Skip to main content

Irish actor Mark McKenna in Wayne.Handout

Every generation is insulted or insults others in a special way.

Right now, all manner of insults are thrown at the young – “whiny,” “snowflake” and “woke.” All you have to do is use “woke” to get attention if you’re complaining about, well, kids today.

A way into the culture surrounding millennials and Gen Z, Gen Y, or whatever dumb label is being used, is to watch and study material about and aimed at them, this loosely connected group accused of being woke. Here are three off-kilter and often baffling comedies on streaming that will open your eyes and make you groan, laugh or sympathize.

The 21 best TV series to stream so far in 2021

Wayne (one season, Amazon Prime Video) is an absolute peach of a show. Utterly unique in style and attitude, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but some of you will find it adorable. A daft comedy that’s tender, erupts in crazy violence and maintains a strand of social satire, it has a deadpan ambience that will remind you of the cool tone of the work of the Coen brothers.

Set in the Boston area, it’s about Wayne (Irish actor Mark McKenna from the movie Sing Street), a 15-year-old who has this weird quirk. See, Wayne can’t see an injustice done and not do something about it. A caregiver who looks after his cancer-stricken dad mentions a boyfriend who treated her badly. Wayne shows up at the guy’s place and breaks every window in the joint. He gets beaten up, but he’s okay with that. One day on his front porch arrives teenager Del (Ciara Bravo), who is selling cookies she shoplifted. She tells Wayne she’s raising money to run for mayor when she’s old enough.

Now, Wayne has no social skills, so he figures Del can be his girlfriend. “So you got a boyfriend?” he asks. “Not really,” Del responds. “Want me to be your boyfriend?” Then Del says, “I don’t know. How tall are you?” To which Wayne replies, “Pretty tall.” The deal is done. The duo set out for Florida to find a car that belonged to Wayne’s dad but was taken by his ex-wife.

Mike O'Malley and Joshua J. Williams in Wayne.handout/Handout

Here’s the thing: Wayne can’t stop righting wrongs with his fists or any weapon at hand. He’s sublimely confident he’s doing the right thing. Del thinks the male-violence thing needs to be curbed. Essentially, this wonderfully droll, daft dark comedy celebrates Wayne’s noble instincts – the pure instincts of youth – but mocks the violence.

Why Are You Like This (one season, Netflix) is the most savage in its anti-woke satire. An Australian production, it is also the most rudely explicit. Twentysomething writer and star Naomi Higgins plays Penny, a super-aware young woman trying desperately to be politically correct about everything – literally everything. She forms part of a trio that includes best friend Mia (Olivia Junkeer) and their gay housemate Austin (Wil King). They try to spend almost their entire lives trying to be anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and in favour of freeing the oppressed.

As such it’s three young characters on a show that appears to loathe their age group and mine it for scabrous comedy. As much as these characters present themselves as hypersensitive and aware, they are clueless, as dumb as a bag of hammers. There’s a wit to the revealing of their superficial sensitivities. Mia, for instance, has pledged to stop sleeping with boring white guys who aren’t woke at all. She still falls for a handsome Italian guy and justifies it by saying, “He’s Sicilian, they’re oppressed.”

Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope (two seasons, Netflix) is the strangest, most disorienting of the bunch here. Made for Ireland’s public broadcaster, RTE, it aims to nail down the sheer, wanton excesses of twentysomething urban life. The focus is on best pals Aisling (Seána Kerslake) and Danielle (Nika McGuigan) as they party through Dublin night life, night after night. Aisling, who works in high finance, is either drunk or hungover every day. She’s also very funny in her excuses for being irresponsible. And there is a cringe factor in the pattern she follows: get drunk, have sex with some guy she just met and get the morning-after pill. It’s been called a “sadcom,” not a sitcom, for a good reason. When a pharmacist lectures Aisling about unprotected sex, she indignantly claims she doesn’t sleep with strangers, she only sleeps with boys who have good jobs.

Danielle is an art student and less of a thrill-seeker but drinks as copiously as Aisling at the beginning. Part of the show’s unsettling structure is the slow disintegration of their friendship. As a fast-paced chronicle of two young, unfettered women, it’s hair-raising and you are gobsmacked by the drunken indulgences. And yet, as a dark comedy, it’s an indictment of toxic excess. One of the strangest shows about twentysomethings ever made.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.