Monday, February 27, 2006

The Heavy Lifting

I bet you never thought you’d hear from me again, did you?

Well, the truth is, I’ve been incredibly busy. I can’t even begin to say just how busy I’ve been, but trust me, it’s pretty damn busy. Books, plays, writing, etc. And I had a birthday thrown in there and once again, thanks to everyone who wished me a happy one. It was. I’m now 20. And how weird is it watching this show where people who are older than me are playing people who are younger? Okay, not too weird, I guess. But yeah, I’ve been busy. So busy that I thought about quitting this all together and just reviewing every episode over the summer, but that would give me hindsight, and hindsight wouldn’t quite work with this type of review.

So I decided that while I had a few minutes – and really, I don’t because I should be watching a Russian film for my film class (and I promise, I’m not playing woe is me with all the school work I have; I’m just trying to justify my lateness) – I’d write this up. The film is silent and luckily, I can type without looking at the screen too often, so I can keep an eye on the movie, and my fingers on the keys, and though I don’t know what’s going on in this movie, Potemkin, I figure that’s okay. But the big catch is that this review is going to be very Cliff’s Notes in style. There just isn’t time to write my usual six page spiel about every little detail. Instead, I’m just going to run over the big issues in bulleted format. I expect that you’ll see this format often throughout the rest of the season, but rest assured, the finale review will be tons of in-depth analysis, so for those of you who like what I have to say, just wait and you’ll get more me than you’ll care to know what to do with.

- The writers were in a bit of a quandary, I know, since fans hated Johnny, the characters more-or-less liked him, and the writers obviously masturbated to him, but I felt that they should have appeased themselves and the characters here and not the fans. The characters, minus Marissa (mostly), ignored Johnny’s death. The adults were the worst, particularly Julie, as they showed absolutely no concern for their kids. Julie, generally an overprotective mother, was completely ignorant to her girls’ emotions, saying only to Kaitlin that she’s sure the trip didn’t go as well as she would have liked. Bad parenting and horrible characterization. Kirsten and Ryan had a nice time together, but that was completely undermined by Sandy’s eagerness to spy on Matt. Kirsten, of course, earns shitty parent points for saying Ryan has a lot on his mind “as usual.” Yes, that’s right, because I remember all the other times people fell off cliffs while Ryan watched. Very usual. I give Mischa Barton some credit for acting somewhat disturbed at the end of the episode, though.

- Marissa is still the most annoying character on television. Picking Johnny’s bracelet at the end was disgusting. She’s sad, I get it, but she made no effort to try to relate to Ryan. Everything that happens, she turns it back to herself so she can throw herself to the middle. It’s annoying. I’m glad that Sadie’s here to try to put a stop to all this, though we all know it’s going to be short-lived since all non-core four relationships are short-lived, but still, it’s a nice change of pace. Sadie’s not well defined at this point, but she obviously appealed to Ryan and I’ll withhold any judgment on her character right now. It was a very good idea to have Ryan come to her house at the end. Ryan is usually so quick to forgive Marissa, and she really doesn’t deserve it here. She’s been a terrible girlfriend for pretty much their entire relationship. She’s far better with Ryan when they’re friends trying to make it work. That’s when the romance actually shines through. But once they’re together, it’s stupid. As for Sadie’s relationship to Volchok, I don’t know what to think. It could be good considering that it’ll definitely lead to a little violence, but it could be horribly contrived. I’d love to see Ryan get his ass kicked by Volchok actually. The Volchok in “The Anger Management” was a one-off character, for sure. He was vulnerable. That’s not a good villain. If they want to reintroduce him and expect us to take him seriously, he needs to be a hard ass. Plain and simple. And seriously, if they want to put Volchok with Marissa, then fine, but for the love of God, don’t put her with Matt. What a creepy scene.

- I don’t even remember what happened with Seth and Summer this episode. I think Seth got hit. Yeah, probably so. Seriously, one day when Seth actually hits Summer, it’s going to become a “very special episode.” Actually, I’d kill to see one of those with this show because I think they could really do an awesome spoof. Man, that would be so much fun. As for the pot stuff, I hope it’s not over. It’s too fun. The underwear switch was fun, too, although it felt too sitcom-y for this episode. And it didn’t develop far enough to really reach all comedic potential. I liked the attempt to callback to season one’s Valentine’s Day episode with Seth and Sandy having a conversation at the table, but the horribly dark lighting and quick nature of the conversation kind of ruined it. What can you do, though?

- Sorry to see Kaitlin go. Not much else I can see. Willa Holland’s pretty good, so I hope she comes back. Yeah, that’s really all there is to say about that. Who else predicts that the little dopey, lovesick kid who looks like one of the young guys on American Idol (go Taylor and Chris!) will have gotten her pregnant by the finale? Just me. Bleh.

