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.
Led by a guest performance from Jake Epstein (who spent quite a long time playing a teenager on Degrassi: The Next Generation, and who fit the role well), the flashback this week runs the risk of a few things. First, we’ve gone back to summer camp (or, at the very least, a camp-like situation beside a lake) with Erica before (when CBC got particularly racy with Erica riding (the shy poet dude in) the canoe), which means that the setting doesn’t particularly give us anything new, especially since both involved jerkish ex-boyfriends attempting to slight her. I also wasn’t sure how old the characters were supposed to be here: the insinuation was that they were at least 17, but in that case it felt more like they should be counsellors, so I got a bit caught up in the always somewhat challenging age gap that exists in the show. The show gets away with it in terms of the way Erica acts, as Karpluk is very youthful and we’re seeing an older Erica acting as the younger one and not the other way around. However, in terms of visuals, something nonetheless can seem off, and the summer camp scenario felt a bit out of place as a result.
It’s true that the show can sometimes be a bit on the nose with these instances, which is something I complain about in some procedurals, but that’s kind of the whole thesis of the show: she learns that her problem communicating with Ethan is conveniently similar to something she went through when she was younger, which both shames her (that she’s repeating past mistakes) and which gives her some guidance of how to deal with her present situation. Sometimes the show goes too far to make Erica blind to what’s going on around her (I think she was way too quick to buy into talk of marriage, especially when she never made the “I’ve been in love with you forever” argument), so that her epiphany can feel more sudden and have more impact. I don’t blame Ethan for feeling that it was all coming a bit too fast, and Erica really shouldn’t have been as blind to that as she was. Dragging back out Erica’s sense that, if she loses Ethan, she’ll never find someone was a bit manipulative too, but I kind of like that they got it all out of the way early – this could have easily dragged on a few episodes, and while rushing it felt a bit unnatural it’ll allow the show to keep a sense of rhythm without drama dragging it completely down.
We also got our first return to some of the supporting characters, where a few scenarios were put into motion that really can’t be judged yet. Sam gets to effectively be the equivalent to Erica, as she’s moving very quickly in her mind with talk of babies and new houses, while her husband (still a jerk, in case you thought the show had decided to balk on that point) has plans to move them to London with a big promotion. Elsewhere, Brent is still bitter about not getting the book he wanted, so we get a late night email to the publisher indicating that Julianne has in some way been unprofessional. Both storylines came out of nowhere, and to some degree aren’t able to go anywhere: the supporting stuff is always tough to be able to handle in a show so centred on a lead performance, so it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.
The big question I had going in, though, was how they could mix the introduction of Kai, another therapy patient, into the mix of things without it seeming a distraction. As it turns out, the show is treating it much as the USA Network procedurals (Burn Notice, in particular) tends to treat ongoing stories like that: we get a small note at the beginning of the episode, and then a moment at the end. Its connection to the rest of the story was largely absent, but it didn’t feel like a huge distraction. His reluctance to chat with her about his problems is both logical (it’s kind of personal) and fitting since Erica is often getting herself in trouble sharing too much, or expecting people to be the same as her. Making her work for it keeps her active, and can keep the storyline moving without too much time spent each week.
Overall, it’s definitely not up to the more emotional “Being Dr. Tom,” but a solid second outing.
- The “I’m gay” moment was kind of expected from the start, at least when his close friend seemed to be way to attune to his mood swings. I think a lot of this had to do with the friend also being from Degrassi, and being far too meek/modest to actually be hitting on Erica as opposed to trying to figure out what’s wrong with his close friend.
- Nice moment seeing Erica use a future event from a previous episode (if that makes sense) when talking about homosexuality – it shows how Erica’s knowledge is almost unfair in this situation, as she has so much more life experience to rely on. She’s really the perfect person to tell about this, at least when she’s time travelling.
- As always, the scenes with Dr. Tom remain perhaps the best part of the show – really enjoyed his reaction to Erica defying the logic of Dr. King.
- This is the second show to talk about gag reflex recently, which makes the “mature content” warning at the start of the episode make sense. Unlike Glee’s similar gag (yeah, I said it) a few episodes ago, this one was very unsubtle, but since it was the character attempting to project heterosexual stereotypes it makes sense.