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Huge – “Parents Weekend – Part One”

“Parents Weekend – Part One”

August 23rd, 2010

In “Letters Home,” which was, like “Parents Weekend – Part One,” scripted by Gayle Abrams, we ‘met’ the parents.

Sure, we only met each camper’s parents through letters they wrote to them, but we got a sense of how each of them related with their parents. Trent, instead of writing to his father, writes to his deceased mother, while Will writes a scathing letter to her parents which she promptly rips up when she realizes it’s too honest for her standards. We didn’t actually meet their parents, but we saw enough to understand that family relationships play an enormous role in the larger psychological issues at play in the series.

Over the weekend, I watched the pilot to Winnie Holzman’s My So-Called Life, which is available on Hulu and which was pretty fantastic. That series was similarly interested in the relationship between teenagers and their parents, but what sets Huge apart for me is how many diverse scenarios its camp setting allows it to present. Whereas more dramas would be content to follow a few pairings, the sheer depth of this cast means that there are a good half dozen parental scenarios which unfold in the span of the episode, each connecting to the same basic themes while presenting an entirely different set of circumstances.

It doesn’t exactly have as much of a cliffhanger as it thinks it has, and treads water in a few too many areas, but there’s some really great subtlety here which continues the series’ trend towards greatness.

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Huge – “Poker Face”

“Poker Face”

August 9th, 2010

After last week’s journey into slightly hokey territory, Huge returns to its roots with an episode that brings weight back to the forefront with the all-important weigh-in.

However, there’s a reason that it isn’t called “Weigh-in”: while “Poker Face” does return to each camper’s anxiety over their weight, it is more interested in how they respond than about how much weight they lost. Even with something this monumental, the show is still more about those small moments where campers confront the challenges which face them every day rather than those big moments where they stand on a scale.

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Huge – “Spirit Quest”

“Spirit Quest”

August 2nd, 2010

Thus far, Huge has largely (oy, that was unintentional) stuck to a pretty simple formula: take a basic summer camp activity, and then explore how it would impact ongoing character relationships and identity struggles amongst Camp Victory’s overweight campers. In fact, part of what has made the series so successful is that it resists highly melodramatic scenarios, choosing instead to highlight how normal camp life is integrated into a larger narrative of life itself.

“Spirit Quest” is ostensibly a continuation of this trend, although I think it’s a more problematic example than the past couple of episodes. There is something about spirit quests which invites skepticism, which needs to be handled carefully in order to preserve each character’s individual perspective; however, there is also the temptation to have the campers to actually experience something approaching a spirit vision, which threatens to take the series into hokey territory that it would be better off resisting.

In the end, there are many parts of “Spirit Quest” which end up sitting comfortable in the middle ground, but there are a few moments where they push themselves to the edges of the story and do a slight disservice to a few of their characters.

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Huge – “Movie Night”

“Movie Night”

July 26th, 2010

In Huge’s pilot, Becca explains to Will that everyone at Camp Victory is on an level playing field, which was very quickly proven to be a lie as cliques emerged and conflicts arose. However, over time, I think the show has successfully shown how there is a certain equality amongst the campers, as Trent and Ian bond over music or as Will and Amber successfully travel in different circles without forming some sort of Mean Girls-esque feud. While the playing field may not be level, it is also constantly changing, shifting with each week’s event: Becca can be elevated by her role in the LARPing, or where Ian shines on talent night. With everyone facing similar circumstances in one part of their life, their differences become just like any other summer camp, which the series has treated with a very careful hand which is commendable.

However, “Movie Night” addresses head on the fact that there nonetheless exists certain imbalances, both within the series’ narrative (with George and Amber’s “dangerous” romance) and within the series’ structure (in Dorothy’s story arc intersecting with her campers). While one can chalk up the success or failure of some romances to teenage insecurities and misunderstandings, others have barriers which are more substantial, both in terms of how the show avoids falling into cliches and how the writers strike a balance between keeping Dorothy central without turning her life into its own bit of teenage romance.

