10 Years After High School Are Millennials Finally Ready to Cash Their Reality Check?

“Be Prepared To Spend a Few Years Working Boring Jobs You Think You’re Overqualified For That You Hate So You Can Pay The Bills. Just Take Whatever You Can Get So You Can Survive and Not Live in Mom and Dad’s Basement. Do Not Expect Your ‘Dream Job’ To Be Waiting for You When You Graduate. It Can (And Really It Should) Take Years Before You Break Into Your Field And Shift From Working Jobs to Living Your Career.”

Over the past few years, this has generally been the time when the younger, college-age writers finish up their BA or Master’s, prepare to venture off into the “real world,” and ask if I have any suggestions for them. (I was in their shoes six years ago.) The advice above summarizing my own post-college misadventures usually isn’t met with much enthusiasm.

And since 2008’s economic downturn, this injunction to “Just Take Whatever You Can Get” fell on deaf ears when passed on to some of my job-hunting friends. As long as they had an unemployment check flowing in or free rent from Mom and Dad, then what’s the rush to take a job that’s beneath you? Shouldn’t they hold out for something great? “I’ve got a college degree. Why should I work a job that I could’ve gotten just out of high school? I deserve better! I’ve worked for it!” But eventually the unemployment checks would run out.

Then it was time to cash the Reality Check, to go down to the temp office and take whatever job they’ll give you.

That’s the setting for the first act of Reality Check, a new musical comedy from father-and-son writing team David and Ben Shapiro that debuted with two performances last week in Los Angeles.

Reality Check takes the common young adult archetypes of The Breakfast Club and Friends and reinvents them for 2012. Five friends from high school rediscover each other at the temp office and find that after 10 years they’re still all clinging to the immature identities they embraced as teenagers:

  • Sarah Brandon plays Lindsay, the workaholic overachiever who’s never able to focus her energy into real success and happiness. (Courtney Cox on Friends)
  • Justin Buller plays Edward, the sex-obsessed jock, ladies man, and tough guy. (Matt LeBlanc in Friends and a blend of Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club.)
  • Samantha Rose Cardenas plays Brittany, the cheerleader and princess (Jennifer Aniston in Friends and Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club.)
  • Alex Robert Holes plays Alex, the “sensitive,” high-minded writer-artist eager to write the Great American Novel, always scribbling down notes (David Schwimmer in Friends meets Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club with sprinkles of Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe Buffay and Ally Sheedy-style “ooh! look at me!” pseudo-creative weirdness.)
  • Haqumai Waring Sharpe plays Jimmy, the class clown joking through life. (Matthew Perry on Friends.)

The whole cast shines, with each performer embodying the high school stereotypes we know so well. The personalities are so universal that every audience member should see himself in at least one of the characters on the screen. I sympathized with the pretentious writer Alex who was dressed in the standard tortured artist uniform — all black, always carrying around a book, and facial hair that just doesn’t work. That was me senior year of high school. Even down to playing the Schwimmer role chasing Princesses who in turn pursue misogynistic men and then come running back to us for emotional support only to play with our hearts, never committing to a relationship. Reality Check hits this universal dynamic in the love triangle between Alex, Brittany, and Edward — a story told many times in real life and fiction and well done here.

But stealing every scene he’s in is Peter Pergelides as “The Man,” who runs the temp office and implores the adult-children to grow up with a song that’s still stuck in my head: “Let Go The Banana.” Here are some of the lyrics which set the tone of the whole production — fun, upbeat, clever, but still sincere:

In the jungles of Africa / This is how they catch a monkey

It’s a method that they’ve used for years / And it’s now become a habit

Take a jar with an opening / Slightly larger than a monkey’s hand

Put a banana inside the jar / And the monkey will soon grab it

He can’t see the reason / He can’t take his fist out

Now the hunters grab him / All because the monkey won’t

Let Go the Banana

He won’t let go the banana / You’ve got to know

For you to grow / You let go the banana

What are the bananas Reality Check targets? Several that should resonate not just with we Millennials now creeping up on 30, but also those in older generations, some of whom still struggle with letting go of the illusions trapping them in repeating cycles of self-destruction. The challenge of growing up and maturing into happy, responsible adults is a process that’s as necessary and ongoing at 53 and 76 as it is at 28.

In a strange serendipity, just a few days after the performances of the Reality Check, Prager University released its newest course, an equation to lead a happy life:

What makes us unhappy? Comparing the reality of our lives with the image of who we thought we should be or who we want to be. Failing to check the image we’re worshipping with a reality that’s actually much better than we realize.

We are unable to appreciate the happiness we already have. And if you have the luxury to take time out of your day to read the words written on whatever screen you’re reading this post on — you have tremendous blessings compared to the vast majority of human history. Ben Shapiro and I are among the first wave of Generation Y or the Millennials — those born from 1982 through 1995 or so. (I propose the cutoff should be if you were old enough for 9/11 to make a meaningful impression on you. Just as the Boomer cutoff that makes sense is the JFK assassination.)

We are the most spoiled American generation in history. And that’s because we were raised by (and spoiled and loved by) the Baby Boom generation, which too held the distinction at the time of being the most spoiled.

Reality Check explores these themes with the method of the last decade’s best comedies. The reason why the Judd Apatow-brand of Forgetting Sarah Marshall-style films succeeds is because they combine traditional values with likable characters in universal scenarios then glue them together with raunchy jokes. The Shapiros know their pop culture well; this Boomer-Millennial writing team’s reinvention of the formula combined with a collection of memorable songs and an energetic cast make for something special.

When upcoming performances of Reality Check are announced, you’ll hear about them here at PJ Lifestyle.

You can start with a brand-new slate / Fresh and clean without the baggage

Make your life’s adventures start today / Looking forward to the morning


You can see the reason /You should take your fist out

You are not a monkey / You are smarter cause you can


Let go the banana / You can let go the banana

You’ve got to know /For you to grow

You let go the banana

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