Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Last Waltz

“What’s a quagmire?”
- Summer to the random kid in the hall

A quagmire is a difficult situation, Summer. It’s a simple definition really. Need an example? A quagmire is what occurs when television writers seem to lose focus of their characters and start throwing everything against the wall in hopes that something will stick, preferably a rehash of something that’s been done in the past so that no real effort is involved.

Now before you start getting angry with me, let me say that I really enjoyed “The Last Waltz.” It wasn’t a great episode, but I thought it was very good.

So why the hostility of the first paragraph? Because I’m not sure I like where we’re headed. True, there’s a lot left hanging in the air and suspense is always good, but it all just feels kind of…bleh. It feels like I’ve seen this all before. And I feel like I know where we’ll end up. And that leaves me feeling a little empty.

Who knows, maybe I’m wrong? We’ll see.

Sandy and Kirsten…

I was worried all through the episode. I was worried that Kirsten would listen to Charlotte and she would keep the company and use it to invest in whatever lie Charlotte told. It would be completely un-Kirsten like. It’d be a completely idiotic move. And the show loves to make characters do idiotic things. I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded of the time the entire cast of characters, sans Ryan and Luke, went completely dumb while Oliver was around.

So when Kirsten admitted she wasn’t keeping the Group, I was thrilled. There’s far more drama that can be used now. You can deal with the fact that Kirsten has finally become strong enough to think for herself again and you can watch Charlotte try to break that. It’s been easy for her to twist and skew Kirsten to her view for the first few episodes because she was still dealing with what was, but now she can deal with what is and there’s a power that comes with that that I just can’t explain.

The payoff for the Charlotte story is a fairly interesting one, if only because it’s very different than what I expected. The first episode had the chilling scene where Charlotte lurked in the dark and that projected a very psychotic aura. The last few have put things up in the air a little bit more, though I didn’t expect that it was about money. Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t.

The most frustrating aspect about that whole story is that it’s essentially what Jimmy just did. He needs money, so he tries to use Caleb’s money and gets screwed when he finds out there isn’t any. I understand the fact that Caleb’s death created a ripple effect, but to do the same story twice in four episodes is kind of pushing it. Of course, this is going to extend even farther, so I’ll take it. I always appreciate a good twist, so I liked this.

As far as Sandy, there’s just not much to say. It’s pretty cool he’s been running the Group and there’s an interesting irony in it. The fact that he hates Newport and has spent the summer essentially owning it is pretty twisted. I would actually have enjoyed seeing him at the helm of the company, making business decisions and what-not, but I don’t think we’ll be having that any time soon. I do wish they’d start to focus a little more on Sandy as a lawyer. The fanbase is clamoring for Sandy Cohen in the courtroom. I want to see him defending someone’s life and winning. He doesn’t have to take the client in and the client doesn’t need to be related to the family. It just needs to be Sandy in the courtroom being awesome. Not so hard.

He’s dealing with the family in the best way he knows how and I’m not sure I like the clash that’s about to happen with him and Ryan. Though, if fighting somehow strengthens their relationship, I’ll give it a go.


She’s not exactly Mary Tyler Moore trying to make it on her own, but she’s still starting over with nothing. Melinda Clarke is just unbelievable in this role as she’s playing an incredibly vulnerable character and she’s projecting these emotions that somehow manage to negate every bitchy thing Julie Cooper has ever done.

I think it’ll actually be very interesting to see where this is headed. Julie’s been down before – she’s not from Newport, remember – and she managed to bitch her way to the top. Now she’s got to make herself even bigger to prove to herself and to the community that she didn’t get her power by marrying rich men. That’s not to say she didn’t because that’s exactly how she did it, but she’s got to prove otherwise. And how’s she going to do that? By bitching her way to the top again.

