Thursday, January 18, 2007

Three-in-One

“The Earth Girls Are Easy,” “The My Two Dads,” and “The French Connection”

So it's been several weeks since I've written. I know, I'm sorry. I actually started a review for “The Earth Girls Are Easy,” but then the cancellation news came down, school started back, and it just didn't seem worth it. I'm not completely out of the game, but I'm so disheartened by the fact that February 22, in all likelihood, barring a last minute resurrection by Dawn Ostroff at The C.W., is the end for us. I mean, it's just come and gone so fast. And man, I'm just in shock.

Anyway, we'll dwell on the sad stuff when the time comes, but for now, let's take look at the three episodes and try to delve into the relatoinships. First of all, let me show just paste you the ¼ page review I had written for “The Earth Girls Are Easy” so you can see where I was going with that before I stopped:

In this case, 'The Annoying, Whiny, Idiotic Fans of “The O.C.” vs. Josh Schwartz's Creation,' the defense calls Drew Timmons, show critic, to the stands.

Thanks, it's nice to be here. And yeah, I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God. I'm cool with that. I'm just here to make it known that people out there who watch this show are sometimes so incredibly dense and ridiculous that they make me want to swear off television for good.

Sir, you say that 'The Earth Girls Are Easy' was a pretty good episode, but it seems that a large percentage of the fan base, the kind who uses complete sentences at least, disagrees and found it weak and unbelievable. How do you respond to this?

Look, I'm not here to tell anyone how to watch an episode or what to get from it. But it's not my prerogative to make everyone like every episode. I mean, you know, some people didn't like the first four episodes of the season, and that's pretty ridiculous. There are people who don't think that this season has honored Marissa, and that's absurd. But really, until now, I haven't called them out too harshly. So yeah, it's not my prerogative to make sure that people like every episode, but it's my job to make sure people see that they've found the stupidest possible reasons for disliking the show this season, and I think this episode is a good one to make that point with.

But didn't you realize that Seth and Summer had no chemistry in this episode? I mean, how can you say anything is a good episode when Seth and Summer act so awkward around each other? This episode cannot be good!

So there ya go. It ends without an answer to that question. But we'll kind of get to it later. As you can see, much like Josh and his writers, I thought I'd play with traditional format, too. They, of course, have been more successful. But they get paid in six figures. Cormac has yet to offer me any money for my services. And fans haven't donated. Not that I'd take it. (Only, I would). But I digress, as usual.

The Earth Girls Are Easy: Not a great episode but a solid one that would have kicked January off correctly had Fox not reworked the schedule so that this aired before Christmas. It wasn't perfect, and I know it wasn't well liked, overall, but most of the criticisms were horrible, particularly the one that said Seth and Summer didn't have any chemistry in the episode and that they were too awkward. I don't even know where to begin addressing that. And there was, of course, the whole thing about how people thought we should have seen Ryan and Taylor having sex.

In fact, this has been a point of discussion for weeks now. People say that we should be seeing Ryan and Taylor making out/having sex/whatever and that Josh is a lesser showrunner because he hasn't given us those scenes. Jesus, people who think that, are you all really that moronic? I know, I know, I shouldn't lash out at people reading this, but there isn't a single logical point behind this thought. What is gained through a prolonged make-out session? What is gained through showing them having sex? Nothing. Don't give me the argument that they have too much chemistry to waste. I know that. I don't need you to spell that one out. They have GREAT chemistry. But that doesn't meant we need to see them doing ANYTHING other than what they've been doing. All it would do is slow the show down, slow the story down, and just generally suck the life out of the show. I like a passionate kiss or a great sex scene as much as the next guy, but give it a rest, people.

Some people thought Seth was a dick for being happy that Summer wasn't pregnant. Methinks that it's okay to celebrate when you're 18, basically unemployed with no high education, and you don't actually WANT a child. So, yeah, there's another terrible criticism.

But the episode did have some great stuff in it, most notably all things Bullit. When the Bullit joined the cast, I liked him, but I could see why others wouldn't – he was loud, obnoxious, obliviously racist, and just a huge stereotype. Somehow, though, the actor and the writing clicked, and he became something pretty special. He's an incredibly warm character, and as he's started to fall for Julie, you can't help but want her to fall back. That's why it was so heart breaking to see him standing alone, waiting for Julie to dance with him, oblivious to the fact that she's gone to somewhat innocently meet Frank.

Enter Kaitlin. Now Kaitlin has been the surprise of the season for many people, especially the idiots who took Josh's words out of context and decided that the whole fourth season would be about her. But it hasn't, and that's awesome. Instead, she's clearly her mother's daughter, and she's funny, and she's cool, and so you just knew she'd save the day for the Bullit and she did! Their dance together is one of the greatest moments ever on this show, and I fully and honestly mean that. In a sense, Bullit standing by himself and Kaitlin, in her own fit of loneliness (Jimmy! Why must you be such poor dad to this awesome girl? Why did you like Marissa the best? Why!), encapsulates everything about the series. It was about failure and betrayal and loss and pain, and then it was about hope and family and possibility. I hope that Julie comes around, finds that she loves the Bullit, and they live a perfect life together. Julie and Kaitlin deserve it, and the Bullit seems to want it, and I can't think of a better match. The Kaitlin/Bullit dance, I think, wins scene of the year so far for me, even outdoing a lot of the amazing grieving the characters did early on and the awesome, “Ryan...Ryan...I schmeared it for ya!” scene.

