Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Chrismukk-huh?

So it's been a while, hasn't it? A long time has passed – nearly six months, give or take a few weeks – since I sat down to write about the show. The podcasts have been fun, and I really enjoy doing those, but as you can tell, it's hard to formulate thoughts when you have only a few seconds to think. We'll definitely continue to do them, but for at least a little while, I'm back to writing, and I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.

Okay, I can, but this is still fairly high on the list.

Just to clarify, the reason I haven't written isn't because I've disliked the episodes. No way. I think that this season has been nearly as good as season one, and it pains me to think that we're halfway through this season and then we'll see no more show. That's not 100% confirmed, and maybe if someone from the afterlife could visit and tell us exactly which God is up there, we can all pray to him, and the show will be renewed. Because truly, as good as this writing is now, it deserves extra time. Then again, maybe this season is so good because it has a focus, and that focus is the end of the series. Who knows? All I know is that any faith that I lost in Josh is completely restored, and after reading the articles about network meddling last year, I can't say I completely blame him for what happened.

But I digress.

At the beginning of the season, Josh claimed that this was going to be the best Chrismukkah ever. Now, I'd debate that and say that's wrong, but not because this episode was bad. It's just that the first two Chrismukkahs are so good. Season one was a wonderful, hilarious, sweet episode with just the right amount of soap and intrigue. Season two was soapy and intriguing with the right amount of hilarity and sweetness. Season three, well, let's put that behind us (and yes, I gave it a good review last year, and I still don't think it was horrible because a sizable chunk was pretty good, but overall, yikes).

This show has always been really straightforward in its storytelling. If I'm not mistaken, they didn't even do a dream sequence until the season three premiere. I think there might have been something somewhat unique at the end of season two when Marissa was having some kind of attempted-rape flashback, but other than that, everything was told straight to us, and while it worked, it always seemed unadventurous. So when I saw some narrative framing in the premiere, and the stages of grief sequence in episode four, I was blown away. Add in the awesome fantasies Ryan had about Taylor (and the awesome weird lens shot of Sandy handing a bagel that he “schmeared” to Ryan), and you've got a show that's far from unadventurous.

But an alternate universe episode? That's a little bit more difficult to do right. “One Tree Hill” proved that with an absolutely horrible episode a few weeks back. That's not to say that it can't be done as “That '70s Show” did a brilliant “It's A Wonderful Life” parody, and I'm sure I've seen others that I just can't remember.

So did this episode work? Yeah, it really did. It wasn't perfect, but it was still really good, and I think that it's an episode that people will look at fondly in the future because it managed to weave together humor and heart, and that's all we need at the holidays. No one doubted that Ryan and Taylor would recover from their comas, so there was little tension there, but the writers did manage to develop significant tension as we waited to find out how they were going to get out. So this episode was about how and not if, and that's cool for me.

The main criticism that I've heard about this episode is that nothing really happened. No plot progression. I don't know what to say about that other than: ha!

Aside from 'The Graduates,' which relaunched the entire series for the better, this was probably the most important episode of the series. It was the writers' way of writing the final chapter in the Ryan/Marissa story, and while there is certainly room to write an epilogue, I'm not sure one is needed. If anything, their relationship has been better portrayed in Marissa's death than in life where it was routinely a joke. It wasn't until this year that I saw that Ryan truly loved Marissa. Some argue that the series hasn't shown that this year, but those people, I firmly believe, are just looking to criticize. I've really yet to hear, read, or see a valid argument against this, although I totally welcome any e-mails that try to convince me otherwise. I firmly believe that I'll win that argument, though.

But the biggest reason this episode was important is not merely that it closed the book on their relationship, but it opened the book on the rest of Ryan's life. For the last few months, he's been trying to move forward, but he's been anchored down by the weight of Marissa's death and their relationship. In many ways, it's not unlike his initial venture to Newport where he was trying acclimate himself and failing because the weight of his previous life held him down.

He doesn't have to worry about that now. It's not that life is going to get much easier for him now, but he can take larger steps and strides toward a new life, and that's extremely important. Ryan, for all intents and purposes, is the “main” character of the show (though I'm not trying to diminish the others because frankly, I've never believed Ryan was the best, so no hate mail about that please), and we've followed his journey through a lot of highs and a lot lows. So I find it important, no matter how you feel about Ryan, that you recognize how important it is for him to move on. He needs it, and I think he's earned it.