I’d love to see her help Charlotte, actually. There’s a tendency to have Julie make a turn and become a better, hard-working person, but the character works best as an immoral person. And watching her help Charlotte screw over the only family that’s ever given her a chance, a family that continuously forgives her (exactly when did she and Sandy bury the hatchet over the Ryan/Marissa issue?), is the ultimate move. The show needs to have a character that consistently stirs trouble like this, not just a Taylor coming in for a few episodes and causing problems.

Seth and Summer…

Not that there’s anything wrong with Taylor. In fact, if the show has done one thing right in two years aside from bringing Trey on, it’s introduce the Taylor character. She’s absolutely injected this show with some much needed bite and she’s given Summer the opportunity to respond with a similar bite. And it just seems to get better.

Now I’m not saying that I really like the idea that Dean Hess and Taylor are together or that I even like the idea that Dean Hess is on the show, but I like the Taylor/Summer sparring so much. “The end of Summer” was an excellent line. She attacks Summer with such vigor that it’s just excellent to behold. The really interesting point to address here is that Summer and Taylor are essentially the same person. What separates them? We know Summer better. Aside from whatever the hell she was last year, we know that Summer can be a huge bitch. Yet the writers have somehow taken this one-line guest star from the pilot and weaved in a plethora of complex emotions and made us care for someone who, when pressed, can be just as Taylor as Taylor. And that’s awesome. Now that she knows about Hess and Taylor, I can imagine it’s going to get fun. Or at least I hope so.

Seth, much like his father, isn’t doing much. Brody had another off week this week as I really couldn’t tell what his motivation was. When he called Ryan, I couldn’t tell if he was trying reverse psychology or not. I assumed he was until he showed up at the dance. I honestly didn’t know what he was doing or what he was thinking. I still like the character, though I just can’t figure out why anymore. They need to do something with him and fast. Breathe some life into him. I remember hearing Emmy talk around Brody during the first season. He’s so insipid now that he could host the Emmys. (Ah, topical humor…loving it).

Ryan and Marissa…

Ah, the crux of our show. Just as I was starting to sympathize and enjoy these two, the inevitable monkey wrench is thrown in, this time in the form of distance and a kid named Johnny.

The lowest point, for me, of ten seasons of Friends came in the third season when the writers took a perfectly caring Ross and turned him into a jealous asshole for the sake of creating drama. It ended up becoming a completely nonsensical storyline and while it did eventually result in something great and classic, it was just piss poor writing.

And so while this plea will fall on deaf ears because the next few episodes have already been made, I have to make my opinion known: don’t do it.

This episode saved itself when Ryan didn’t talk to Marissa at the dance and when they were able to dance together at the end, but jealousy storylines almost always start like this. Someone gets jealous and does something irrational and cringe-inducing – like Ryan at Newport Union – and then they fix it before doing it again and doing it much worse.

I’d like to say that nothing will happen with Johnny and Marissa and that it is the writers attempt at a swerve, but I don’t know that they’re smart enough to do that. I’ve never minded the way that the writers introduce new love interests, but they always do it in such a way that you don’t doubt that they’re love interests. I mean, Ryan and Lindsay’s first encounter was taken straight from a stack of scripts that Hugh Grant never signed on to. It was that cliché. Not that I hate cliché, I really don’t. I don’t watch this show for stunning new developments in the romantic comedy drama. I’m just making a point. This introduction to Johnny destines him to become the next Luke/Oliver/Theresa/DJ/Lindsay/Alex.

I just don’t see how Marissa cheating on Ryan could possibly be a good thing for the show. I don’t understand why we suddenly have to believe that Ryan is lost without Marissa. In all honesty, some of the shots of Ryan watching Marissa with her new friends reminded me of Oliver. I keep waiting on Ryan just to go insane and I have to say that I’d hate that. But that’s what it feels like.

The previews show Ryan getting on a boat claiming that he has a new job, and that seems like a very odd choice. I hope there’s some rational explanation other than he and Marissa broke up and he needs to get away. I suppose that Ryan has always been dependant on Marissa in the sense that defending her and taking care of her makes him feel good, but to run away and to jeopardize his relationship with the Cohens seems too much. I’ll reserve that judgment for when the time comes, though.