Let's also not forget how crucial this episode was in establishing the Taylor/Summer friendship. While Taylor was overdone in a later episode, she was used very well here, and I think that her complete unselfishness and willingness to support Summer shows why she's the best friend Summer has ever had. Okay, Taylor knowing Summer's period cycle is kind of weird, but it is Taylor, and so you just kind of accept it. From any other character, it's scary, but from Taylor, it's weird and quirky, and you just take it. But from that moment on, Taylor was determined to be there for Summer because Summer is her friend, and she was in need. The shot of their hand-hold in the back of the car was one of the best shots this season. Compare Taylor to this scene, quote taken from Joanna at TWoP's recap of “The Strip”:

She drops the bomb: the manicure she just got yesterday is already chipped! Oh, and Theresa is prugnunt. The camera circles around them ... And also that the baby might not be Eddie's. She orders Ryan to tell her what's going on, and the camera pans upward to black. How did this moment become more about Marissa than Ryan?

Taylor never made Summer's pregnancy about herself, and even though it was the catalyst for her plot with Ryan, she always separated Ryan and Summer so that she never really lost sight of her priorities. I love Taylor. She's so awesome.

The My Two Dads: This was a definite all-time classic, I feel. I think it hit the right character notes (though Seth/Summer's storyline has certainly sparked debate, but as usual, I'm here to settle it!) and did a very good job trying to establish exactly where Ryan fits in the family.

First, briefly, let's discuss Seth and Summer. The common criticism of their storyline seems to be, “If they're too immature to tell each other how they feel, if they have to play these games, then they're too immature to get married.” Duh. Of course they're too immature to get married. But the key is that they know it. They're both intelligent enough (during most episodes at least) to realize that they're 18 and mostly useless to society at the moment. Neither are in a position to get married. But they will be eventually. A more mature criticism of this storyline was, “Seth and Summer have come so far this year in terms of willingness to talk, so I can't buy this storyline because they regressed.” I can agree with that to an extent, although I would say that the fact that they're dealing with marriage probably knocks them down a few notches. But that's a point better taken the first one, and to that I say, “Well played, but they were funny, so who cares?” And yes, they were hilarious. Seth and Summer have always had great chemistry and have always been fun together, but this was a major step up. Kudos to Adam Brody for finally seeming motivated again. Maybe the news of cancellation made him want to act again. Or maybe the scripts were just finally good again. But he seems like he enjoys what he does now.

Anyway, the meat of this episode was the Frank/Sandy/Ryan storyline, and I have to say that it was one of the finest executed plots they've ever done. I still believe that maybe the story would have benefited from a multi-episode arc last season, but for the little time they had, they did wonders with it. I'm more than impressed. I felt that Kevin Sorbo actually fit the part of Ryan's father well, although I was initially hesitant. He was cool with just a hint of menacing, and Sorbo's acting past made him seem tougher than he probably actually is. No offense to him, of course. I'm sure he could kick my ass.

But it was great to see Frank enter the picture. We've seen everyone else, but we've barely even heard of Frank, and it was clear that it could provide something very intriguing. After all, the show is essentially built on Ryan's relationship with Sandy. Without those two, this show is nothing. But last season, we heard Sandy basically dismiss Ryan as his son. Not meanly, of course, but every time Sandy made mention of having one son, it stung the fans of their bond. By no means do I want Ryan to take the last name Cohen (EVER, Josh, although I do like referring to them as “the Cohens” -- I'm kind of difficult to deal with), but I do want him to feel part of the family. Remember when he said he wasn't an Atwood but he wasn't a Cohen, either? Well, Sandy did nothing to help that last season. I think it was just the writers being careless, but I won't blame the writers and credit the characters, so I'll blame the character.

But this episode fixed that. Sandy saw Ryan and suddenly became territorial. He wanted to protect Ryan, keep Ryan, love Ryan. It was a bit intense at times, but that's what you want. It's the passion and love that I expect from my dad and all my friends expect from theirs. I think that after all Ryan has been through, Sandy began to see himself as a father even more. And then that was threatened by a “terminally ill” Frank. In some sense, you have to feel for Frank. Here's someone who was more than a shitty father, he was a shitty human being. But he's served time, and he's turned his life around. It doesn't excuse what he's done, but this show is about second chances (and don't give me any e-mails about how Marissa deserved a second chance – maybe you can argue a 202 chance), and so maybe he deserved one. With proper supervision and such. Despite his changes, though, some people can't escape their old demons. I think Trey proved this, and like father, like son. Frank is different, he wants to be different, and even though his mistakes weren't as great as they were last time, they were still big enough. And it's not just the lying. Notice how quickly his temper flared when Sandy got defensive. It was a great job from Josh & Stephanie to show the remains of who he was. It'd be too easy, like with Trey, to write him as a pure villain or a pure reformed saint, and they avoided it.

