretty dope."

? !!! :(

iantenna (#5,160)

also, in 2012, if you're getting all hot and bothered about a wavves reference in a tv show you should maybe consider a career outside of music journalism. that is like being surprised that bon iver got invited to play the grammys, or being surprised that he turned it down in the most smug and self-righteous way possible. las vegas was laying even-money odds at best, probably closer to 3/2, that all that shit would happen.

Raoul Duke (#212,606)

@iantenna williams' involvement ventures a bit further than a mere casual name drop:

I'd say "composing" music for (and debuting a song on) a show makes the relationship a bit more complex. Especially when you consider MTV is "virally marketing" the material

but congrats on your dad being a hipster retiree

I, for one, echo Mr. Foyle's (a fellow hipster retiree?) sentiments; I'm glad these two are watching it…if only so I don't have to.

iantenna (#5,160)

@Raoul Duke OK, fair enough, but my initial point stands despite the heavier involvement of mssr. williams. using wavves to compose music for your show about young urbanites in 2012 is about as hip as, oh i dunno, using a rembrandts tune as your theme song for a show in 1994 about young urbanites?

Raoul Duke (#212,606)

@iantenna i'll leave the task of defining "what's hip" to those smug/influential enough to consider themselves "tastemakers."

but from a business perspective, I find it fascinating to follow this example of an artist tying their brand to another brand by writing original music for them. as artists struggle to find new sources of revenue, I think it's important to take note of this avenue's viability (or lack thereof). there are some other examples in advertising (bushmills, absolut), but the key difference here is MTV using williams to sell content (and vice versa), rather than a spirit maker using justin vernon to sell whiskey.

while williams' "hipness" may certainly play a key role in the success or failure of this particular venture, it would be more interesting if it didn't; is the appearance of relevance/authenticity (to a mainstream audience) more important any actual artistic merit?

and if the "pants" ship goes down in flames (rumors point to initial ratings being "soft")…will it take williams with it?

iantenna (#5,160)

@Raoul Duke i have no idea what's hip but i have a pretty clear idea of what is not. however, you clearly have thought about this a lot more than the show's creators, the dude from wavves, and the rest of the world combined, so i'll defer to your expertise.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@iantenna Real in-the-know types are listening to seapunk.

ヾ( ̄0 ̄; )ノ seapunk ヾ( ̄0 ̄; )ノ

davidwatts (#72)

@iantenna I kind of thought the same thing. Maybe the show has been in production since 2008, when that ref. would have been edgy in some way?

bitchstolemyremote (#212,725)

I really liked the pilot – it's not an original concept, but Liman directs it with high energy and the pop-culture references connect with how I would normally talk with my friends. I don't think this will be everyone's cup of tea, but considering the MTV audience, it seems like a good fit.

Looking forward to the rest of the episodes.

Our take here:

Bridget Callahan (#5,234)

I hate the term altbro and want it to die immediately.

SeanP (#4,058)

@Bridget Callahan I don't hate it so much as not know what it is. Then again, I also had to look up the Urban Dictionary definition of "blipster". At least I knew what Urban Dictionary was.

davidwatts (#72)

@Bridget Callahan "altbro" is, in fact, a really useful term for a whole class of people. It is not a compliment.

flt (#213,615)

Wow. I'm annoyed just reading this article, so I'll skip the show. Do these writers really take themselves so seriously? (And thank you to whatever editor put in the parentheses about the cultural movement. Just thank you.)

Post a Comment