You are a young European failing to get a job in a country buffeted by the worst economic turbulence in decades. After a hard day of rejections and no-replies, how do you switch off? Well, in Greece, chances are that you settle down to watch a sitcom about other young Greeks failing to get a job.
To non-Greek speakers, The 592-euro generation looks like any other slick, glossy TV comedy: quick editing, smooth-skinned cast and a rock soundtrack of commercially acceptable spikiness. Yet the gags are not quite Chandler and Joey material. There is the title for a start: a reference to the monthly minimum wage of 592 euros (US$844) earned by those under 25.
“How do you know you’re part of the 592-euro generation?” a trailer runs.
“When you go to the unemployment office and you know all the staff by their first name,” one character says.
Another, a US-trained lawyer, replies: “When you’ve studied at Harvard and back in Greece your job is to serve tea to the people who serve coffee.”
The genre marked “situation comedies about economic indicators” is hardly a bulging one and plenty of other topics get the one-liner treatment, but the lack of a steady income is a constant theme: When the characters go to a bar, it is clear they can only afford one drink; a meter stays on-screen in one episode, ticking away as the account balances dwindle to nothing.
Even romantic mishaps — that staple of sitcoms — do not escape the lack-of-cash nexus.
“Job-hunting is like searching for a boyfriend,” a young woman sighs. “You show them your best side and they still don’t call you back.”
When the show launched in October last year, it ran on primetime and was chalked up as a hit, especially for a cast of unknowns. However, it was among the target group of 14-to-24-year-olds that the series hit a bullseye: Up to 60 percent of them tuned in.
This being his first TV job, scriptwriter Lambros Fisfis clung to the safety of a subject he knew well.
“I wanted to write about our generation,” the 28-year-old says. “And this was the closest I could get to reality without making a drama or a tragedy.”
Didn’t he ever question the likely success of a comedy about life on the minimum wage? Fisfis tells a funny story. The original title for the show was Generation 700 euros — because that was then the official bottom rate.
Then, “about three to four weeks before we went on air,” the government cut the going rate for young workers, ostensibly to give them a fighting chance of employment in an economy sinking further into the recessionary quicksand. Cue hurried changes in title sequences and scripts.
“It was the running gag on set: ‘Maybe next month we’ll be called the 300 euro Generation.’”
The series finished not with a happy ending, but an uncertain one: The entire cast left Greece, either for England or Cyprus or just taking off on a round-the-world trip.
“I didn’t want to write that, but the biggest export of Greece right now is its people,” Fisfis says.
The media often amplify real life, but Fisfis insists he did the opposite: manicuring the reality of being young in a country where nearly 40 percent of people between 16 and 24 are out of work.
Visiting Exarchia, it becomes clear that he is right.
Upstairs in a bar on the main square are four young middle-class men, all with degrees from top universities, all fluent in English — and all struggling to get their lives out of first gear.