I think special credit has to be paid to Peter Gallagher who delivered his best performance since season one. He was absolutely remarkable. At no point did you doubt exactly how Sandy felt, and when he punched Frank and then dared him to come for more, you couldn't help but cheer. I couldn't, at least.

You also can't help but love the two scenes that really cemented the new family dynamics. First is when Ryan told Sandy that he's his father. Just brilliant. Exactly what we all needed to hear. And then, at the end, as Seth returns home, and they all sit on the couch, just watching a movie. The writers tried to make us feel last year like the true fab four consisted of the four teens, but that's not true, it's never been true, and it never will be true. The Cohen family is our fab four. And were we hearing things or did Ryan outright call Sandy, “Dad” in that scene? I don't want him calling him that all the time, but it was a sweet, so sweet, moment.

Before we get onto “The French Connection” and diss Taylor for the first time ever I think, let me compliment her here. She played everything very low-key, stressing a bit about her relationship, but worrying mostly that Ryan was okay. When she told Ryan to go sit with his family, she won every heart that wasn't still freakishly attached to previous girlfriends. She didn't want to be a part of that moment. She didn't belong. It wasn't about her. It was about Ryan. And that, my friends, is beautiful.

Oh, oh, and Chris Brown was there, too, acting horribly in a well-written role. I still love Kaitlin, though, so I'll forgive all his craziness. But Kaitlin's report, and the Ward twins being complete, wonderful dorks are the things that made the Harbor storyline very, very fun. If you're not enjoying Kaitlin and her friends, then you're just wrong. Maybe you're even in the group that took Josh's words out of context when he said they'd show high school again this year. You know, the group that took that to mean that Kaitlin would be another Marissa. Shame on you, people!

The French Connection:
Seth and Dr. Roberts = awesome chemistry, a lot of fun, a few fun cracks at the enemy.
Will and Kaitlin = bad acting + good acting + solid writing, so it's all okay.
Julie and Kirsten = fine since it gave Kirsten something to do (which, as I've said before, isn't a huge deal like some people insist that it is) and even better since it may lead to an actual rift between the two.
Seth and Summer breaking off their engagement = tons of heartache in the best possible way since it was painfully real and a beautiful way to really look at Summer's character.
Newpsieweds = funnier in theory.
Che = still awesome and anyone who doesn't think so isn't too cool in my books

I go through that in bullets so that I can end this review before it gets too long. But first, I need to discuss Taylor and why this episode failed badly with regard to her storyline. I mean, the idea was good. Find a way to put a wedge in the seemingly perfect Taylor/Ryan relationship. Play to insecurities. That's great! I love conflict that isn't in love triangles. But this just wasn't the way to do it. First, you can't tell me that Taylor is really that smart. No way. Second, don't try to center an episode around how Ryan isn't as smart as Taylor when you've spent three seasons trying to tell me that Ryan really is smart. Maybe not in the same way that Taylor is, but I can't see why Ryan couldn't adjust the conversation to English and to architecture or something similar.

Second, people like Taylor because of how easily she slid into the group and how great she was at helping others. She very rarely existed on her own, and that kept the stories fresh and her character fun. We weren't overexposed. Until this episode. Simply put, this was just too much. Taylor has always been a larger-than-life character, but this episode just made her too big. French books, French talk shows, etc. Just too much. She works best when she's big on a small scale. Does that kind of make sense? Like, I love when she does crazy things, but I like it best when she's relegated to remembering Summer's period or taking random photos of Ryan or updating her no doubt sensuous blog. I think my main qualm is that although I completely accept Taylor as a main cast member, she's not as important as the rest, and I feel like the show should focus on the other characters more. Something for Sandy outside of his awesome Jerry Lewis impression. Maybe a date with Spitzy?

Now I do enjoy seeing conflict in Taylor and Ryan's relationship, unlike those who complain that The O.C. isn't boring enough so they want to see Ryan and Taylor happy all the time, but I want to see the conflict fed through Ryan, not through Taylor. The difference is astronomical.

I also enjoyed the final sequence where they almost did a callback to “The Countdown” and thousands of R/M fans everywhere pissed themselves in terror (and yes, I've read that pissing yourself isn't an actual response to terror, but it's in the world enough for me to use it). Nice, nice swerve for it not to be real, although it does seem like Ryan and Taylor may be a little too in sync. Their fantasies/dream sequences are shockingly similar, huh?

But overall, it was another solid effort. There have been a few missteps this season, but those missteps have been so minor and haven't hurt any episode overall. Every episode has been solid to great, and that's something you just can't say about last year.

So that'll do it. Not much else to say other than that according to spoilers, things are about to really heat up, so everybody watch and be excited. I can't imagine that you'll be disappointed.

Thanks for reading and for your patience. And continue to enjoy Editorial Newport, as it looks better than ever, even in the face of cancellation adversity. Watch for updates, including a couple of new podcasts – hopefully, at least.


-Drew
Questions, comments?
dukedevils9192@gmail.com