“All About a Brand New You!”
February 24th, 2009
Falling out of love with Privileged was something that I did not do with a light heart. When the season started, the show felt like it had something most pilots didn’t, an X factor of sorts which made it worth spending time with due to its status as a teen show with heart and, more importantly, some intelligence. And the thing is that these two things haven’t fundamentally disappeared, per se, in the time since I last wrote about the show, but something of that initial spark is missing.
“All About a Brand New You!” feels like the show’s attempt at a return to form, and in terms of some of its characters it is a very successful investigation into individualism, placing Rose and Sage as equivalent to Ibsen’s Nora from A Doll’s House. But while the episode uses a large, showy event in order to showcase these changes, and gives both sisters a sense of independence and control over their destinies that serve their characters well, our heroine Megan is more or less hung out to dry with a sadsack relationship that holds no interest and, upon its end in the episode, no real dramatic weight. When the episode ends with a cliffhanger about the state of that relationship, one comes to two conclusions: that the show is awfully presumptive to end with a cliffhanger considering its uncertain future but that, even if it gets that chance to come back (my fingers do remain crossed) I don’t particularly feel like its resolution is going to change my views on the show’s romantic center.
I still believe in Privileged as a basic television narrative, but the complexity of Megan’s character is all but gone. When she arrived, she was a journalist forced to take a job as a glorified babysitter, with two distracted twin girls wanting to go off to college but not quite motivated enough to get the grades. On top of this, Megan had to balance her own personal ambitions (writing about her boss filled these), a best friend who was in love with her, a neighbour who presented a more wealthy alternative, and an estranged family whom she didn’t even bother to tell when she came back home to live and work. This is a highly complex setup, complete with a former alcoholic father and an estranged mother who re-entered the picture.
And yet, if we look at the Megan we find in the finale, she’s just another romantic ingenue, a young woman who seems to have no trouble tutoring the girls, who has time to write a draft of the first third of her book about Laurel, and who barely reacts to her father blowing her off, instead concerned about how far it’ll put her behind on her writing. The episode is about Megan losing control of her relationship, but no other part of her life suffers, and her final moment of infidelity (not technically infidelity, considering they were broken up) is played with playful “Oh no she didn’!” music as opposed to something more grave or serious. Megan has always been a character who stood firmly between emotional speeches and pratfalls, but it felt odd that at a certain point these started to become her only storylines, no ripple effects heading through the rest of her duties and responsibilities.
I understand that the show began to grow outward, and that Megan was no longer Rose and Sage’s only interaction. While the girls needed Megan in terms of the logical scenario the show created, the show itself didn’t actually need Megan for Rose and Sage to develop their characters: as a result, and with the excuse of Laurel’s pattern of approving anything the girls want to do, the show could send them off to become socialites, give them boyfriends, and eventually bring them to the point in this episode where both realize that Laurel is their equivalent of Torvald (we’re talking Ibsen now), and that as Noras they need to better define what they want in terms of their innermost belief systems rather than just buying everything they can get their hands on.
It’s a good message that, in this episode, plays out very well for both characters. I’ve found that, for the most part, Ashley Newbrough and Lucy Hale are more or less carrying the show right now, likely in an attempt to make the show appeal more to the teen girls that form the basis of the network’s audience. However, this isn’t to say that either character has been turned into a sexual deviant, or that one of them has gone into drugs or become pregnant: instead, they have been dealing with extremely mature storylines in ways that, while occasionally seeming beyond their years, are natural and justified. They’re both traveling closer to something of a center: Rose is moving closer to gaining a backbone, while Sage is learning how to use her backbone for good instead of evil.
I like both of their storylines in the finale, in particular Sage, who comes to a realization that she is someone who wants to doubt, wants to question, wants to have to confront problems. Luis, her well-meaning but homophobic boyfriend, is the exact opposite, and while they might fight with each other based on their own stubbornness there is a sense that for Luis it is a turn-on, and for Sage it’s actually something she does for the sake of figuring things out, of making her way in the world. And that is what makes Sage so difficult to deal with, such a contrarian, is that she is always confronting people, and isn’t one to let something sit. It was annoying in the beginning, let’s face it, but this episode was about her self-realizing why she does this, and how she can’t let herself fall into a pattern of complacency.
That it all emerges over Luis’ fairly stereotypical reaction to Marco and Keith’s nuptials is a bit of political relevance, and while I question whether the same Sage who knew nothing about Cuban refugees was able to construct an actual constructive rebuttal to long-standing religious opposition to gay marriage, I think that her heart was in the right place, and the moment where she hugs Marco out of guilt over knowing the truth was a nice moment for the character. Their breakup was probably inevitable eventually, but I like that it wasn’t about him being the help: it was a personal decision, made without peer pressure, one designed to build a character more than to show her at her most vulnerable. I think this relationship, Sage’s first real relationship, was a good one for the show at this point, and I feel like Sage is in a good place moving into a potential second season.
