20-Something & Figuring it Out: A Post-College Watchlist

I’ve grown accustomed to seeing people my age on screen. The problem is, 23-year-olds are usually playing high schoolers. And while I’ve relished the avalanche of shows and movies about high school’s clique-ridden trials, and even the few that explore college’s rich landscape, I was ready for something that reflected my own freshly post-commencement life. Classics like Friends and How I Met Your Mother dwell in the fruitful space of “figuring it out in your 20s,” but I was digging for shows that felt most acutely true to those unsteady years after graduation.

It’s a ripe time for both drama and comedy, after all, as you stumble through entry-level jobs, messy romances, and the constant comparisons you make to that one friend who’s in med school and seems to have it all figured out. The transition between being a student and being, well, something else, can be hard. These are the shows I turn on after a long day of figuring out what I want to do with my life.

Extraordinary

 

What it’s about:  Set in a world where everyone gets a superpower when they turn eighteen, 25-year-old Jen is a “late bloomer,” still waiting for her powers to kick in. In this bawdy but sweet new British sitcom, Jen and her pals are each embroiled in super-sized versions of the post-grad crisis. Jen is stuck working at a costume shop, still powerless, as her best friend Carrie worries that the world only values her for her ability to channel the dead.  Jen’s roommate Kash, feels like a shiftless moocher, so he puts together a scrappy vigilante group to compensate. Unlike all the Marvel and DC superhero shows, though, there are no crafty villains or battle scenes and outfits. Extraordinary is just a laugh-out-loud, irreverent comedy about recent grads trying to be people while also being able to fly.

Why you should watch it:  Extraordinary is full of Sex Education-y sexual humor (Jen goes on a date with a boy whose power is making people orgasm just by his touch) and pops with a comic book visual feel and a punchy soundtrack. Jen is as wickedly self-deprecating as she is overly confident–a deliciously watchable combination. And her apparent powerlessness is a perfect distillation of the perennial feeling that everyone has it figured out except for you.

Where to stream Extraordinary: Hulu  

Kicking and Screaming

What it’s about:   In the sub-genre of movies about post-grad malaise, Noah Baumbach’s directorial debut Kicking and Screaming might hit the nail most squarely on the head. Four recent grads from an unnamed school hang around their old college town waiting for something to happen or dreading that it will. Soaked in 90’s slacker culture, the film revolves less around plot and more around mumbly, brainy banter that’s as interesting as it is pointless. It’s a style that rhymes naturally with the aimlessness of the characters and is endlessly relatable to the reluctant grad.

Why you should watch it:  For all its shiftlessness, Kicking and Screaming is not a movie that doesn’t care. The characters all want something deeply, even if they’re too cool to make it obvious. In the film’s central arc, creative writing major Grover copes with his girlfriend leaving for Prague. He pines and plans and the result approaches a proto-hipster romcom. It’s aware of its characters’ posturing, allowing the audience to simmer in their pool of seeming ambivalence.

Where to stream it: Netflix

The Graduate

What it’s about:  Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just finished school and is back home in Pasadena to confront, or rather avoid, his nebulous future. He soon becomes tangled in a messy love triangle between his age-appropriate family friend Elaine and her mother, the seductive Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft, who became iconic for her role). The oldest work on this list, premiering in 1967, The Graduate proves that the post-grad blues are a timeless rite.

Why you should watch it:   Director Mike Nichols takes the audience on Ben’s journey of meandering self-discovery with a mastery of storytelling that’s a treat to watch. In a classic scene, Ben faces the all-too-familiar tribulation of your parents’ friends asking you what you’re going to do next. His response to the question: “I was going to go upstairs for a minute.” “Oh, I meant with your future,” the well-meaning party guest responds. The Graduate nails the haziness of finishing school without much of a plan, and tells an original, instantly classic story in the process.

