Sunday, July 30, 2006

Season Three Review

So, what’s the date?

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m late. Real late. The season ended well over a month ago (update: the season ended well over two months ago as I finish this), and you haven’t heard anything from me since my “Thank God Marissa is Dead” review, a review that really wasn’t that anti-Marissa if you think about it.

Anyway, I do apologize. It’s not that I haven’t remembered. I think about writing daily. It’s not that I’ve been too busy, although summer school has required much more of me than last year did. It’s mostly that I’ve had time to gain perspective on season three, and to be honest, I haven’t wanted to revisit it. Overall, it was extremely disappointing, and the writers managed to mangle what should have been the best season of the series.

Last season’s review came in around 17 pages. A lot of it was lists and analysis from people who sent their thoughts, but still, I wrote a lot. A whole lot. But this year, I’m more jaded, more cynical, and more tired of trying to make sense of the season. Season two wasn’t perfect, but at that time, it was only one bad season. Now we’ve had two. So don’t expect anything too long this time. I’m just being honest. (Besides, there’s something special that might happen at Editorial Newport, and I have to save something for that, right?)

Look, I’m not saying that season three was terrible. It wasn’t. I enjoyed myself far more than many people did. I never once had the urge not to watch the show, even through the Johnny mess. I just grew increasingly frustrated because the show had no idea how to respond to the fans’ wants. It was satisfied with rehashing old storylines, storylines people were sick of after the first time through. And that’s horrible. The fans knew exactly where this season needed to go, what it needed to do, etc. The fans saw so much promise at the end of last season. And it was just squandered away by a clueless writing staff.

But like I said, it wasn’t terrible. Maybe not good, overall, but terrible is a, well, terrible word. In fact, there were genuinely good moments and storylines on the show. Unfortunately, when these good moments happened, they came at the wrong times. Too little, too late, and add those two together and you get too wrong. That’s over thinking it, I guess, but from what I can tell, it’s pretty true. So, to make this review easier and more fun to write, and more fun to read (I’m just thinking about you guys, you know), we’re going to play a little game called:

‘How Did They Blow It?’

I’ll list a storyline or moment during the season, tell you why it was a good decision, and then discuss how it failed. Some will, of course, be a bigger stretch than others (seriously, how bad did they actually screw up Taylor?), but I’m telling the truth on everything. It’s exactly how I feel.

Johnny Harper: So how was it a good decision to have this character? Well, the writers needed a wedge to go between Ryan and Marissa. They needed something to force them apart, something that would accentuate the problems that started with Trey. A guy is a clichéd choice, sure, but it’s an obvious one, and if it had been done right, then it could have been, well, good.

How didn’t they screw this one up? Not only did they cast the most uncharismatic performer this side of Mischa Barton, they managed to put him at the front of storylines for almost half of the season (well, maybe not half, but it felt like the whole). He received more airtime than all the regulars except for Marissa for these episodes, and he even managed to destroy Chrismukkah, a holiday with twice the resistance of a normal one. It’s pitiful.

How could they have made this better? Well, they could have, first, not thrown Marissa out of school since it led to nothing. Johnny could have been a transfer student, perhaps a junior for no reason other than to change it up. Marissa is hired, as social chair, to take him under her wing. Johnny and Marissa would have become friends while Marissa slowly pulled away from Ryan and went under Johnny’s wing. Johnny should not have developed feelings because Marissa’s vagina is not golden and not every needs to suddenly fall in love with her. She should have fallen for him as the problems between her and Ryan got worse. Yelling, shouting, etc. None of the, “Let’s deny that nothing’s wrong” nonsense. It should have been ugly. They’d just been through a shooting after all. Eventually, Ryan becomes disgusted with the relationship, torn with jealousy and anger. He breaks it off, sending Marissa to Johnny, where they both get drunk. Then Johnny dies in the same way he did. This sends Ryan and Marissa further apart while Marissa continues her downward spiral. Volchok could have still been a part of all this. Just because Johnny’s a transfer doesn’t mean he doesn’t have family in the area.

Look, I know that’s not perfect, but I really and fully believe it would have been more interesting than anything the writers rehashed for us.

Ryan Attacks Volchok and Flashes Back to Trey: Great decision. Ryan had a traumatic experience happen. He fought his brother, his brother almost killed him, and his girlfriend shot his brother. His brother ran away without a real goodbye. Just awful. And he didn’t properly deal with what happened. So when he fought Volchok, the flashback to Trey was terrific. It showed, in a short scene, that Ryan’s wounds weren’t healed. He was angry, pissed, terrified, filled with rage. It was beautiful to watch because it was a deeply psychological, emotional, and powerful moment.

But it took until the end of the season. There’s no reason it should have. Maybe, in real life, things take months to explode. This isn’t real life. Television needs to be fast paced, issues need to be addressed with in a reasonably believable, yet entertaining, time. Instead, Ryan was pushed to the backburner, ran through a series of boring storylines (hey, random sex is cool and hot, sure, but that doesn’t mean they were too incredibly exciting or anything). He became Marissa’s puppet. He put up with her shit time after time, and then he would disappear into the background.