As for Rose, she’s the one who’s on the more destructive path, but the show smartly played her attempts at going on a wilderness excursion for some physical pratfalls. Hale is darn charming in this role, and I liked the fact that she played Rose with honest confusion: she doesn’t know what she wants the end result to be, other than that she wants for herself to still “really like” Zack, and she isn’t trying to make herself into one person but rather find the conditions, like Sage, which will make her the person she is supposed to be. She is still a teenager, still unsure of her path, and her uncertain lineage and the fact that her family were all more or less lying to her added up to something approximating realization that she was being sheltered. She wasn’t being told the truth by Megan, Sage wasn’t being honest with her, and it all required her to assert herself: she, more than Sage, is the typical Nora figure, who leaves out of not necessarily anger but personal necessity.
These two storylines really clicked for me: neither of them fundamentally changed these characters, and all of it seemed in consideration with their whole person and their life ahead of them than selfish or, at the very least, short term motivations or goals. The problem is that the show’s “main” storyline, with Will and Megan, is enormously short-sighted, two characters who are supposed to be more mature than the teenagers and yet are acting in a far more selfish and, ultimately, unengaging manner. Their breakup was an inevitability: I had no hope for a reunion, nor did the show ever really seem interested in providing one. This isn’t to say that the show sold them out, but rather that it did very little to show either character being aware of just what it was that was driving them apart.
It was one of those scenarios where it all added up to convenience more than realistic circumstances: Charlie might now be long gone, but his last-minute burnout attempt at going after Megan was kind of clunky, and its impact on Will (jealousy) and Megan (naive idealism) were far from self-aware. The problem is that, for some reason, they never stepped back from that: the show moved them from that crisis to the crisis at the magazine, Megan forced to confront Will’s entitlement head-on as if it was some sort of barrier to her. This is something that bugs me because Megan has every anemity, has a fancy car, a well-paying job, seemingly abundant amounts of free time to work, and has more or less assimilated herself into this family. It is not as if she is not also in some way entitled, and her holier than thou attitude about it is something that seems problematic.
JoAnna Garcia, however, played it close to the chest: her own entitlement, which she believes she earned through hard work and not just getting lucky, is something she brings out reluctantly, that she is clearly trying to hold back. Unfortunately, I don’t feel as if Brian Hallisay has quite the same range: certainly not a bad actor, the emotional beats in this episode just felt like they were underwritten for Will. The show tried to show him as someone who could get work on his own merit, but his reaction to Megan’s questions of talent and ambition were of someone harbouring deep insecurities that ignores that fairly lengthy time he and Megan have spent together discussing issues like this. While their relationship has never been particularly solid, it felt like what eventually broke them up were things that ignored a lot more of their deeper complexities.
In short, it wasn’t something that could only happen to these two characters, but something that happens to any character. And Megan, especially, wasn’t just another character in the beginning, just another female lead character who has boyfriend drama. The show returned to her novel this week, but her family was absent, and there was something very false about her whole journey. I believe Garcia is a talent, and that the show still has mileage with this character, but basing it solely on relationships is something that doesn’t work: when both Rose and Sage put self over their relationships, forgive me if I find it a wee bit odd that Megan is incapable of doing the same, and that she eventually wakes up with a British dude in her bed with Will on the way to talk about their future having woken up to Megan’s speech about actually doing something productive for a change (Hey Megan – you didn’t seem to play much of a role in Sage and Rose’s self-discovery, so don’t act so high about it or your novel. Seriously, was one of your chapter titles “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar?” Pfft.)
All pettiness aside, though, I think the show remains something that despite its network affiliation trades sex for heart, and trash for what can often be quite intelligent. Kathy Griffin’s cameo as Keith and Marco’s wedding planner was a lot of fun, primarily because Kathy Griffin is a whole lot of fun, and the show is the kind that when it gets a guest star it doesn’t suck out their soul, or take the fun out of someone like our favourite D-Lister. The show feels like it’s in the network’s target demographic, and I’d much rather have young girls looking to this show as entertainment than the network’s other far. Of course, since all returning 1-hours but Privileged and Reaper have gotten renewals, it really all comes down to whether or not Reaper performs any better in the Nielsens, and whether Privileged’ potential to grow over time (and perhaps with some retooling, as scary as the idea of CW-driven retooling sounds for Rita Mimoun’s little show) will be enough to keep the show alive for the Fall.
For now, we go out on a finale that, while still problematic, shows that Mimoun as a writer is dealing in Ibsen as opposed to tabloid trash, and that’s enough for me to want the show to return.
- I’m happy that Marco and Keith got married, but it all seemed very rushed for a relationship that was never really given much time to develop – I would have liked to have seen more of Marco at some points mid-season, and while I don’t dislike Michael Cassidy I do kind of feel as if our time was wasted with Charlie considering he was written out as a regular by the end of the season.
- Dave Franco (James Franco’s younger brother, playing Rose’s boyfriend) has been really charming on the show: Zack as a character began as a laughing stock, but slowly it became clear that they were really together for a reason, and his continued presence has been a point of structure for the show that I’d hate to see go away. That said, methinks the younger Franco is onto bigger and brighter things in time, so he might not be around for long.
- In case you were wondering, ratings were characteristically low. We’ll see how the repeat goes tonight, but it’s going to take some critical reception and some network good will for the show to appear as a good investment when The CW has limited slots and a branding issue that might need new shows to help solve it. Of course, their two most promising pilots are a Melrose Place revamp and a Gossip Girl prequel, so forgive me for not seeing the “new” part of that equation.