Elisabeth Caren, NBC
Michelle Lombardo, David Walton, Maite Schwartz, Michael Foster, Bitsie Tulloch and Kevin Christy

The irony of "quarterlife" almost overwhelms the show itself.

It's a show about twentysomethings who live a big chunk of their lives on the Internet. And it's a show that was actually produced to air on the Internet (and it already has).

The comparisons between "thirtysomething" and "quarterlife" (tonight at 9 on Ch. 5) are also inevitable, and not just because both were created and produced by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick and neither show's title is capitalized.

The former show was about a bunch of self-absorbed people who were under the impression that they were the first people ever to go through their 30s and thought their problems were earth-shattering. The latter show is about a bunch of self-absorbed people who are under the impression that they are the first people ever to go through their 20s and think their problems are earth-shattering.

And, having grown up spoiled and pampered, they're having a little trouble in the real world.

"A sad truth about my generation is that we were all geniuses in elementary school, but apparently the people who deal with us never got our transcripts because they don't seem to be aware of it," says Dylan Krieger (Bitsie Tulloch), the character around whom "quarterlife" revolves.

Dylan is struggling to get a start in publishing and, in her free time, puts together a video blog about her circle of friends. And some of them are really, really not happy when they find out about it.

Her friends are an attractive lot, if, perhaps, a bit too obsessed with the world of show business on the whole. There's aspiring filmmakers Danny (David Walton) and Jed (Scott Michael Foster); actress/bartender Lisa (Maite Schwartz); techno-geek Andy (Kevin Christy); and daddy's girl Debra (Michelle Lombardo).

If you don't think being as self-absorbed as these people are is realistic, you've never watched MTV's "The Real World." Or, at least, you can't remember what it was like to be twentysomething.

"You walk around acting like a victim when nobody's ever done anything to you," Lisa tells Dylan.

If this sounds like you've seen it before, well, maybe you have. Just not on TV.

Herskovitz and Zwick, somewhat disillusioned about the state of network television — which didn't seem to have a place for their kind of shows anymore — created "quarterlife" specifically for the Internet.

They produced 36 eight-minute(ish) episodes, which began running on the Net in November on MyspaceTV.com and quarterlife.com.

It's also available on sites such as YouTube.com, Facebook.com and imeem.com, as well as NBC.com, of course.

And in the ultimate irony, NBC has put those short segments together into an hourlong episodes, which begin airing tonight before moving to its regular time slot on Sunday at 8 p.m.

The title refers to "quarterlife" as opposed to "midlife." And seemingly all of the characters are having quarterlife crises.

As we've come to expect from Herskovitz and Zwick — whose TV credits include "My So-Called Life," "Once and Again" and "Relativity" — "quarterlife" is full of characters who quickly start to grow on you. Even if you don't particularly want them to.

The nice thing is that, if the show doesn't work on TV, you can always go watch all the episodes on the Internet. ...

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com