Districtland, a would-be (but hopefully won’t-be) series about five millennials living in a group house in Columbia Heights, is bad, as City Paper and DCist have noted. But unlike those publications, Stuck in DC didn’t receive an advance copy to review. So in order to hate-watch the show’s pilot, I had to go to the premier at the Miracle Theater on Friday night.
In August I wrote a piece titled Districtland aims to portray real DC, is about white millennials in NW that criticized the show’s anticipated racial dynamics and its mischaracterization of Washington’s twentysomethings. So I was admittedly coming into this with an anti-Districtland bias, hoping it would be as terrible as expected so I’d have ammunition for a write-up. But that outlook was immediately altered when I happened to sit in front of one of the lead actors, the young man who plays the ethnically ambiguous Texas Republican Hill staffer Yale grad. A regular dandy in his natty blue suit and bright red shoes, he was beaming with excitement about the show and its possibilities. “I talked to the writers,” he told his friend or date. “If it gets picked up, they say I have a three to four season arc!”
If it gets picked up. The misguided hope in those words slayed me. My face turned hot with guilt and pity and I regretted that I’d come at all, come only to find fault with other people’s art for the sake of my own. Over the next two hours, I got my wish: Districtland was fucking terrible. But I certainly didn’t relish it. Thinking about all the energy and time and optimism that people had put into this project, the show and its conspicuous shittiness just made me sad.
The program opened with the manbunned executive producer introducing a set by These Quiet Colours, a local band whose music is featured in the show. Three dudes played building noise as the screen above them showed a video of psychedelic waves repeatedly washing over a lichen-covered outcropping. And the lichen-covered outcropping was definitely the highlight of the evening. The musicians weren’t so bad, but after their first song they made the mistake of adding a vocalist whose lyrics would have seemed trite at a high school variety show. I cringed at refrains like Before you go, let me love you once more, love you once more and You are left foot, I am right. You are morning, I am night. The crowd wasn’t very into it with the exception of a woman across the aisle who was swirling her head around with her eyes closed, really grooving on the tunes.
After the music mercifully ended, Districtland premiered its short pilot. In the opening scene, a dude dumps his girlfriend using a PowerPoint presentation. When she protests and says she got them a Groupon for the weekend, he says: “You should have used Living Social. They’re local you know.” Hit-you-over-the-head DC references like this are a hallmark of Districtland, which is at pains to make the District itself a main character. And they may as well, because the actual characters are all unsympathetic stereotypes: the three women are a type-A management consultant, a ditzy yoga blonde, and a Catholic think tank employee. The men include a fuckboy politico who dominates Tinder and the Republican Hill staffer whom I sat in front of.
The Catholic is the one who got dumped. She’s shown crying in her office in front of framed pictures of John Kennedy and the pope. Then she meets with a sleazy congressman stock character in Clyde’s. She’s trying to network but of course he slips her his room key and tries to pick her up. She says “I’m Catholic!” in horror and turns him down, telling him most young people in DC are just trying to make a difference. The congressman counters by saying that her idealism is for nought because “everything is broken now.” You won’t find any subtlety in Districtland.
Cut to the management consultant getting home on her lunch break and waking up her hungover asshole dude housemate. They joke around about how he fucked some Tinder girl last night whose name he doesn’t remember, and about how he’s not going to call her. She calls him a slut as a term of endearment, then rips off her shirt and sits on the guy’s face, telling him to “lick my box.” Everyone in Districtland except for the Catholic is trying to fuck all the time, it’s really boring, and not especially realistic.
All the housemates end up at a bar to watch the blonde yoga ditz’s poetry reading. She reads a terrible poem full of orgasm noises; she’s dumb and bisexual and it’s supposed to be funny. Back at the bar, the Catholic is distraught about the congressman hitting on her and the Tinder-crushing housemate is telling her to get back in the game. She says she doesn’t like white guys and a black dude turns around with an interested “heyyyy” face. This is the extent of black male representation in Districtland. The fuckboy politico says that DC is diverse and the Catholic disagrees and launches into a canned speech about gentrification, how all the white people walk around in their gentrified neighborhoods where everyone is the same. I couldn’t help but wince. This was Districtland trying desperately to address the racial dynamics they’ve been criticized for; it felt like an apology for the show’s lily-white perspective, but their take was too vapid to contain any meaning. If anything, it made things worse.
Finally, the guy I sat in front of is introduced as the newest housemate, who happens to work for the congressman who hit on Maria. They see on Twitter that he has resigned due to a string of affairs, leaving the Hill staffer without a job. And that’s pretty much it. Districtland is a painfully hackneyed look at a young white Washington that doesn’t really exist. Chocked full of cliches and sex jokes and devoid of human nuance, it felt like watching a college kid’s class video about what he imagined young adult life to be like. And it doesn’t get any better from here. After the pilot, the cast read the second episode, which consisted almost entirely of a party at their rowhouse where everyone was trying to fuck someone.
The Q&A after the reading was the worst part of the evening. To hear the people behind the show speak about it with pride and optimism before their friends and family made me sink in my chair and want to disappear. The show is based on a play from Capital Fringe a few years ago and they brought up the playwright, who turned out to be the woman across the aisle who was grooving on the music. She said when she first tried to make the play, it was declined for being “too smart.” With a straight face, she then declared that Districtland was a Romanian comedy, “a satire in the style of Ionesco, the father of theater of the absurd,” adding “anyone who’s familiar with the theater knows who he is.” Had she been fucking with everyone and playing the role of a cluelessly pretentious playwright, it would have been pretty great absurdist satire, but of course she was serious.
The director then spoke to his experience moving to DC from the Midwest and said that when he first got here, he moved into Anacostia because it was cheap and he didn’t know better. Several people in the crowd gasped and the woman next to the actor behind me said “oh no” under her breath. There were a few black people at the show, but most of them worked for the theater.
The mannbunned executive producer said they had five more episodes written and were looking for funding to be able to make them. Summing up Districtland, he said: “it’s about growing into being an adult–right here in DC. This city isn’t just what you see on House of Cards, it’s something real, human, and interesting.” The show was none of the three. Leaving Districtland and exiting the Miracle, I’ve never been so happy to get back to the real Washington, D.C.