'Freshman Diaries'

Real Reality TV or Fake ID?

R.J. Cutler
R.J. Cutler

Looking at the fresh faces packed into the Texas Union Theatre last Thursday, it was clear that the ink was still drying in their high school yearbooks. Those of us hard-pressed to remember where our high school yearbooks are were definitely in the minority. No matter. We were all there for the same thing: to get a sneak peak at Freshman Diaries, Showtime's new reality series that premiered on Sunday. The latest R.J. Cutler project (American High, The Real Roseanne) tells the story of 17 UT freshmen during the 2002-2003 school year. Judging by the hearty audience response, it appears that the show is now required viewing for the semester.

Unlike a great deal of reality-TV brokers, Cutler has distinguished himself as having a sympathetic, yet unflinching eye for his subjects.

Neil, Casey, and Kyle from Showtime's <i>Freshman Diaries</i>
Neil, Casey, and Kyle from Showtime's Freshman Diaries (Photo By John Anderson)

"These stories don't belong to us, they belong to the subjects," Cutler says. As in American High, Freshman Diaries participants received cameras to create personal video diaries, while three-person film crews captured students' day-to-day activities. Culled from more than 18,000 hours of film and 600 hours of video diaries are 10 half-hour episodes featuring three storylines.

But is it "real"?

"There's no question that this generation knows what it means when you sign on to do this sort of thing," Cutler says. "[But] we're going after an emotional honesty. Our treasure is buried more deeply as kids search for their individual truth."

Sixth Street carousals, sexual hijinks, and partying play almost as big a role in Freshman Diaries as the freshmen themselves, but so do the experiences of young people getting their first sobering taste of adulthood. Watching young adults deal with sexuality, disrupted friendships, parental separation (and liberation), and loneliness is much more compelling than watching a guy barf up a gallon of chocolate milk -- though that, too, has a strangely compelling quality.

"I have no regrets," says 19-year-old Luis Rocha of his experience, which includes becoming involved in his first serious relationship. "I feel like I have a home movie of my first year here. What's weird now is to be on campus. I'm like, 'Where's my camera crew?'"

Freshman Diaries airs Sundays at 10pm on Showtime.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Freshman Diaries
TV Eye
TV Eye
Mannish Boys and More

Belinda Acosta, Aug. 15, 2003

More Screens Reviews
Pilot Program
Pilot Program
The first-ever ATX Television Festival celebrates cult, classic, and cutting-edge TV

Leah Churner, June 1, 2012

Design for Living
Design for Living
Reality TV staple and (ahem) silver fox Tim Gunn opines about art, Alexander mcQueen, and queer youth

Andy Campbell, April 13, 2012

More by Belinda Acosta
Margaret Moser Tribute: Marcia Ball
Marcia Ball
“She’s a music writer who writes to enlighten”

June 30, 2017

Margaret Moser Tribute: Eliza Gilkyson
Eliza Gilkyson
The best advice she ever received? Keep your dogs clean.

June 30, 2017


Freshman Diaries, R.J. Cutler, Luis Rocha, ShowTime

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle