"I don't know how we're ever going to pay for her college," frets Lou, one of the broke 20-somethings at the center of MTV's new show Underemployed. His girlfriend Raviva, a self-righteous, bohemian, would-be singer who has just given birth to their unplanned baby girl, responds, "I don't know how we're gonna finish paying for ours."
As that quippy exchange suggests, Underemployed is the latest comedy to capitalize on the strapped-Millennial zeitgeist, alongside the cartoonish 2 Broke Girls, the quirkier and more naturalistic Girls, the frenetic Shameless, and the upcoming F*ck I'm In My 20s. Like those shows, Underemployed has flaws: Its zingers can be on-the-nose, its characters are painted with overly broad strokes, and it suffers from Impossibly Gigantic Urban Apartment syndrome. But in the first half of its first season, it has crystallized a recession-era truism more effectively than any of its peers: The economy is personal. It's in your bedroom and your living room, whether you like it or not.
In other shows portraying the young and the penniless, sex is a welcome respite from economic angst, and friendships mostly exist in a bubble separate from finances. In Girls, Hannah's love life has little correlation with her money woes. In Shameless, most of Fiona's romantic exploits are tinged with an urge to screw the pain away, to forget poverty for just a few sweaty minutes. But in Underemployed, sexual and personal decisions have economic consequences. The show reaches for old dramatic tropes—a tryst with the boss, baby-mama drama, showbiz's corrosive whoring—and infuses them with post-crisis gravitas.
Aspiring actor-model Miles's survival would hinge on his sex appeal in any era, but during a downturn, the need to lean on his looks becomes all the more mandatory. In the first episode, he sleeps with a "hot cougar" in order to meet Calvin Klein at a cocktail party, only to discover that his sole function at the event is to serve mojitos. Then, in order to snag a role as a spokesman for a mid-grade tequila (which, incidentally, his friend Daphne's advertising firm represents), Miles has to flash his bedroom eyes at another older woman to seal the deal. He laughs it all off with a dippy demeanor, but there's a strain of unease and ickiness every time he trades his sexuality for a meal ticket.