In fact, I found this episode not only the beginning of a new life for Ryan but also a redemption for Marissa. It takes a pretty blind eye not to recognize Marissa's utter selfishness over the majority of three seasons. She was a self-centered, self-absorbed, and, well, self-everything really except -sufficient. She constantly brought Ryan down with her, and many of Ryan's problems since he arrived in Newport can be traced back to Marissa. Aside from turning herself in for shooting Trey, she didn't do much for Ryan. But this letter completely changed that, I think. You can effectively argue that it was simply the writers' way of bringing Taylor and Ryan together, but I do think it fits perfectly in the continuity of the series, and it actually shows us that Marissa really did mature in the final months of her life, something the show seemed to want to tell but didn't know how to show. Through this letter, Marissa smartly broke ties with Ryan. Their relationship was self-destructive, and they were never going to be completely happy together, and it's pretty amazing that people ever believed that it could. And I love that Marissa, who I used to think had the IQ of a special needs monkey, was the one who realized what needed to be done. She had to move on, and she knew Ryan did, too. Maybe Taylor wasn't the person she would have picked for him, but Taylor's good for him, and I think we can all see now that Marissa just wanted him to be happy.

And Taylor will make Ryan happy. And Ryan will make Taylor happy. And they both make me happy. And if I'm happy, the world is happy. Or at least, my world is happy, and my world is the most important world to me. So there. Anyway, you can't deny the smoking chemistry that these two have, even in alt-world, and I'm constantly amazed that after such a dismal year last year, the writers and actors are meeting on the same page. The writers are offering up the best romantic comedy has to offer, and these two actors are responding in kind. It's really lovely.

To use that as a transition to talking about Taylor, I have to say that this episode was just as important for Taylor as it was for Ryan. Now first, to shush the critics who say that Taylor has “taken over” the show. Fine, maybe she's been slightly overexposed. But honestly, she's better and more energetic than anyone else on this show (and this coming from someone who would go GAY for Adam Brody and Peter Gallagher and who thinks that Rachel Bilson hung the moon and who thinks that Ben McKenzie is the most improved actor on television and that he wows me week after week), and the show needs her at the moment. Further, there was nothing else needed for the other characters at this point. You have to remember that the show was structured in a particular way this season. This episode was supposed to air on the 21st, and it was going to end the first part of the season. So they put all the characters in situations where they could hold for a while, and they did so very well. I'm amazed at how well they did it, actually. At the end of episode six, I thought that everyone, minus Ryan and Taylor (who were still good), was in a perfect position, and they didn't need episode seven for their stories. So no, that criticism doesn't fly. Taylor hasn't eaten up any story that anyone else needed. The storylines have been fair and balanced this year, a far cry from last year. Everyone's involved (except for maybe Kirsten, but that's a whole other debate that I might get into later on; or maybe it'd make a good podcast topic), and they've done this even with adding two new main characters. That says a lot about how much screen time Marissa ate up last year.

Anyway, my point through all this is that Taylor needed this journey as well. She had to realize that the fact that her mother hates her has nothing to do with her but everything to do with her mother. Even if she were a boy, her mother would hate her. You can possibly read even deeper into the storyline and look at Taylor's masculinity versus her femininity, but I really don't know where to go with that. I just know that Taylor's dream and the decision she made in her dream heavily influences where she goes from here, and that heavily influences her relationship with Ryan. Now that she's at peace with the relationship that has scarred her the most, she can really help Ryan come along. Not that he's not getting there. He is. But he'll still need a little boost. Of course, whether they survive or not is up in the air, but if they fall apart now, it's not because of Marissa or Veronica. Then again, even if Taylor has made peace with her mom's bitchiness, she still has to work through the years of scarring it's caused. So, yeah, interesting potential there. Since Fox is run by morons, though, we probably won't get to see that potential played out since they're determined to kill what I'm not afraid to call their best show currently on the air (and yes, I'm including “House,” which is so laughably bad this season that I can't even try to compare it to “The O.C.” without laughing – and I really do love that show!). “24” will take that crown for some people in January, but for now, this show is it.

A couple of other notes . . .

Julie got some closure tonight, it seems, as she showed she cared about Ryan, and she didn't freak when she read the letter from Marissa. You can't ever get over death, but you can move on with it, and that's important for Julie. With Kaitlin by her side (they're the best mother-daughter combination on television), she'll survive, and I'm glad. I love to see her play the surrogate mother role to Taylor, someone who desperately needs that figure. I'm beginning to think that the series should end with Julie leaving Newport and returning to where she can survive on her own, but with her heart bigger than it's ever been, maybe she's proving that she's just as good as Sandy and Kirsten. Okay, not quite. But damn, she's trying.

