The Come Up, a docuseries debuting tonight on Freeform, is producer Jessica Chermayeff's attempt to embed us with six glamorous, gender-bending Gen-Zers living their most fabulous lives in lower Manhattan. People like Claude, a 24-year-old lifelong New Yorker who describes herself as “a trans woman that wants to be an actress,” and is clearly interested in Ben, a cis Gen-Zer from San Antonio who seems to go everywhere with Claude.
“Everyone in New York is bi-curious,” Claude says with a laugh, and as she watches for Ben's reaction, you know where she's going with this.
Sadly, these bits of intimacy into the lives of young millennials are few and far between in The Come Up, a show that may be the victim of its own quest for authenticity. Chermayeff's eye for talent has led her to find a cast who embody the creative energy bursting forth in post-pandemic NYC, specifically a small part of the Lower East Side known, by some anyway, as Dimes Square. (Impressively, she found her cast by interviewing 500 candidates on Zoom, which sounds brutal.)
Claude is instantly likable, and her camaraderie with Ben is the show's most engaging storyline. And the camera loves them both. Claude is the most chatty and entertaining of the bunch, though in that unreflective, overconfident manner that makes 20-somethings hilarious to older viewers.
It may be no coincidence, however, that Ben and Claude get so much screen time because they're the least gainfully employed of the cast. The rest of The Come Up consists of fleeting glances of four aspiring world-beaters struggling to pay the bills and do their work, laced with frustratingly vapid interview snippets that offer no insights into their lives, loves or thoughts.
For instance, I'd love to know more about what it's like to be Fernando Casablancas, growing up in an established modeling family. Likewise, storylines involving Sophia, a so-called "prodigy" who's been selling her photos since she was thirteen; Ebon, a Black trans woman and party promoter; and Taofeek, a Nigerian-born designer with his own label, are lost in a sea of background noise and ever-changing visuals: shopping, haggling, dinner, limo rides, nightlife, going, going, going.
It's a testament to the momentum of their careers that these young creatives don't have much time or insight for the crew making a show about them. (Compare with the Real Housewives of your choice.)
Freeform is airing four episodes of The Come Up tonight. That and the show's curious late-summer timing suggests a lack of faith on the part of the network. Despite excellent casting, that lack of faith seems justified.
The Come Up premieres with four 30-minute episodes at 9:00 PM ET Sept. 13 on Freeform, dropping next day on Hulu. Subsequent episodes air Sept. 20 and Sept. 27 at 10:00 PM ET.
Aaron Barnhart has written about television since 1994, including 15 years as TV critic for the Kansas City Star.