Douglas Coupland’s 2006 novel jPod concerns the lives of a group of Vancouver twentysomethings working at a video-game developer called Neotronic Arts. It’s a thinly veiled reference to Electronic Arts (EA), in the same way that Microsoft was the model for the monolithic corporation in Microserfs.
jPod the book is now jPod the television series. Airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC, the show follows the book quite closely as Ethan Jarlewski (David W. Kopp) deals with parents who have shed responsibility. His mother, Carol (Sherry Miller), runs a grow-op in the basement of the house he grew up in, and his father, Jim (Alan Thicke), is a laid-off engineer who has become an actor in search of a speaking role.
Working with Ethan at Neotronic are Kaitlin (Emilie Ullerup), Bree (Steph Song), Cowboy (Ben Ayres), and John Doe (Torrance Coombs). All were assigned desks in the company sub-basement because of a Y2K computer glitch that grouped together employees whose last names started with the letter J. While working on a new skateboarding video game, they find themselves under the leadership of a new boss, Steve (Colin Cunningham).
jPod has plenty to say about the process of developing video games and how management can interfere to the detriment of a project. And it’s a Coupland creation, so there are tons of pop-culture references and scads of social satire. In terms of tone and theme, the television show is somewhat different: it doesn’t quite skewer consumer culture the way the book does—after all, television is an advertising medium—and it ramps up the book’s absurdity to near slapstick.
Being Coupland characters, the members of jPod are universally intelligent, with that quirky hipness the author imbues all his creations with, from Cowboy’s Robitussin binges to John Doe’s striving for statistical normalcy. The casting is uncanny, and the actors are clearly having fun with these roles. Coupland himself appears in the novel as a smart, arrogant, and manipulative character. It will be interesting to see how jPod ’s writers and producers approach that plot point.