February 8th, 2010
Ahead of the show’s premiere, Liz Tigelaar warned that Life Unexpected was going to suffer from “Pilot-itis,” in that most of its early episodes would play as restatements of the show’s premise in order to appeal to potential new viewers who might be tuning in for the first time. Her argument was that, while it’s a bit frustrating in that some viewers could get impatient, it at least makes creative sense in this instance: considering the complexity of the premise, and the emotions tangled up between these characters, the “plot” would continue to have an impact beyond a single hour. In fact, it might have been more problematic if the show had moved on too quickly without first plumbing the depths of the complications at play here.
The problem is that, with “Bong Intercepted,” we’re reaching that point where the show is staging some engaging scenes but keeps coming to the same conclusion, and the premise is starting to wear extremely thin. It’s job has been done: the show has some engaging characters, and I want to be able to see them grow and move on. Instead, the show is hitting the same beats over and over again, proving itself capable of creating some interesting dynamics but wasting them on stories that are doing little to help the show moving forward.
There’s a couple of things here that signal some momentum, but for the most part things are pretty darn predictable rather than unexpected around these here parts.
“The Importance of Being Erica”
December 8th, 2009
Going into its second season, Being Erica was a show about one person. But, with a slight expansion of its universe, the show had the potential to become about people beyond Erica, for her journey to become less about her own problems and more life’s problems. The show’s therapy conceit, driving characters to revisit their past in order to offer perspective on their lives, isn’t something that is isolated to one character, and in some ways Erica revisiting her greatest regret (her brother’s death) meant that the show would need to find its emotional core elsewhere. Erin Karpluk will always be very charming, and the show’s structure is a nice procedural element to drive the show forward, but Erica no longer had a “purpose” all season, and at times it felt as if the season was actively ignoring the expansion of its universe (which I found really intriguing) in favour of telling stories that, well, didn’t matter.
The season’s solution to this problem was to introduce Kai, a futuristic barista with a deep secret, and to spend two episodes delving into Dr. Tom. And while the latter resulted in a real tonal shift for the show that worked to its advantage, Kai didn’t work in the beginning like the show wants to believe it did at the end. Sebastian Pigott is a decent actor and a solid singer, able to pull off the role in a way that makes us invested in Kai’s journey, but the show was never consistent on what that journey meant. The show never let us see Kai’s journey through a perspective other than Erica’s, never allowed us to relate to him in a way that makes his story stand separate from his relationship with Erica. And yet, until the end, Erica never felt logically connected to Kai beyond their shared therapy strategies, and the story just never clicked in the way it could have.
“The Importance of Being Erica” is a strong finale that wants to pretend that the show figured all of this out, and that the season worked in a way that led to Erica’s emotional and career realizations. That’s stretching too far, but it’s another sign that even in its occasional problems there is a very good show that occasionally comes to the surface here (and that, if the show learned its lessons, could dominate in the third season).
“A River Runs Through It…It Being Egypt”
November 17th, 2009
Ever since I stopped receiving screeners for Being Erica, I’ve been falling off from covering the show. It isn’t that I haven’t been watching, but with a busy life and a busy TV schedule I haven’t been getting to episodes with any sort of timeliness.
But the show has continued to be quite engaging, although in some ways it has reneged on some of its potential. The show has done a lot of work to expand its identity in order to introduce some new dynamics between characters, but for the most part the show hasn’t really delved into them. In recent weeks the show has thrown Erica into the future, and in the process has created a scenario where the show itself is in some ways an enormous therapy session.
But rather than complicate the show’s basic premise, it’s effectively been folded into the already existing construct that the show is as much a therapy session for Erica’s present than it is a therapy session for the past. The show’s storylines present complicated moral and ethical scenarios that it wants to play for both comedy and drama, and it is avoiding the supernatural storylines on a broad level to be able to follow those goals. “A River Runs Through It…” continues a storyline (Kai and Sam’s relationship) that is really frakked up when you really think about it, but it doesn’t really want to talk about the metaphysical ramifications so much as it does the personal ones. And, so long as it keeps telling strong stories within this structure, that’s fine, but I do sort of want the show to look beyond interpersonal relations to the overall premise being peddled here.
October 13th, 2009
I think what I find most interesting about this, the fourth episode of Being Erica’s second season, is that it has largely moved away from any sort of “change” resulting from its missions. There was a point before where what Erica did in her trips to the past would actually change the future, not always in ways as dramatic as in “Leo” but in small ways like sleeping with the nerdy poet at the Lake instead of her jock boyfriend. Those kinds of changes are something the show isn’t actually interested in so much, primarily because Erica’s life has largely stabilized and there is accordingly less of a need for fundamental change.
It does mean that “Cultural Revolution” is anything but revolutionary, positing a “What If?” scenario less to see how it would change the present and more as a test run for a current life’s dilemma. The episode suffers slightly due to a lack of suspense as to what decision Erica is going to make, but overall it’s another solid entry that sticks to the show’s formula in a pleasing fashion.
