Privileged – “All About Defining Yourself”

privilegedtitle

“All About Defining Yourself”

November 4th, 2008

I always hate to be too literal with titles that have some meaning within my review, but checking back in with The CW’s Privileged on this particular episode title is quite fortunate. This is a show that, from its pilot, defined itself very carefully, establishing some fairly standard forms of drama that would play out in the episodes that followed. You had your plucky heroine who’s in over her head with a strict boss, two out of control teenagers, a best friend who is in love with her, a sexy neighbour who flirts with her, a sister she hates, a drunk father she resents, and a runaway mother who she has written out of her life. Let the melodramatic hijinx commence!

In the hands of Rita Mimoun, I think that those of us who have been watching Privileged have seen many of these things play out in ways that are more charming than cliched, a fact that has elevated the series in our eyes. It’s considered to be, at this point, the one freshman show that critics and discerning viewers are really getting behind (Pushing Daisies being the sophomore series getting the same treatment), and that is very much about its strongly defined sense of identity that has been formed over its opening episodes.

But, as of late it feels as if the show is burning through its storylines a bit too quickly: we’ve met Megan’s troublesome sister, introduced her reformed father, had her clash with the two teenagers, and pitted her neuroses against her boss on numerous occasions (plus, Sharon Lawrence has recently been cast in an extended guest arc as, you guessed it, Megan’s mother). With a lot of the show’s built-in drama being expended so quickly, one feels like the show is going to fall into a trap of either repetition or, similar to shows like Gilmore Girls and The O.C., having to keep introducing new characters and stimuli while repeating the same patterns.

So, I entered “All About Defining Yourself” with this concerned pointof view, and I left it with two general sentiments: that I still don’t know if the show has enough of a foundation to head down that path, and that I think we owe it some more time to get there.

My concern with Privileged is that the show really doesn’t have many cards in its deck: the relationship between Megan and the girls, Megan and Lorel, and Megan and her family are all fairly set in stone, and for the most part they’re following what we saw in the pilot. Yes, there have been some more movements towards Rose being closer to Megan, and her relationship with her father seems better (She drove him to the polls, although I thought he owned a car?), but for the most part the character’s daily life hasn’t really seen more in the way of expansion outside of her love life, which is an entirely different monster.

So while it is technically a new form of conflict, her little escapade into the world of biographical writing that is being crafted now under Laurel’s command, it was one we saw coming: no young tutor writing a book about her new employer behind her back is ever not going to have it found out. I thought that, in execution, the reaction was well handled: rather than anger, we get an effort to co-opt the research and set it on a different path. Looking back, I found Anne Archer’s performance a little bit more upbeat than usual, but it’s clear now that what was happening was her trying to take over the project to keep Megan from stumbling on the particularly damning piece of information she ended up finding. I thought that point seemed a bit on the nose when the reveal came, but it does add some complexity to the process.

It still feels rushed, though: in a single episode, we go from “Secret Book” to “Secret Knowledge that fundamentally complicates their relationship.” Which this can work, we’ve seen so little of Laurel that such interaction doesn’t feel like it’s really going to impact the grand scheme of the show outside of added an extra layer, as opposed to an added element, of stress on Megan. I loved JoAnna Garcia’s nervousness, in particular her two-fisted stress ball scene on the pier with Will, but it didn’t seem like a new type of nervousness: just the expected eventual nervousness that would stem from her secret book project. The shift of tone with the reveal that Laurel’s husband was not the father of Rose and Sage’s mother was certainly damaging, but I don’t know if it really feels as earned as some of the show’s other dramatic pathos.

Elsewhere, however, I felt like the episode was a good step forward at creating some dramatic storylines outside of Megan’s sphere of influence that could allow the show to expand further. While we’ve gotten to see Rose and Sage operating on their own in the past, and there has been some great work by Lucy Hale in particular in those scenes, we got a fairly extensive storyline this week that only involved Megan in an indirect fashion. The scene where Rose begins to realize that Sage is not quite as devoted to their “Together Forever” sentiment, and would be willing to be her own socicelebrity (socialist/celebrity) if an agent would have her, was a very powerful dramatic moment handled brilliantly by the young Hale, who continues to impress me. Megan’s arrival did place a wedge between the two girls, but there’s a maturity to their realization that it was going to happen whether Megan’s there or not: she simply accelerated the process.

I wasn’t entirely happy with how the storyline developed (it seemed weird, in particular, for neither Megan nor Laurel having to give permission for them to sign that contract for example), but what it did was define these girls on their own terms, independent of Laurel or Megan’s wishes. The show is getting to the point where that tutor/tutee relationship is getting played out, so the girls are having to form identities beyond their interaction with Megan: this was a good episode for getting that out there, and I now have more faith in the show’s plans to expand them further (Rose, for example, has James Franco’s little brother stepping in as a love interest in future episodes).

Intersecting with Rose’s storyline, though, was a new attempt at defining Charlie independent of his love for Megan, an act that felt a bit accelerated but was entirely necessary. I like Michael Cassidy, and I think he’s good in this role, but his character was perhaps the most cliched out of all of them. This episode felt like an attempt to recast the role, in a way: once the charming local boy who desires more than friendship with his female best friend, he’s now the college dropout whose best friend makes him wonder where his life could be. It’s a good switch because it organically leads him to his other conclusion, that his desire to be with Megan is so high school it hurts, and that if he’s going to expand his horizons he might want to look romantically as well. This being said, Mandy is personality-less and I don’t really know if the show can handle an entirel separate Charlie narrative, but the acknowledgement that the boy needs a life outside of Megan is an important one for the show’s stability.

It also opens up Megan and Will’s relationship, which is so obvious at this point that it hurts: between using him as a sounding board, and their moment of near passion before Laurel’s assistant walked into the room, their chemistry is about to explode into something approximating a relationship sometime soon. I’m not averse to this, and I like that Charlie is now out of the way so it isn’t a traditional love triangle, but the concerns about speed rear their ugly head again: this pairing has seemed obvious from the pilot, so are we getting there a bit too quickly for our own good? The show is in decent shape, having shown some gains from its early airings and received a small script order on top of appealing directly to The CW’s core demographic (which has been successful with improved performance for Gossip Girl/90210/One Tree Hill), so I have my fingers crossed for a full season.

I just hope that they have enough content for when they get there: this episode was a good step to redefining the series and many of its characters in ways that could prove more versatile, but there’s still a ways to go before I think the foundation is in place for a long-run series.

Cultural Observations

  • As for previous episodes that I haven’t been reviewing, the show really hasn’t had a poor showing yet, although there have been some slight inconsistency. The interlude with Megan’s family was handled well enough, but the actress playing Megan’s sister was the worst (or best, if we’re talking accuracy) casting for “Annoying Little Sister” since USA’s In Plain Sight.
  • Nice to see Kathy Najimy working her way into the series in the guest role as Rose and Sage’s new publicist, although her casting does make one wonder what kind of crazy trouble those two girls will be getting into in future episodes.
  • Airing against the election coverage, The CW might look into repeating this episode sometime before next week – many affiliates apparently switched to election coverage and aired it later, so viewership is quite skewed as a result and some viewers might not have been able to DVR or watch the episode.

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