Where to stream it: Apple TV

Please Like Me

What it’s about:   In his first years of adulthood in Melbourne, 20-year-old Josh has a lot on his plate. He’s freshly dumped, slowly realizing he’s gay and is forced to move back in with his mother following her suicide attempt. But if his circumstances sound like a recipe for a dark drama, Josh’s awkward, deadpan disposition and quirky observations cut through any potential flash. From Australian comedian Josh Thomas, Please Like Me is a dry comedy with all the stakes of a drama.

Why you should watch it:   Please Like Me simmers with the anxiety that can come with navigating your early 20s. It’s touching and relatable, with an understated charisma radiating from its star. The characters are richly human, if sometimes painfully so, from Josh’s concerned but emotionally inept father to Josh’s friends Tom and Niamh, the couple that everyone knows should break up but won’t. Anyone who feels like they’re still figuring out who they are will find solace in Josh’s charming if sometimes ungraceful hero’s journey.

Where to stream it: Amazon

Can’t Cope Won’t Cope

What it’s about:  This 2016 series from Ireland tracks the precarious friendship between the charismatic, heavy-drinking Aisling and her lower-key roommate Danielle in post-uni Dublin. They go on bender after bender together, filling the holes of their unstable lives with booze and adventure, even getting a stolen car stuck on the Dublin beach at the end of a long night. The girls nurse emotional and literal hangovers, trying to scrape together diversions from their draining and boring jobs. It’s a series that reveals what can lurk behind the famously fun partying days of your early 20s.

Why you should watch it:  Balancing comedy and drama in refreshing one-two punches, Can’t Cope is full of fun Irish slang and rambunctiously funny and often crude female characters. What are your 20s for if not dancing the night away and then having a tense conversation with a nurse about your contraceptive use in the cold light of morning? A show that’s equal measures raucous and hard to watch, it’s the perfect antidote to the message that this time in your life is nothing but fun.

Where to stream it: Peacock

Girls

What it’s about:  By now it seems everyone has heard about or seen some of HBO’s Girls, but it still rings especially true for those of us figuring out how to be an adult. Each of the four protagonists represent different versions of a classic post-grad tension–the clash between sky-high expectations and the reality of making it on your own. In season one, Hannah Horvarth (writer-creator Lena Dunham) is just two years post-liberal arts school and convinced she might be “the voice of her generation,” though she’s currently an unpaid intern who isn’t exactly writing anything. Type-A Marnie wishes her life wasn’t so messy, free-spirit Jessa fights any impending responsibility, and innocent Shoshanna is learning that the real world isn’t as glamorous as Sex and the City.

Why you should watch it:  A richly colored sketch of a certain kind of educated white girl living in Brooklyn, Girls becomes relatable in its hyper-specificity. Hannah, Shoshanna, Marnie, and Jessa are as cringe-worthy as they are human, showcasing the pitfalls of millennial culture alongside its charms. Throughout Girls’ six seasons, the characters tackle so many facets of postgrad life — dating around, working odd jobs, trying to make art, redefining relationships with your parents, struggling with money, and leaning on your friends. It’s a show where the funny highs hit as hard as the depressive lows.

Where to stream it: HBO Max

Industry 

What it’s about: Industry follows a group of ambitious postgrads clawing their way to a permanent position in a cutthroat London bank. Harper Stern (Myha’la Herrold) is whip-smart but is taking a gamble on a fake university transcript, finding herself an outsider in more ways than one. Her peers range from silver-spoon banking birth-righters to sleep-deprived first-gen kids, and all of their professional aspirations entwine with their sexual exploits and penchant for debauchery. It’s a workplace drama focused on the lowest rung — a Succession for the interns. 

Why you should watch it: While others on this list relish in the ambiguity of postgrad, Industry explores what happens when you’re on a strict path — and, of course, it’s not all roses. The dialogue is fast-paced and brainy, reflecting their impossibly stress-filled environment. Though their high-flying financial world may be niche, the feeling of constantly having to prove oneself will ring true to anyone starting a career. In Industry, everyone is trying desperately to succeed, and they’re beginning to find out what sacrifices they may need to make to do so. 

Where to stream it: HBO Max 

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