“Parents Weekend – Part Two”
August 30th, 2010
In case you haven’t been paying attention, Huge has been my show of the summer: the show embodies the potential for programming aimed at teenagers which doesn’t speak down to its audience, mining the complexities of adolescence instead of exaggerating its most dramatic moments. Staying true to its observational camera angles (reminiscent of Friday Night Lights, soon to be part of the ABC Family…family), the show has allowed characters to develop independent of earth-shattering revelations, just as interested in silence as in outbursts or monologues.
I’ve seen some criticism of the show for being too close to various cliches, a criticism which I don’t think is entirely unfair: there is no question that Huge has hewed fairly close to the traditional expectations of summer camp fiction, and there have been moments (see: “Spirit Quest”) which lost the series’ focus on investigating the life-changing moments, both big and small, which have nothing (and everything) to do with the central mission of Camp Victory. However, when the show was at its best, this focus transcended the tropes it has played with, and the show is certainly flirting with my Top 10 for the year thus far.
The second part of “Parents Weekend,” scripted by series co-creator Savannah Dooley, does nothing to change my love for the show, as the episode perfectly sums up the ways in which the nuances and subtleties of these stories defies the predictability of its log lines; it’s a strong end to a damn strong half a season, and all we can hope now is that ABC Family is as interested to see the other half as we are.
“Parents Weekend” is all about misinterpretation, a theme which started in last week’s opener: parents presume, based on their limited observations, that friendliness implies romance, and that their son must have a thing for the most objectively attractive female camper. Last week, it seemed like the campers were willing to go along with it, too afraid to contradict their parents: Alistair played hetero for the day, Trent pretended that Chloe didn’t exist, and Chloe and Becca said nothing about their broken friendship. In Part Two, however, it becomes clear that the parents are going to leave, their presence merely a temporary invasion of the Camp environment, which characters realize throughout the episode.
First and foremost, Becca and Chloe finally discuss what it is which drove them apart in what is really just a fantastic little scene. There’s a risk here that Chloe is too self-aware: calling herself a bitch could seem over the top, but Ashley Holliday perfectly captures the importance of choice within her current identity. She didn’t suddenly change into a different person overnight, she orchestrated that change through the way she acted and the people she associated with, which is something Becca can relate with: after all, isn’t Chloe’s new persona just LARPing in plain sight? When you’re struggling with your weight, the ability to take control of other parts of your life is an important outlet, but in this moment Chloe reveals (in her desire to continue the conversation beyond Becca’s forgiveness) that it not resolved her crisis of identity. If Dorothy’s feeling of self-resentment is common, then for Chloe it has simply evolved from feeling uncool to feeling guilty about being someone she’s not, and Holliday and Raven Goodwin really brought that all to the surface.
It’s no surprise, though, that Trent is the one character who is able to make his grand statement in front of his parents: the show is filled with characters whose emotions play out in private moments away from large crowds, but Trent seems the most open of anyone when it comes to experiencing new things. It’s why it was so surprising when Trent balked at recognizing Chloe as his girlfriend last week, as all of the progress he had made seemed to disappear when his father’s expectations were placed on him. It was so apparent that his stepmother even misinterpreted his closed-off nature as a statement against her presence, feeling guilty about presuming to replace his mother in any capacity. And so it was thrilling to see Trent get up and play with Will and Ian, and just as thrilling to see him pull Chloe in for a kiss – there was no misinterpreting those signs, and it’s fitting that the person most open to new experiences at Camp Victory would be the one camper who would cut through the uncertainty to show his parents how he’s spending his time there.
Of course, the biggest event in the episode was the official declaration of a Love Rhombus, with Ian and Amber sharing a romantic moment in the woods as they discuss the five ways to use clothing (more on that in a bit). In some ways, it’s the storyline I have the most issues with, even if I understand its narrative purpose: Ian’s dialogue, for example, is the most explicitly that someone has verbalized the degree to which weight shifts a teenager’s romantic expectations, which does serve an important function in consolidating that theme (which runs through Will’s frustration with Ian’s crush on Amber as well). My problem is that I needed just a bit more uncertainty on Amber’s face to show just how terrible of a mistake she is making. I’m very glad that the show didn’t have Will see them kissing, turning this into a dramatic confrontation about how Amber stole Will’s crush (which remains in play, but was never voiced directly), but the fact remains that Amber is settling. I don’t mean this to say that Ian is any less of a legitimate love interest as George, but rather that she is connecting with Ian because he’s allowed to have a crush on her, and because he makes her feel wanted without any of the mixed signals (which she misinterpreted from afar, as it relates to George and Carter’s sister) which come with her illicit activities.
You can sort of see it on Amber’s face, that sort of numbness as she heads back towards the camp not quite sure what’s going on, but then they show up later on holding hands without any of the same insecurity – I think I needed to see what Amber did while Ian was rushing into his cabin to tell Alistair all about his good fortune, to see how she got from that first kiss to the hand-holding by the campfire. It seems like there is a scene missing, and so I’m tempted to read more into Amber’s first look: I’ve known people who, tired of drama in one area, choose to instead follow a safer path at the expense of the emotions of the poor sap who’s become part of a “good guy” phase. I know Ian’s going to get his heart broken, and I think Amber knows it too, and I wanted to see that a bit more clearly.
However, seeing clearly isn’t something that happens often with this show: take, for example, Becca’s frustration finally boiling over as she confronts Will about her unwillingness to be a true friend. There’s a lot going on here: you have Becca’s insecurities regarding Chloe’s transformation, and you have Will’s unwillingness to discuss her life with anyone around here. The problem, though, is that Will does discuss her life with Salty, and with Amber, two people who aren’t Becca and who wouldn’t be described as “friends” in the traditional sense. But in Salty Will finds a parental figure that she never had at home, someone who has no expectations beyond Will working on her jump shot, and in Amber she finds someone who comes from a very different financial background but who faces similar pressures (albeit, in Amber’s case, self-imposed). It’s also important to note that Will sees Amber as someone who needs help and guidance (considering the George situation), which is why they end up commiserating over a tray of brownies and why Will wouldn’t do the same with Becca (who is comparatively stable, at least by Will’s standards).