The dancing moment at the end was pretty good, I have to say, though I have to agree with everyone who said that it didn’t quite live up to the standard set by Seth and Summer in the first season. That was just too great of a moment to even try to match. I’m not even sure I liked this dance as much as I liked their prom dance.

Other Stuff…

When did Ryan decide to be home schooled? I hate when I’m told stuff out of the blue like that.

How awesome was Summer’s house? It absolutely killed any other house we’ve seen on the show so far.

Am I the only one who actually liked Chili? It seems that way. I was actually a Quintuplets fan, so I’m glad to see him here. He’s playing the same character he played on that show, but it’s okay. He’s the Newport Union equivalent of Seth, I know, but at least he has some life in him. Brody should take note. And come on, who’s not waiting for the inevitable showdown between the groups? It’s straight out of Seinfeld, but it’ll be damn funny.

I actually enjoy the social commentary that’s being made with the comparisons of Newport Union to Harbor. The idea that despite money and fancy dances, there really is no difference between people, that everyone is the same everywhere, is something that the show touched on often in the first season and has done so less and less since then. It’s part of the heart of the show and I’m glad to see it come back. Of course, I went to public school and it wasn’t quite like that. I guess it shows how far Marissa has fallen, though.

The script this week was just terrible. With the exception of the Seth/Summer/Taylor scenes, most all of the dialogue was just brutal. Charlotte’s line, “I’ll find a way to use her” just made me sick. Who the hell talks like that? Do the writers really need to insult their audience by slapping them over the head with exposition? She’s bad. We get it. Show, don’t tell. It’s the first rule of creative writing. John Stephens got paid around $30,000 to come up with something like that, by the way.

Did anyone else think that after Taylor and Hess stopped making out, he looked horribly uncomfortable? Maybe there’s some kind of conscience there, after all. Or maybe I just saw it wrong.

What about Reunion? Was that not an awesome ending or what? That show’s got major potential. It’s just too bad it’s up against CSI, a show that pulled in a rating so huge this week that it made LOST look like The O.C..

Does baseball on FOX not suck? Everything’s headed to repeats and while I do appreciate the break (it reenergizes me), I hate the emptiness I feel when I tune over to House or The O.C..

So I wrote this review straight through, no breaks to collect my thoughts, no re-writing and looking back at the first part, I say that I was probably a little too harsh. I don’t actually hate where the show is going.

The Julie storyline has loads of potential, as does the Summer/Taylor one and I’m looking forward to both of them. It’s the fact that Ryan and Marissa seem to be doing the same old stuff again and the fact that it’s getting really, really old. It’s senior year, people. Senior year can have enough drama without sending someone to work on a steamboat or wherever the hell Ryan was going. There is a lot they can deal with without any monstrous changes in distance.

Maybe I’m being hypocritical. I’m asking for the show to remain over-the-top by keeping people at home. There’s a certain irony to it, I know, but with the exception of a few short trips in the first season, the drama in Orange County was enough. The writers have created this world where nothing is as it seems, where the people are cold and unforgiving and where trouble is everywhere. They just don’t seem to want to use it anymore. I’d love to see more of how the community works on the characters as opposed to just the characters work on the characters. It opens up a world of new stories.

So overall this wasn’t a bad episode. It certainly didn’t keep me at the edge of my seat but it provided me with enough. I miss the cliffhanger, though Josh said they intentionally did that. He said in an interview that after this episode, we’d have a sense that they’d closed one chapter and that we’d know they were starting something new. There’s definitely something new. As for whether or not it’ll be able to sustain us through a whole season, whether it’ll be good enough, I don’t know. The potential’s there, Josh. Please, don’t let us down. We love you. It’s why we criticize you. This show can be good, these actors can be great, and the writing can be nearly flawless. I just hope you remember how to make that all possible.
I’ll see you guys in four weeks. Don’t forget to keep checking out both and as they both offer awesome content that’s completely different.

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