And if you’re thinking that the perfect way to strike this balance is to introduce a Twilight parody, then you’re embracing how far Huge is willing to push the limits of its own success, here to its benefit.

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Huge – “Talent Night”

“Talent Night”

July 19th, 2010

Summer camp is a very small world, and a television show set at a summer camp is even smaller. If someone tells a lie, chances are that lie will come to haunt them, and if someone is keeping a secret there’s a good chance that it will bubble under the surface until emerging. Huge is a show about vulnerability, about how these campers struggle to open themselves up to the potential for change while not opening themselves up to the point where they feel like their lives are on display, and secrets and lies are one of the ways in which they shield themselves from ridicule, reprimand, or simple exposure.

“Talent Night” doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to how talent shows force their participants to face their fears, but Winnie Holzman very successfully owns this particular trope, delivering two empowering moments which are in some ways polar opposites but share one important trait: neither moment is played as universal experience. For every moment of collective reflection there is one subsection of the camp which has a different interpretation, or who is busy dealing with a different crisis at the time, and “Talent Night” does a very good job of bringing those stories together without forcing them to the same conclusions.

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Huge – “Live Action Role Play”

“Live Action Role Play”

July 12th, 2010

“I was myself…sort of.”

It says a lot about the current trajectory of Huge that “Live Action Role Play” is both the most “ABC Family-esque” episode of the series thus far as well as the episode which I think shows the most signs of future growth. After last week’s fairly heavy glimpse into those letters we can’t write, and those anxieties which overcome us without some form of an outlet to express them, this week’s focus on LARPing has considerably less subtlety, playing the exact notes regarding identity and performance which speak to the heart of the show’s central message that you’d expect from such a story.

However, what surprised me about the episode was how this storyline stretched our current definitions of these characters, continuing to develop and complicate existing character relationships while creating some new ones which successfully expand the series’ perspective. Where the show seems to resist notions of what I’d consider to be teen drama formula is how successfully characters move from the periphery to the margins, and how a character introduced in one context can quite successfully float into another – this isn’t to say that the show is radically reinventing itself each week, but rather that it seems comfortable with documenting the flow of life at Camp Victory rather than the moments of dramatic or comic interest within that environment.

This doesn’t mean the show is successful across the board at this stage, but it means that it collects more than enough goodwill over the course of an episode for its occasional cliches to feel earned, and often puts those cliches to good use.

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I’m Just Not That Into You: Addressing 24 Season 7

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“I’m Just Not That Into You”

Addressing 24 Season 7

On a quiet sunday evening, with television in repeats and still recovering from a bout with strep throat, I did what I’ve been putting off for two weeks: I sat down and watched the first five episodes of 24′s seventh season.

I had considered not bothering, you know. Part of me thought that, like with its timeslot competitor Heroes, it might be better left alone. But there is a part of me that was still curious, still wondering what the show considered a reasonable reboot from a disastrous sixth season. And so I decided to spend some time with Jack Bauer as he fight yet another threat in what is likely to be the show’s penultimate season.

I had thought there would be two likely outcomes. First, I could actually really get hooked on the show, going back to my old routine and that I’d currently be watching the sixth episode as opposed to writing this reaction piece. Second, I could be even more opposed to the show than I was before, and retreat back into the bitter cynicism with which I have approached my more recent criticism of the series.

Surprisingly, at least to me, I had neither reaction: I do not feel that the seventh season is without merit, nor does it lack a certain awareness of the show’s recent string of problems. Instead, it addressed some major concerns while providing a 24 that is very back to basics, zombie Tony or no zombie Tony. But at the same time, I don’t care about it. I can’t muster any enthusiasm of any sort, positive or negative, a sign that my tuning out towards the end of season six was driven not only by the show’s quality but by my own changing tastes and interests.

I’m just not that into 24 anymore, I guess…but let’s take a look at the seventh season anyways.

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