The real subtlety, though, is the element which the show never drew our attention to: Becca knows exactly what Will is anxious about. Because she read her journal all those episodes ago, she likely knows about her parents’ wealth, and about the pressure of being fat when your parents are fitness entrepreneurs, and about her emotions regarding her own weight. And so Becca has been waiting for Will to confide in her, and because she isn’t hearing the things she’s already read she is acutely aware of how closed off Will remains. In truth, Will didn’t tell Salty or Amber that much more than what she’s told Becca, but Becca knows too much to be satisfied, and their confrontation is a moment of clarity that Will rejects: there’s no room for misinterpretation when she runs off after seeing Ian and Amber holding hands, but she still not willing to discuss it with Becca, and it consolidates the rift which has been growing between them for quite some time in an effective fashion.
And yet, the episode wasn’t all about rifts. Yes, we got a highly dramatic scene between Dorothy and the departing Salty, leaving to avoid abandoning his other daughter like he abandoned Dorothy, but that was resolved fairly quickly and if this is truly the end of Paul Dooley’s time with the show then I like the note they left on (with Shay, quite critical of Salty, observing his love for his daughter so as to help Dorothy interpret his departure in a positive light). And while there was some initial tension, Trent’s performance on drums turned Will and Ian’s duo into a trio, “The Ghosts,” and the decision to let the entirety of Will and Ian’s song play out indicates the power of music in terms of bringing parts of a community together (which was first established with the response to Ian’s original song in “Talent Night”). In these moments, we see signs that the Camp Victory experiences unites everyone together, exemplified by the mind-blowing moment where we discover that the series’ theme song is, in fact, the Camp Victory song (or hymn, really) done in a pop style. It’s the sort of potentially cheesy moment of togetherness which could read as false, but because it came from the absolutely wonderful Poppy, and because it didn’t resolve any drama so much as put it into perspective, and because the episode ended on Will and Dorothy discussing the small victories that come with losing weight, it only confirmed just how much I’ve fallen for the series.
The series’ subtlety was always its finest quality, and “Parents Weekend – Part Two” captures it beautifully in Alistair’s silent statement of independence. Note that Ian never lists the fifth use for clothing when he’s allowing Amber to use his sleeve as a kleenex; I’d argue that Alistair’s story indicates that the one he left off was clothing’s ability to make a statement, as it does when Alistair gives his t-shirt a lower cut and accessorizes with Trent’s stepmother’s necklace. Alistair is doing the exact opposite of what his sister did, taking control of his identity in order to be true to himself rather than doing so in order to fit in with a certain crowd. I love that we only see Alistair putting the plan together in his head, so that we’re unsure what he intends to cut (my money was on his hair, but some may have presumed wrists if they were so morbidly inclined) when he stood in front of the mirror. I also enjoyed that moment where Ian bursts in, elated to have made out with his dream girl, and you see that look of confusion on Alistair’s face when Ian doesn’t even notice his new fashion statement: he’s somewhat disappointed, but in another way he’s thrilled that one of his friends is not turned away by this outward expression of his inner self. He doesn’t need their approval (see: his refusal to allow Piznarski to call him Athena), but he does want their respect, and the pride with which he walks into the campfire is one of those moments where the show transcends its basic structure to deliver something truly empowering.
As my comrade Todd VanDerWerff points out, all signs point to Huge being in trouble in terms of renewal: combine weak ratings with Paul Lee’s departure as ABC Family’s president and the fact that the series is far more intellectual than the rest of ABC Family’s lineup and you have the recipe for an early cancellation. However, I’m choosing to remain optimistic, if only because I think ABC Family would be crazy to allow this much talent, behind and in front of the camera, go considering their desire to appear as a network which offers young viewers something more than fluffy entertainment. If Friday Night Lights is a key part of ABC Family’s fall identity, then I fail to see how Huge wouldn’t be valuable as an extension of that identity into the original programming space – it was the smartest drama on television this summer, and even if that’s unexpected for ABC Family I don’t think it’s something they can turn their back on.
- While Nikki Blonsky’s Hairspray performance made me wonder for a bit, the version of Will and Ian’s song with Trent on Drums was definitely pre-recorded, although Blonsky is quite good at lip synching.
- I had issues with the “Day for Night” blue tinting all season, but it was never more annoying than when it pulled me out of the final scene, as the cut to the stars and the notion of Will being out beyond curfew seemed incongruous with the visuals on screen. That said, it was a beautiful little scene, and in the instance that it’s the last we see from the show (which it damn well better not be) it’s not the worst ending one could have devised.
- The episode didn’t make a big deal of it, but I loved the idea that George connected with Carter not because he saw her as a potential mate but because he (like Carter’s sister) doesn’t know how to deal with being around those who have issues about their weight. While Poppy has struggled with her weight in the past, George has no personal experience with it, and so he hangs out with Carter in order to get some insight into how she (a skinny girl with an overweight sibling) handles awkward moments like Amber’s self-consciousness surrounding her stomach. This sort of got lost in Amber’s emotional response to seeing George daring to speak to another female, but I thought George was acting quite honourably here (even if presuming to be in love with a 16-year old is just as sketchy as making out with her in some ways).
- I’m hoping to have a bit more to say about the finale and the series as a whole in the weeks to come, so don’t expect me to remain silent between now and the point when a decision is made on a back half for the season – stay tuned.