It was at the 8:30 mark of the first episode of Millennial that producer Megan Tan fully and completely won me over.
She has set up the premise of her new serialized podcast: fresh out of college, jobless, back in her childhood home, she’s uncertain of the next step. Then, Tan says, “I made my first crucial decision as a post-graduate millennial: I decided to move in with my boyfriend, Ben… Ben was really excited that we were moving in together, but I was anxious and not in the ‘I’m-excited-for-the-first-day-of-school’ kind of way.” The first few notes of Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” cover begin to creep in then, at first quiet, and then the thrumming drum beat rises up above Tan’s voice, crashing to its early crescendo.
We feel it all–the gravity, the significance, the exhausting sense of carpe diem that hounds every moment of taking that first step out into the world as an adult.
That Tan samples a song perhaps best known to many as the theme music for The Wonder Years might have been an accident–but, if it was, it was a happy accident. Like that show, which chronicles Kevin Arnold’s life as a teenage boy in the 1960s and ’70s, Millennial is also about coming of age. It is “A podcast series that documents something that no one teaches you: how to maneuver your twenties.” There are no more classes to take, no scholarships, no final exams, no clear paths. It’s just Tan, in her first grown up apartment, and the future is one big question mark.
There are two important points to note when talking about a show like Millennial. The first is that this show is exactly why podcasting is exciting. Without high barriers to entry, a broke 20-something can sit down with a microphone and a laptop and produce something that is immediately accessible to thousands. What other mediums allow such a straight shot between creation and consumption? The second point is just as important, though: Not everyone can make a show this good.
In Millennial, Tan has crafted a tight, entertaining podcast that is unabashedly millennial. Depending on your view, that might either be a good or a bad thing. Millennials are the latest whipping boy generation, accused of being shiftless, undisciplined narcissists who would rather take selfies than vote. Seen through a different lens, however, they’re creative, pragmatic, and they place a premium on emotional fulfillment over material gain.
You could argue that Tan embodies all of these traits. Fresh out of college, she doesn’t have a job because she didn’t apply for one. In fact, she passes up opportunities that others might kill for, choosing instead to make a podcast about–yep–herself. But at the root of her indecision is a prevailing sense that she wants to be careful, to be certain, to not make mistakes. The word “fulfilling” comes up a lot. Like legions of millennials, Tan is not content to work her way up a predefined ladder; she wants to build her own.
Listening to Millennial, you’ll learn a lot about Tan. Through the serialized approach–an effective and underused format–we follow her as she struggles to choose her career and define her barometer of success. She’s smart and self-aware and easy to like. When she approaches her friends and coworkers for advice, we see a young woman who is earnest in her desire to get it right–and quick to poke fun at herself. So much of nonfiction narrative storytelling is about voice and Tan has it in spades.
The show is larger than Tan, though. Just as Kevin Arnold was a stand-in for every Vietnam-era pubescent boy, Tan represents a generation that grew in the shadow of 9/11, that hardly knows an America that hasn’t been at war, and for whom disillusionment is not a form of rebellion but a birthright. They’re intimately familiar with recession economics and the first envelope they opened after college graduation wasn’t a paycheck but a bill from Sallie Mae. Millennials like Tan are pioneering new ways of living because the old ways don’t work anymore. Any listener will recognize a lot of themselves in Tan’s narrative, but millennials in particular can find a voice in her that speaks to their unique experience.
Millennial is just getting started and Tan has only begun to tap into the potential of her show. Depending on how candid she wants to get, there is a lot of room left to explore the social, sexual, and economic facets of being a 20-something. There is no need to limit the focus to her career. Maneuvering your twenties is about so much more.
If Tan can keep her eye on the larger narrative arcs and continue to mine her personal experiences for universal truths, Millennial will earn its rightful place as one of the most innovative and exciting shows to emerge in these wonder years of podcasting.