Ryan’s anger should have come to fruition much earlier in the season, definitely. One way to do it? Volchok kidnaps Marissa, Ryan outwits him, and then he heads home, punches the punching bag, and we still get the incredible scene where we discover his rage problem. That should have lasted for a few episodes, and then Volchok, instead of disappearing into tertiary Limbo, would have come back, pissed. He gets in a fight with Ryan again, and then the fight should have happened. Perhaps this could have happened right after Johnny died. Maybe before. It doesn’t matter. Marissa could have found out what happened, and that way, there’s a great reason for Ryan and Marissa to break up: she’s scared.

Sandy Becomes Caleb: When Caleb died, the show lost a great villain. And really, even though his death was a terrific shock, the show lost its central villain, the most intriguing member of its adult cast (Sandy is more fun, I know, but Caleb had a lot going on). The adults revolved around what he did. Sandy was always the antithesis of everything Caleb was, so what’s a more interesting change than to shift Sandy, the new head of the family, to Caleb’s role, at least for a while? Perfect Sandy angst, perfect marital problems that didn’t involve old girlfriend contrivances, and just a perfect storyline. So easy to pull off.

Except they didn’t do it correctly. I was fascinated by it all along, but I was never quite as engrossed as I pretended to be or hoped I would be. They drug it out too long. They never accurately explained where Sandy’s transformation took place. They didn’t use Matt properly, they didn’t explain his role. They didn’t use Henry Griffin correctly, they didn’t really explain his role. They went back and forth with Sandy. One episode, he’s bad. The next he’s not. One half of an episode, he’s good. The other half, he’s bad. It was impossible to keep track of. And what exactly was the moral of the story? Was it Sandy’s character flaws that allowed him to succumb? Was it the Newport Group? Was it business, in general? No answers, only a plethora of questions.

And honestly, there’s no way I know how to fix it. I liked the idea that Sandy wanted to do something so good that he was willing to do something so bad. The hospital was the perfect way to do that. But I think that they should have shown Sandy succeed by taking the high road in a few business deals. Maybe run plots similar to the ones they ran in the first season with the Balboa Wetlands, Uncle Shawn, etc. Sandy would have reacted the exact opposite. All along, there are rumblings of this hospital. Sandy’s becoming more and more successful, and he’s enjoying the money. When this hospital deal happens, he won’t lose. And then he does anything necessary. He shouldn’t have helped Matt, he should have honestly used him. He should have thoughtlessly put him in harm’s way. Things that were out of Sandy’s character but that completely made sense given the circumstance and the character motivation built over the course of the entire season. Then, somehow, these dealings should have endangered his family. Now, he has to give the business up somehow, maybe to someone shady. This sets up conflict for next season, as Sandy uses his legal skills to uncover something about the people who stole the company from him, and he puts them out of power before putting the Newport Group to rest.

Charlotte: Seriously, I won’t even try to make sense of this. Just know that the fact that she and Kirsten never faced off in a one-on-one catfight makes this all incredibly useless. They should have gone with the simple, clichéd Single White Female Oliver redux storyline. It would have been, well, simple and clichéd, but at least it would have given us a reason to really feel creeped out, and it would have given us payoff, for, I don’t know, the STALKER SCENES in the premiere. Seriously, she’s looking over Kirsten’s shoulder, she steals a family picture, etc., and the best we get is clunky dialogue that says, “I will find a way to use her”? Give me a break. So poor.

Taylor Townsend: The best-written character of the second half of the season, Taylor wasn’t always so great. In fact, the writers managed to somehow take the charismatic and scorching hot Autumn Reeser and turn her into lifeless set decoration for the first part of the season. They stuck her in a lifeless storyline with Dean Asshole (who was a mistake on his own…I won’t waste space talking about him, but just know that they should have made him a ruthless dictator who had it out for every student and then learned to hate Ryan and Marissa for reasons unconnected to the shooting…oh, and not one-note would have been nice), and then they decided that Johnny would be the better recurring character to focus on despite the fact that in the one episode about the lock-in, they managed to add more layers to her character than they had ever done before. Unfortunately, because the writers are extremely short sighted, they completely dropped the ball with Reeser early in the season, only locking her in for a certain number of episodes. Thus, when she became the star of the often restless cast, they couldn’t use her. She popped in on occasion, and she became featured more prominently toward the end of the season, but she was never given the role she deserved. Autumn’s a series regular next season, so here’s to hoping she gets a chance to shine because she’s absolutely brilliant.

Seth on Pot: It was a great idea. Take Adam Brody, someone who clearly knows a thing or two about the pot (c’mon, watch his performance…this guy knows his marijuana), add in some anxiety, and it’s perfect.

