The big business of sperm banking has had the one side effect everyone predicted all along: Eventually the babies conceived with anonymously donated, rigorously selected sperm become teenagers and young adults who often want to find out more about their biological dads.
This narrative is alluring to writers of soap operas and comedies (Vince Vaughn stars in a film, “Delivery Man,” about a guy who learns that his sperm has fathered 500 children.), and it’s irresistible to the documentary camera, which wants to follow the quest.
Which is how we get MTV’s ambivalent but mildly engrossing new docu-series “Generation Cryo” (premiering Monday night), in which a Reno, Nev., teenager named Breeanna sets off to meet some half-siblings who, like her, were conceived with sperm from a donor they know only as No. 1096.
Using a growing national database that encourages such offspring to connect, Bree has found at least 15 half-sibs nationwide. Her mothers selected 1096’s sperm from a bank in California. Since then, Bree’s moms have split up. Now 17, Bree not only wants to meet other offspring; she’d like to identify and contact 1096 himself. “It’s almost like a ‘Wizard of Oz’ thing,” Bree says, comparing it to a journey of self-discovery. (And perhaps missing the point of the film’s end, where Dorothy realizes that she already had all the attachment she ever needed right there in Kansas.)
In the first episode, Bree flies to Atlanta to meet Jonah and Hilit, a brother and sister whose parents, Terri and Eric, used 1096’s sperm to conceive after discovering that Eric was sterile.
Bree arrives in time for Shabbat dinner and a hearty, open-minded welcome from the family. Cues abound that the descendants of 1096 have all grown up in widely different cultures and circumstances. After a weekend of awkward but well-intentioned bonding, Bree asks Jonah for a favor: She needs a cheek swab to obtain some male DNA to assist her search for 1096’s identity. Because Jonah is younger than 18, his parents must sign a permission form.
Jonah and Hilit’s father, Eric, makes an impassioned case that Bree’s hunt for 1096 emotionally disrupts the years he’s spent loving his children as his own and overcoming his deep heartbreak over having failed to provide the seed himself. Terri, his wife, seems just as curious as the kids about the father, believing it will help her understand her children better.
As Jonah, Hilit and Bree make plans to travel to Southern California and meet more half-sibs, “Generation Cryo” leaves it to the viewers to decide whether they can relate to Bree’s search, which already seems like an ego trip. She has an awful lot invested in the notion that finding 1096 benefits all involved, with only a passing regard for how it potentially affects others. Which, in a way, makes her perfect for MTV.
(one hour) premieres at 10 p.m. Monday on MTV. Also available online at MTV.com.