Meet the teenager behind HBO Max’s edgy new show ‘Generation’


Step aside, “Euphoria,” there’s a new edgy show about teen sexuality. 

Called “Generation” (styled as “Genera+ion”) and premiering on HBO Max on Thursday, March 11, the drama follows a cast of teen characters through their friendships, high school lives and romances.

For an extra dash of authenticity, the show’s co-creator is a teen herself. 

“I came out when I was 15 in a letter home from summer camp,” Zelda Barnz, 19, told The Post from her Los Angeles home, where she still lives with her family. 

“I basically detailed my summer camp experience and then at the end was like, ‘I’m bisexual.’ And in our family, we started having all these [conversations] about sexuality and identity … [from that] the idea for a TV show about those topics was kind of born.”

the teen characters of "Genera+tion," including Justice Smith as Chester (center left) and Haley Sanchez as Greta (far right)
The teen characters of “Genera+ion,” including Justice Smith as Chester (center left) and Haley Sanchez as Greta (far right).

Zelda was 17 when she sold the pilot. She took a gap year between high school and college in order to be hands-on involved with “Genera+ion,” which is exec produced by Lena Dunham. She’ll be attending Yale this fall. 

Her dad, “Genera+ion” co-creator Daniel Barnz, 51, was already established in Hollywood, best known for directing the Jennifer Aniston movie “Cake” and for directing and writing 2011 movie “Beastly” (starring Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens). For the veteran filmmaker, creating a show with his teen daughter was a “bonding” experience.

“Genera+ion” follows confident, out-and-proud water polo champ and straight-A student Chester (Justice Smith) who’s lonely despite his popularity; insecure Naomi (Chloe East) and her twin brother Nathan (Uly Schlesinger) who are from a wealthy conservative family; Greta (Haley Sanchez), a girl whose single mom has been detained by ICE; Arianna (Nathanya Alexander), a gossip who lacks social skills; and the independent Riley (Chase Sui Wonders), whose parents are in politics. 

Chloe East as Naomi (far left), Haley Sanchez as Greta (center), Justice Smith as Chester (left)
The teen characters of “Genera+ion,” including Naomi (far left), Greta (center) and Chester (right).
Warrick Page/HBO

Both Zelda and Daniel — who is gay — said that none of the characters are explicitly autobiographical, but they did draw inspiration from their lives. 

Daniel said that after Zelda came out, “We realized that [her generation’s] experience of being queer was so different from ours — ‘ours’ meaning my husband [Ben Barnz] and myself. When I was in high school and thinking about being queer and coming out, all the narratives associated with it were narratives of shame and guilt and secrecy. What I think is interesting about Zelda and her friends is there’s a much wider spectrum.”

Both father and daughter noted that Zelda’s teen-fluency came in handy at several moments.

For one, it was important to Zelda to have the show’s plot not only be about romances. 

“In my life romance is never the only thing going on,” she said. “And in a lot of teen shows it feels like romance is the main driving force in a lot of character storylines,” she said, citing “Freaks and Geeks” and “Friday Night Lights” as her favorite counter-examples.

She was also very careful to make sure that all the teens’ digital communication felt authentic.

“Somebody wrote a text for a character that was like, ‘oh ok.’ with a period in it,” said Zelda. “And I was like ‘Oh my God, why are they mad? That’s so passive-aggressive!’

Daniel noted that Zelda also walked the writers through a lockdown drill for one of the episodes — and it wasn’t what the adults expected. 

“As adults, we think ‘Oh my god, that must be scary!’ But the reality for Zelda is that lockdown drills go on for long periods of time, people get bored or hungry or make dark jokes.”

Chester (Justice Smith) sends a text on "Genera+ion"
Chester (Justice Smith) sends a text on “Genera+ion.”

The father-daughter collaboration also brought some secrets to the surface; for instance, she said, she and her brother once threw a party while her parents were away, and the cops showed up. 

“My parents did not find out about that for a while,” she said. “It’s funny how I think my brother and I would have kept that from them for a lot longer if it hadn’t been for the show.”

Although Daniel was shocked, he wasn’t upset by it, he said. 

“I think teenagers should have some things that they’re not sharing with their parents, and vice versa.”


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