This was a very solid effort but a step down from previous efforts. It just tried to do too much and did so incorrectly. Kudos to the writers putting some funny things on Johnny’s surfboard (“sux 2 b u”) in a nod to fans. Too bad it took them so long to get the message: Johnny sucked.

Okay, so that’s really it. I know it’s not in-depth. It’s very shallow, but really, it’s all I can do. I’ll be around still, though. Just have patience. People who know what’s coming up say the rest of the season is really good, so here’s to hoping that’s true.


Monday, February 06, 2006

The Cliffhanger

“The Cliffhanger”

Johnny Harper, we hardly knew ye.

Actually, that’s not true. We knew ye, and we knew ye all too well. That’s actually a lie, too. We saw ye often but knew ye very little because Ryan Donowho is a pathetic actor, and the writers are complete imbeciles for subjecting us to a one-dimensional character for somewhere around 100 episodes.

Alas, though, let us pause and remember the good times of Johnny Harper. Like the time he died. Yes, that’s pretty much it.

Before we get into all the greatness surrounding the death of a fictional character that we all hated as if he were real, I’d like to take a moment and say that this was definitely the best episode of the season. Not only was it funny, but it was smart, it was well-balanced, it was well-acted, and it was progressive in the sense that it furthered the characters, and it furthered the plot. The show that was once horribly stagnant is making a tremendous recovery, and I absolutely love it. It’s not perfect again yet, but for me, it’s as good as the latter half of season two, and since I loved most everything after “The Rainy Day Women,” I consider that a pretty high standard.

Now, moving on to the episode, let’s start with the demise of Johnny. And yes, he’s dead. Or, at least, he’s supposed to be. Everyone next will believe that he’s dead, and I really can’t imagine Josh waking Johnny up at the end of the season to come surfing through Harbor’s graduation. I firmly believe that he is dead, so I will address him as such and say that I felt, for the first time, that the Johnny/Marissa/Ryan triangle played out correctly. I think it’s ridiculous that it took Kaitlin’s arrival to force Ryan to see what was going on. I do believe that he was aware of the shady dealings between Marissa and Johnny, but he was willing to ignore them for the sake of his own sanity. It’s been little less than a tumultuous year for Ryan. The writers have completely ignored the aftermath of Trey’s shooting, though I suppose that if we wanted to try to make logic out of illogic, we could say that Ryan’s distance from everything, particularly his acceptance of playing second fiddle to Johnny, is a way of showing just how wounded he is. He doesn’t even have the strength anymore to step in and try to change things because he’s comfortable playing in the shadows. Ryan’s insecurities have never been dealt with properly on this show, but I think that this episode was a step in the right direction of forcing Ryan to deal with things. He finally stepped up to the plate and said to Marissa what needed to be said. He told her he couldn’t see her anymore, and he didn’t bother to wait for the excuse. When Marissa started her sentence and Ryan just got up and walked away was an absolute perfect scene. I thought that it’d go on longer and allow for Marissa to make her excuses, but it didn’t. Ryan had every right to do that, too, and Marissa had no right to be upset or to even try to justify herself because she’s had plenty of opportunities to right the ridiculous wrongs, and she hasn’t. That’s why I was slightly upset when Ryan just went to making out with her, though I suppose I don’t blame him. He did still leave it as if it weren’t completely resolved, though, which I do like. I was also very pleased when Johnny came to talk to Ryan, and Ryan was a complete dick, calmly listening to Johnny and then telling him to go away. It’s what Ryan should have done several episodes ago. He had every right to be angry, and the fact that he allowed Johnny to string along this long is amazing. While I guess it’s commendable that Johnny was letting Ryan know that he was going after Marissa, it’s still frustrating that it took this long. That’s what’s been the most overwhelmingly annoying part of this entire Johnny debacle: it’s gone nowhere. It’s been the same thing week after week. Johnny looks at Marissa with his one look. She looks at him with her one look. And Ryan walks away. Words are spoken, but nothing is said. When I see how this episode was done, I cringe because I realize that this episode could have been done five episodes ago and achieved the exact same effect, all while ridding us of the storyline earlier. Why it had to be such a prolonged thing, I’ll never know.