But make 14-year-old Kaitlin his drug dealer (and no, I’m not going to rant about Kaitlin because I’m mostly content with her, and her main flaw stemmed from the fact that she was thrust in a situation with Johnny, no real character fault), make Seth a compulsive liar, throw in a meta comment about how it isn’t intended to be part of an After School Special, add an anti-climactic fire story, and a slap on the wrist from an increasingly unconcerned parent, and it’s really not that great.

Truthfully, the storyline played about as well as it could have. After all, marijuana isn’t exactly taboo, and harder drugs are done on television all the time, so if they wanted to use pot, then they did about as well as they could. It just could have been so much more had Seth really used it to distance himself, become extremely isolated, and used it to mask his anxieties. I always liked the “lying” storyline with Summer, but it ran out of steam pretty quickly, so they probably should have focused more on the drugs and less on the lying. Adam Brody was absolutely brilliant as a stoned guy, and he’s also a terrific actor, in general, when motivated, so he deserved the chance to shine for more than few episodes. Really, though, this storyline should have carried over to season four. I hope we see a little more pot in Seth’s future, but something tells me the writers are PSA’d out.

Marissa: I’m not just talking about her death here, people, even though that, in retrospect, was pretty bad. I’m talking about the character in general. This is what people mean when they say, “character assassination.” Hardcore Marissa fans will disagree with me, and that’s fine, really. But for the majority of fans, and yes I feel I’m speaking for the majority, I think this season turned general indifference (i.e., sometimes like, sometimes dislike, never strong opinions either way thanks to a lack of acting skills and an onscreen romance that was overshadowed by the best friends) into hate. This can definitely be seen in the ratings drop that occurred as she began to take up 25 minutes of screen time each week. No, she’s not the solely responsible, but I definitely believe that the overexposure contributed to the ratings decline. Mischa wasn’t a strong enough actress to carry a show, and Marissa wasn’t a strong enough or interesting enough character to be at the forefront. It’s the truth. I don’t mean to upset huge Marissa fans, but look at the numbers. It all works out.

I’ve already covered how the Johnny storyline could have been better handled, so I won’t rehash it, but I will say that I think that the writers did manage to handle Marissa’s downward spiral fairly well. Should have been a little more intense, should have been a little more “Volchok” than “Kevin,” and it shouldn’t have turned romantic at all, but still, it was all okay. So please don’t think I’m completely trashing Marissa. I’m not. There were bright points, but overall, the writers did such a horrible job with her this season that there was no way to redeem the character and fit her properly in the group.

That leads me to say that Marissa’s death was the right move. She was completely useless by the end of the season. You can say, “Oh, Josh copped out. It’s his fault there wasn’t anything left to do with her,” and maybe that’s true. But the point is: it happened. He overused her. He overexposed her. Too much Marissa led to huge creative problems. That’s it. There was nowhere left for her to go. I’ve yet to hear a viable hypothetical storyline for what she could have done in season four. She’s had sex with men and women, she’s shot someone, she’s done drugs, she’s drank, she’s befriended wounded souls, she’s befriended psychos, she’s broken up and gotten back together with Ryan too often, she’s dated around, she’s fought with her mom, she’s fought with her dad, etc. It’s just a lot. And like I said, you can argue that Josh screwed up by doing all that too soon, and I’ll completely agree. You cannot, however, argue that it’s untrue that Marissa had done more than enough. At least, I don’t believe you can argue it successfully.

Unfortunately, though, Marissa’s death, however perfect it might have been in terms of character, was incorrect in terms of execution because it was a result of her golden vagina, and frankly, it was barely silver by the end of the series. Volchok shouldn’t have fallen in love with her. The entire storyline could have been much better had the story stayed Volchok versus Ryan instead of dissolving into “Volchok loves Marissa.” That was the fatal (pun intended) flaw.

And that’s that. I don’t really know what else to say.

Actually, though, that’s a lie.

I know plenty more to say, but as much as I want to type it, I’m saving it. You know why? Because I need to leave something more for the brand new Editorial Newport podcast coming soon! There I’ll repeat some of what I said and provide brand new insight, particularly about the ratings decline, what a sixteen episode order means for season four, Marissa, Johnny, and whatever else comes to mind. Plus, I’ll have some more overall season three thoughts.

Okay, yes, I’m copping out by doing that, but I need to offer something that some of you might be interested in so that you’ll listen to the podcast! It’s going to be great, I promise.

Also, I do have a few e-mails that people sent, but instead of reprinting them here, I’m going to read them out in the podcast, so if you wrote in and want to know that I got what you wrote, listen to the podcast! More incentive!

Well, that concludes this season three rant, a few months late. And let’s see, this review was:

- Choppy
- Uninspired
- Shallow
- Erratic
- Unstructured

Hey, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Who’s to say I don’t know how to be symbolic?

Questions, comments, etc.?
dukedevils9192@gmail.com

-Drew