“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).
“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.