One of the most ridiculous criticisms I've heard about this episode was that Kirsten was too concerned with her ham. Yeah, she was concerned with it (and probably could have shown more concern for Taylor and Ryan, even though there was no reason for more concern since the doctor assured them they'd be okay), but that's because it was cooking. If she hadn't worried about it the house would have burned down. I know people want “hospital Ryan” with the Cohens acting concerned, but it's ludicrous to think she should just forget about her house possibly burning down. On the same note, the people complaining about Kirsten telling Ryan he should put the decorations up are ridiculous, too. Yeah, if Seth wants something then Seth should do it, but Lord, to complain that Kirsten is treating Ryan wrong by telling him to do something have obviously never been in a family before. Or else my mom, who I thought was a great mom, isn't that great after all. She tells me to do things all the time. There are such warped views of Ryan's relationship with the Cohens out there that I can't even begin to go into detail here. Suffice to say, spare me the angry e-mails. I know what I'm talking about.

Jimmy should have been used better, I think. I didn't mind them using him only in the alt-world, but I would have preferred that they gave him more lines. I know that Tate Donovan's acting skills aren't appreciated by everyone, but I think he's great, and I think he knows Jimmy Cooper as well as any other actor on the show knows their character, and I would have liked to have seen a little bit more of him and his interaction with Kirsten. They always had a fun chemistry, so to see their scenes tossed aside was kind of depressing. But they weren't integral to the plot, so I won't waste too much time with it. I do feel bad, though, that Sandy and Julie will divorce and Jimmy will kind of be left in the dust when Kirsten and Sandy reunite. Unless it means that Jimmy and Julie will rightfully get back together. *sigh* All that speculation is ridiculous because it's an alt-world. Forgive me for overthinking it. Oh, and I'd also like to know how Sandy and Julie got together. I imagine that they did it to spite Jimmy and Kirsten, and spite is a great reason to do anything in life.

People who say that Seth and Summer were cartoonish are wrong, as well. Yes, both were cartoonish, but consider that Seth would have far less confidence without Ryan in his life and consider that Summer would have had no need to evolve without Seth, and you'll see why it's hardly a stretch. These characters weren't meant to mirror the characters in the pilot. They were meant to mirror what the characters would be like now. I can still see the criticisms, but again, I don't find them valid. Besides, without it, we'd wouldn't have gotten Seth's pouting, which was awesome.

And finally, on the criticism standpoint, let's just say that Luke shouldn't have been in this episode. Che worked far better. The explanation for why Che was there was clunky, yes, but Che fit the role far better than Luke. It's not just that Pratt is a better actor than Carmack, but it's that Che is better suited to this particular character. Che is wacky and silly while Luke really wasn't. Yeah, he was a bit wacky and silly at the Rooney concert, but other than that, he's fairly reserved and normal. There's no way I'd buy Luke telling Julie to spank him while I can completely buy Che doing it. You've also got to consider that Luke could never fill this particular role because his role in Marissa's death is just too great, and thus, he's not likely to have sex with her mom, nor is he likely to speak of “thong removeification,” which, by the way, is the greatest phrase that any team of writers ever invented, perhaps bypassing Chrismukkah. We'll see if catches on.

Before I go, I want to thank the writers for packing this episode with little things for the fans. Whether it was simply Seth actually getting into Brown or Johnny's surf poster or Brad and Eric riding on a bike and skateboard or Sandy working with Henry Griffin (which, by the way, is interesting because it suggests that whether Ryan was there or not, Sandy was destined to get caught up in that dirty game) or Darryl as the homeless guy or Julie symbolically telling alt-Ryan that she knows his pain, it was all really fun, and it was a great tribute to the people who stuck with the show through some less-than-perfect times.

And with that, I'll sign off. This has been an interesting review to try to write because it isn't necessarily plot heavy, and you can really only analyze two major characters, but still, I think I hate some of the high points. I hope you guys enjoyed it. It feels good to be back writing again, as it's been a long time.

I probably won't have anything else up before the New Year, so I hope that everyone reading this (assuming you're not reading this at Editorial Newport where it might be after New Year's before it's up) has a great, wonderful, terrific Christmas (or holiday equivalent) and a great, wonderful, terrific New Year.

Questions, comments, criticisms (but for the love of God no complaints about the things where I told you not to bother me)?



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