October 6th, 2009
I’m in New York at the moment (my Twitter account likely reflects this), but I had a chance to catch this week’s Being Erica before I left. It’s, again, a return to the first season’s structure, hesitating to “open up” the show’s universe as much as the season premiere seemed to indicate. However, at the same time, the episode also reminds us that Judith as a character still exists, a problem with a show that deals with sending a character back to her past when some of the people in her life weren’t actually involved.
So, in many ways, the reason that Judith and her newborn haven’t been around Erica are quite similar to why they haven’t been on the show thus far this season, and “Mama Mia” does well justifying her absence and adding a few more shades to their relationship. The episode had a few hiccups, but it followed one of my favourite patterns for the show so it’s ultimately another enjoyable hour for the show.
September 29th, 2009
Two episodes into its second season, you can see Being Erica retreating back to the formula that proved winning in the first season. While it wants to play around with some questions of time travel, expanding the show’s universe to include other therapists and other patients, it also wants to be the show that delights in making Erin Karpluk play a teenager and perform early 90s dance routines.
But I think it’s important to note that this is a formula that does work, and which perhaps more importantly feels as if it is capable of evolving with the character. The show leapt into the relationship between Erica and Ethan (Tyron Leitso) at a breakneck speed at the end of the season, and while the premiere normalized their relationship to handle the amount of drama elsewhere it was clear that there would be some bumpy road ahead. “Battle Royale” does what you’d expect, presenting a complication in that relationship before sending Erica back to a moment earlier in her life that lets her know what might be going wrong in the present.
In doing so, it certainly ends up feeling like a step down from last week’s highly emotional premiere, but it proves that “complicating” the story hasn’t particularly changed the show’s DNA.
“Being Dr. Tom”
September 22nd, 2009
Sometimes, as a television critic based in Canada but reviewing primarily American television, it’s easy to let “home grown” shows slip by. However, last year I made a vow that I was going to try to look at more Canadian television (likely since I’m writing a thesis about the subject), and as such I committed myself to Being Erica largely sight unseen. What I discovered was a show that took a premise bordering on gimmick and turned it into something emotional and effective, delivering a first season which emphasized the comic and the dramatic in the confrontation of one’s past. Central to the show was the sense that Erica Strange’s journeys into her own past facilitated by the mysterious and philosophical Dr. Tom were fundamental to he putting her present day life together, a quality which made the somewhat procedural storyline (each episode featuring a different event from her past) feel serialized in how it constructed Erica as a character. When the show ended its first season with the starkly emotional return to her brother’s tragic death, and even before that with Erica’s attempts to break off her sister’s marriage, you learn that there are some things she isn’t able to change. This isn’t an issue of cause and effect, but rather an intersection of fate and desire in which the latter doesn’t always win out.
Going into a second season, which seems as if it has arrived awfully fast for some reason, the show has one problem: for the most part, we have seen Erica’s most fundamental regrets. We saw her confront her relationship with her parents, and her brother’s passing, and her life is pretty great: she has a boyfriend she loves, a job with serious upward momentum, and is closer to her family than ever before. With Erica no longer quite the damaged patient she was, with her life largely together, where is the drive for her to remain in therapy?
It’s a question that the second season premiere answers in spades, something I don’t think I was really expecting. While the easy route is to throw Erica’s life back into turmoil and unearth a whole other set of regrets in her past, the show does something completely different. Picking up where last season left off, with Dr. Tom gone (due to their confrontation after she saves Leo’s life) and a new therapist in a sterile white office waiting for Erica, the show plays around with the definitions of student and teacher, and patient and therapist, while expanding on (in a number of different ways) just what this cosmic therapy is exactly. The result is a highly compelling premiere that reveals a whole new side to Dr. Tom, and a whole new path for this sophomore series.
When 2009 began, I didn’t know that I intended for this to be the year that Cultural Learnings lived up to its Canadian heritage by covering more television from my home and native land. Sure, it’s really only been Project Runway Canada, but I was really going to give ZOS: Zone of Separation a try before it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to watch it weekly, and I have been watching another show under the radar. My decision to not yet blog about Being Erica, CBC’s drama series starring Erin Karpluk, has been largely because I knew this day was coming: tonight, Being Erica makes the leap south across the 49th Parallel, and begins airing on SoapNet in the United States.
The fact that I’m still watching seven episodes into the show’s run is probably enough of an endorsement itself, but I really do find Being Erica a charming diversion, the kind of show that occassionally boils down to romantic comedy cliches but more often than not transcends its generic boundaries to prove quite resonant. Yes, this is the first time I’ve watched a show that airs on SoapNet but, even more than most shows on the “prestigious” CBC, the story of Erica Strange has achieved something approaching a sense of balance: the show can take Erica from pratfalls to tragic remembrances of her less than glorious past, and what could be a gimmicky “time travel” mechanic is used less to place Karpluk in period fashion and more to actually question the role of time, and memory, in one’s life.
There are signs that the show’s pickup by SoapNet has begun to impact its equilibrium, but I feel as if there is a foundation here that won’t be able to be corrupted by partial male nudity and a few more potential mates for our title heroine. None of those elements are present in the show’s pilot, airing tonight on SoapNet at 10/9c, but the show has proven capable of evolving with grace and hijinx both.