From everything that I can gather, Josh wanted us to empathize (or is it sympathize?) with Johnny thus making his death more powerful. Unfortunately, they completely failed because he had not one endearing trait. He was capable of only one emotion—sadness—and even that emotion was displayed unconvincingly. The actor, who I’ve shockingly heard is a good actor outside of this show, looked constantly bored. I can buy Adam being bored in the scripts since he had nothing to do, but since entire episodes were built around Johnny, Donowho must have just been completely lazy. Further, we were supposed to believe that Johnny would fall for Marissa despite the fact that she has been written terribly this year. She put Ryan’s life in front of her own in the premiere, but other than that, she has done absolutely nothing right. She’s self-absorbed, she’s whiney, she’s illogical, she’s bitchy, and she’s a general downer. We all understand that she has issues to deal with given what happened with Trey and Jimmy’s untimely departure, but there was never any logical progression from one emotion to another. She just is these things. Because of all this, no one ever bought the Johnny/Marissa relationship. There was no reason to care, no reason to root for them. Neither character is at all likeable right now; neither character is at all worth watching. They were shoved down our throats in lieu of the characters that fans have clamored for constantly. I suppose that, in a sense, Josh’s big death worked. People were interested in Johnny’s death. But I doubt that Josh hoped that it would go this way. He wanted people to scream for him not to jump. Instead people were jumping up and down, slapping high fives, and talking about how great it was that this character is no longer. I do feel some sympathy for his mom and for Chili since they did absolutely nothing wrong. True, Chili was nothing more than a cheap imitation of Seth, but he never did anything that gave fans a reason to hate him. Johnny Lewis has a natural charisma, so he was easy to watch. Johnny’s mom had absolutely no personality, but she seemed nice enough, so I feel sorry for her. Teen deaths are always tragic, but I don’t see why anyone would care that Johnny’s dead now. Feel sorry for the people around him, but don’t feel sorry for him. And if you don’t want to feel sorry for him, blame Marissa since it was her inability to let go that led to his death. The previews show that people might try to blame Ryan, but the truth is, it was all Marissa. Maybe this time she’ll be charged with murder.

I continue to love Kaitlin as she’s an extremely nuanced character with a penchant for saying the right thing. As an outsider she sees what everyone else doesn’t. Her ice cream analogy (or is it a metaphor or both?) was right on. I almost like her as much as her nuanced mother, someone who continues to be absolutely terrific on the show. There isn’t much to say about the Julie/Neil romance that I haven’t said in the past. These two are absolutely perfect together with a terrific chemistry. The relationship feels real, and Julie’s plots to spy on Neil ring so true of an eighth grader lending this storyline a very innocent feel. It’s real. It’s not a tainted love. Neil, despite being too big to stand in Julie’s trailer, always appears happy when Julie is around, and Melinda always plays the scenes with a perfect shock, a shock that suggests she doesn’t feel good enough to have such a great guy. I felt that the scenes where Julie was spying on Neil were excellent, somewhat heartwarming but completely hilarious. Truthfully, is there anymore to say other than these actors are delivering spot-on performances and the writing is perfect? Here’s to Julie Cooper-Nichol-Roberts.

I’m also still a fan of Sandy’s storyline, though it needs to have an overly dramatic moment thrown in soon because it has potential to lag. I believe that exploring Sandy’s demons is a perfect way to take the story, but it can’t simply be that he changes his mind and fires Matt. This has to build to a climatic showdown before or during the finale. I’ve predicted that Matt would be a hotshot business person and nothing more since the beginning, and there is really something that can come from that. What I don’t want is a Full House moment between the two. Matt’s young and charismatic and that’s exactly all that’s needed to pull off smarmy businessman on television. I believe that if the writers can somehow find a way to have Sandy’s unwillingness to compromise his morals compromise his business or his family, then we have a terrific storyline. I don’t believe that there were any mentions of Caleb this week, and that’s probably a good thing since he was mentioned many times last week, but I do believe name-dropping can do nothing but help this storyline live up to its potential since the dramatic pull is the fact that Sandy worries that he’ll become Caleb. While this show isn’t known for playing with storyline ramifications, using Caleb’s death as a catalyst to Sandy’s problems now is a nice touch. I’m actually just pleased that Sandy has his own storyline now. I don’t like that Kirsten is still relegated to the backburner, but I think she’ll eventually take something of her own. I would hope so at least. I have to give kudos to the writing staff for the moment where Sandy asks Kirsten if it’s okay to drink. Despite the fact he didn’t care last week, it’s nice to see the writers trying to fix their gaffe. You can also look at it as Sandy being so out of it after compromising himself that he didn’t even realize he was drinking in front of Kirsten. With a clearer head, he realized just how uncomfortable the situation can be. I’m hoping that somehow the Newport Group finds its way back to Kirsten and Sandy finds his way back into the courtroom so we can finally get the lawyer scenes that would clearly be incredible.

