Season Premiere: Greek – “The Day After”

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“The Day After”

August 31st, 2009

As one of the few critics who has spent a lot of time analyzing ABC Family’s Greek (although welcome Todd VanDerWerff to the club), I’ve been somewhat harsh on the main romantic element of the series. Casey, as a character, is trapped in a romantic spiral, and the show has spent far too much time humming and hawwing when it comes to her various entanglements. When Casey is actually with someone, the character is neurotic but in a way that seems productive: when she’s pining for someone or trapped in between two options, things because convoluted and almost seem to crawl to a halt. Greek is not so much a guilty pleasure as it is a very solid dramedy masquerading as a teen soap opera, but in these moments the show becomes the very definition of what its detractors (who haven’t seen the show) believe it to be.

However, I want to give them a fair deal of credit. “The Day After,” picking up the morning following the second season finale, spends a lot of time dealing with the relationship between Casey and Cappie, and in a way that I think really works. One of the problems some shows have when dealing with an inevitable coupling delayed by circumstance (See: Gilmore Girls) is that they’re secretly perfect for one another and yet just can’t seem to make it work. It means that when they do get together, when everything seems to fit, the show’s drama stops, and in order to prolong that drama one must contrive reasons for them to split regardless of logic…okay, Gilmore Girls rant over.

My point is that I like what they’re doing in the relationship between Casey and Cappie because of how flawed they would be as a couple, and how they’re not pretending that’s not an issue. Cappie is by far the show’s most interesting character, and the way he handles the aftermath of “The End of the World” demonstrates the complexity of Greek’s plan for their partnership. Yes, I still think the rest of the show is often more interesting, but if this is how Cappie is going to spend some of his time this season then I think my Casey bashing will be somewhat less as the year continues.

Greek always keeps you on your toes, doesn’t it? While the episode plays around with uncertainty about what happened the night before, the mysteries unfold in a way that one wouldn’t expect, at least from my perspective.

Rebecca’s newfound mystery, having made out with Fisher the night before, is definitely the weakest element of the premiere. The premiere played a lot with our expectations, allowing us to believe that Evan was part of the charade, but the awkwardness around Ashley was a pretty early tip-off, and anyone who didn’t figure out it was Fisher by the time he and Evan were introduced at the party wasn’t paying attention. To be honest, it almost felt as if the episode was originally scripted for us to know it was Fisher all along, and then was changed at the last minute (although the tracking shot at the end indicates this is a false presumption). I don’t think it’s a terrible storyline, but I spent the entire episode wondering if I had forgotten Rebecca making out with someone in the season finale and I had simply forgotten about it, which was more distracting than anything else.

The episode was actually at its best when it was dealing with the other mystery, though. There was a great bit of plotting in the Calvin and Dale storyline: we fully expect Calvin to have broken his Purity Pledge (after all, he was but recently reformed), and all of the evidence points to him having done the deed with Grant (who apparently undressed in the Living Room?). Meanwhile, we know Dale has been a Purity Pledge holder for a very long time, and as a result have no expectations regarding his evening’s activities. That scene, when Dale reveals to Calvin that he and Sheila had sex, and that facing the possibility of the end of the world as a virgin drove him to give into his hidden desires, was enormously disarming, and extremely well played by Clark Duke. Note also the way that the comedy nonetheless makes its way into what is a dramatic and emotional scene: Calvin doesn’t say a word, but his reaction to the news that they had sex on that very bed drew a chuckle, breaking the tension without losing context from the scene.

What I like about both of their storylines is that Calvin feels like he is completely in control (balancing the subterfuge of his relationship with Grant, living the double life of Sydney Bristow) whereas Dale is falling apart. Calvin is used to this, but Dale’s reaction is to propose to Sheila, entirely misunderstanding the nature of her attraction and the laws of relationships. He thought it was the end of the world, which drove him to a place of relative madness, but now he finds himself trying to piece together some idea of what’s going on. Part of me expected the Dale I know to propose as a way to get rid of her, seeing the relationship for what it was, but this is what happens when you break Dale’s exterior down apparently. He really thought he should marry her, which makes for a harsh moment for a character one can’t help but sympathize with.

As for the Rusty side of things, I find Rusty as a character to be one of the most inconsistent on the show. There were a lot of points in this episode where Rusty was just as judgmental as Casey is, fitting considering that they’re siblings but somewhat strange considering that we’re generally supposed to like and root for Rusty, the underdog of the show. When he got mad at Casey for dumping Max because it meant that he lost his friend, he was aggressively projection his anger at Max at her, which is necessitated by Michael Rady’s swift departure but complicated because it really does turn Rusty into a douche (which was apparently his worst fear after the Jordan/Andy situation). If I had to give a reason, I think it’s so that they could view Casey’s decision to help Rusty (at Jordan’s urging, and with Cappie’s assistance) as a way of mending their relationship, as opposed to a simpler act of sibling assistance. It gives it more meaning, albeit artificial meaning, which I guess makes sense but seemed unncessary and counter-intuitive to some degree.

Of course, in the end, Rusty gets his grade up to a C, and learns to strike balance in his life when it comes to academics, the KT house, and Jordan. And really he’s the only character who has to straddle all three at the same time, and only when the show wants him to. That’s the nature of the greek system, so I like that we’re focusing on it a bit (although by all accounts they now have free reign to ignore it until finals, which seems the likely path).

As for Casey and Cappie, I think the storyline works. I like that it’s Evan who convinces Cappie not to go after her, and I like that Cappie still isn’t sure if he’s right: Evan really doesn’t have any motive in his statement, and having Cappie go against his instincts shows that these two could be together, but that what keeps them apart is less one of them being with someone else but instead some legitimate concerns about whether they’re right for one another. Evan didn’t physically restrain him, or force him to do something he didn’t want to, nor did Cappie get sidetracked by some other girl or some other situation. He was talked out of it by a fairly cogent argument, which makes things interesting for how they plan on going forward. Whether this leads Cappie to reform himself, and thus try to be more ready to be in a relationship with Casey, is yet to be seen, but I’d like to see the “effort” side of their relationship shift to Cappie for a bit, and perhaps see Casey spend time doing something less tied to relationships.

Overall, a strong premiere: sure, the Rebecca stuff didn’t really do anything for me, but there’s more than enough potential elsewhere and some really sophisticated techniques to highlight the best parts of the episode.

Cultural Observations

  • I love how Dale’s lie was actually foreshadowed by the episode: I asked on Twitter how one fakes a nosebleed, and one doesn’t – which is why we should have known more had happened than Dale seemed to indicate.
  • If I ever go to a spy party, I’m dressing as Julius Rosenberg. Genius.
  • Evan’s loss of his trust fund is interesting, but we have never been conditioned to really care about Evan, and this episode kind of made his devil may care attitude a bit immature and ill-advised. He’ll need another emotional struggle episode for me to really empathize with him.
  • This is the kind of show that really works best in small moments, enjoying the characters interactions and lines and the like. ABC Family dumped The Middleman (which I’ve been rewatching on DVD) for being too outside of their target market of young teen girls, but Greek does kind of fill the same role in terms of an eminently quotable, pop culture reference-filled show that you want to watch a second time to catch everything.

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