Or maybe Sandy can drop out of business and law altogether and just give lectures on the dangers of pot. Okay, maybe not since that would put this show dangerously in the public service announcement territory, and since Seth denounced After School Specials on the pier, I would hope that this doesn’t go into this territory when Sandy finds out. Maybe he won’t find out at all. I believe that that’s the smart way to go, actually because any scene where Sandy, a noted pothead from back in the day, confronts Seth was a pamphlet for a rehab center will be entirely awkward especially after last season’s powerful intervention. Hey, though, maybe Seth will go back to rehab and he can meet Charlotte since he never did before! And maybe this time, we can get a payoff. It’s obvious that’s where they’re going. Layers, people, this show is about layers and continuity! Ahem. Anyway, I love how this storyline continues to feel incredibly realistic. I don’t believe that Seth is addicted to pot (can you be addicted to pot?), but he’s addicted to feeling terrible because with each day that passes he’s coming closer to realizing what he’s terrified up. Everything good in his life is slowly being taken away, and he’s being thrust into a world that he doesn’t quite know. It’s not say that things might not be good for him in college—Josh said that the Seth character was one that was supposed to be cool when he gets to college—but he doesn’t know yet. It’s a daunting task. Even switching semesters in high school requires a change, so imagine having to move across the country to switch classes, houses, and friends. Now, given that he’s blown his interview, there’s the possibility that he won’t get in at all, and he won’t have to worry about change, but he’ll have to worry about losing his dream. I think it’s a nice double-edged sword. Can he really win in this situation? As Ryan pointed out, the scary thing about Seth’s new drug play is that he does it alone. He’s isolated everyone. Maybe he’ll become so isolated that he’ll be ready to leave Newport again. Maybe not. I’m assuming that Summer will hit him and kill him since that’s what she does. A lot of people are saying that the hitting is too much, by the way, but I don’t know if it’s too much. I just don’t think it’s that cute. There has to be a better way to show angry affection. All that aside, Brody continues to be fantastic in his role. He’s not overblown, he’s not annoying, but he’s genuinely funny. He alternates between vulnerable and high with such ease that it makes me think Brody’s done it before. Hey, an actor must suffer for his craft. I wasn’t a huge fan of the way that Summer found the pot, but there really isn’t much of a better one. At least it gave us the amazing visual of Seth staring at a blue screen. And I’d praise the “take off our pants line” but my stupid Fox affiliate came in to let me know that Michael Smith was giving a weather report at 10. Yes, the same douche that you can find here: I e-mailed the affiliate but didn’t get a response. That’s okay.

Random Thoughts…

J.J. Philbin, who I have never cared much for as a writer, did a fantastic job on the script. It was incredibly funny at the right moments, and the characters said the right things instead of the stereotypical things. She jus got married so maybe marriage agrees with her.

Johnny has a low tolerance for alcohol doesn’t he?

How horrible would it have been if they’d shown Johnny fall? I’m not talking about sadness, I’m talking about cheese factor. Does he fall and scream, “Marrisssaaaa…!” as he falls? Do they play Looney Toons music as he falls? Or him folding up like Wile E. Coyote? Actually, that sounds pretty funny. I don’t think it would lessen the impact since we all felt Johnny was a cartoon character anyway. Actually, if Charlie Brown were a real person, he’d be Johnny Harper.

For once, the Fox promo people didn’t lie. Kudos to them.

Okay, music in this episode included a band named ROCK KILLS KID and a song called “Fall at Your Feet.” Who is to say that Josh has lost his sense of humor? That’s just flat out unbelievable.

It’s come to my attention that I’m too harsh on Marissa. I don’t care. There isn’t a single redeeming quality about her at the moment. If someone has one to share then please let me know. And I’m talking about now. Not season one when he problems weren’t necessarily her own, when she was somewhat endearing. She’s far from that now. Or maybe I’ve just gotten bitter.

I’m sad to know that Willa Holland’s run is coming close to an end. She’s scheduled to come back eventually, I think, and the show could only benefit. I’d love to see her become a regular next season.

Speaking of someone who should be a regular, where the hell is Taylor? She can’t possibly be absent this many episodes in a row. This show needs her. With all the good that’s come from the last two weeks, she can only make it better.

On that note, I think I’ll call it a morning. I kind of skimmed over a few things, but I’m just absolutely swamped with school work. The show is taking a hiatus after next week, and while I’m disappointed in that, I’m pretty happy that it’ll give me time to catch up. I suppose I’ll ready everything on my syllabi in a month and then have nothing to do when the shows start up, and I can focus all my energy here. Okay maybe that won’t happen.

For the few of who you who read this but haven’t seen the episode, get out and find a copy! This was a tremendous episode from a story standpoint, a script standpoint, and a historical standpoint. Everything about it was just fantastic. An important, if horribly dull, storyline was wrapped up. It’s a new beginning, and this was the perfect way to usher it in. Here’s to hoping they don’t decide to call it a new era again.

Have a good one.