Listening to the audio commentary on Greek‘s third season finale, I was struck by the mention of a “Save Greek” campaign – not because it brought back nostalgic memories of a barrage of red cups flooding ABC Family’s offices, but rather because I didn’t know such a thing existed.
Greek is one of those shows which operates outside of critical consciousness: there were no critics lining up to ensure that the series got a short ten-episode fourth season in order to conclude its storylines, and what fan behavior there was never seemed to bleed into even popular journalism. Instead, the campaign was apparently much like the show itself: inconspicuous, subtle, but ultimately effective. Without the ratings success of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, or the scandal-driven storylines of Pretty Little Liars, Greek has pretty much been left to its own devices, and the result has been a compelling if not necessarily earth-shattering comic drama series.
Admittedly, I don’t write about the show a great deal – it just isn’t something that suits weekly critical analysis, although I did recently get the opportunity to review the fourth season premiere at The A.V. Club. However, I was extremely excited earlier this year when it was revealed that Shout! Factory would be taking over the DVD production for Greek (as well as the beloved, and sadly missed, Huge): the company has a sterling reputation when it comes to creating polished sets worthy of their respective series, and while this is normally in relation to beloved classics or cult favorites (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Sports Night, The Larry Sanders Show, My So-Called Life, etc.) they are in this case bringing the same sense of care to an ongoing series.
The result is hardly groundbreaking: this is not a complex show which would necessitate a detailed DVD package, and where one might normally find retrospectives or numerous deleted scenes you’ll instead find small snippets of behind-the-scenes footage and packages which seem aimed squarely at the show’s rabid fanbase rather than the television connoisseur. And yet I am acutely aware that I am not, in fact, the target audience for Greek: Chapter Five – The Complete Third Season (which releases today, January 11th, in North America at your retailer of choice). This is for the fans who sent in those red cups, the people who watch the show from an angle where Casey/Cappie are a portmanteau-worthy coupling rather than an ultimate detriment to the series’ success.
This set, dubbed Chapter Five for reasons I’ll discuss after the break, should please those long-term fans – it is also a good value, though, for those who have yet to discover the series’ charms.
The biggest problem with Greek DVD releases before this point wasn’t so much their content – which, while not significant, was not particularly terrible – as it was the way in which they were released. Reflecting the way ABC Family divided each of the show’s seasons into two ten-episode sections, and partly in response to the fact that the first season was interrupted by the Writer’s strike of 07, there are actually four DVD sets for the show’s first two seasons. Now, while this is a fairly common practice, one which other shows (including mega-hit Glee) have been using for a while now, it still bugs me. There’s something about getting half a season, even half a season that originally aired with something of a cliffhanger, which simply seems inadequate, and a bit of a clear cash grab for the parties involved beyond the initial Writer’s Strike concession. I understand that there’s a value in being able to catch up between seasons, but streaming sites like Hulu and Netflix would be much more efficient ways to enable that kind of process without fleecing your viewers at the same time. It works against any sense of a collector’s mentality, and just irks me.
Although it could simply be a coincidence that Shout! Factory is coming in just as this process is changing, having the entire season in a single set is both more satisfying and more cost-effective (with the set coming in at quite a reasonable price). This set isn’t quite the archival resurrection of a television classic that the company might be best known for, but it’s still a really well put-together package: the menus are slick, and thematically relevant to one of the season’s most substantial storylines, and the bonus features are compelling if not “plentiful.” The three cast/crew commentaries offer varying degrees of insight, with creator Sean Patrick Smith teaming with cast members for “fun” commentaries on two episodes and executive producers Lloyd Segan and Shawn Pilfer offering a more technical (but not entirely without fun) track on the season premiere. Smith and cast’s commentary on the finale is particularly interesting, as we hear of the way the series’ uncertain fate – the finale was filmed in early 2009, despite not airing until March 2010 – made for a unique atmosphere in the writer’s room and on set.
One of the other bonus features highlights my favorite part of the season, however. A sort of exit interview with Nora Kirkpatrick who played the cold yet charming Katherine, the short piece was a nice reminder of how strong that character was throughout the season. Kirkpatrick, a gifted comedienne, brought a lot of humor to a role that on its surface is intended to be humorless, and pulls off Katherine’s transformation into a three-dimensional character after a fairly one-dimensional introduction. The character’s slightly off-kilter approach to social dynamics became a reliable source of comedy throughout the season, but there was some pathos there as well, and the brief interview reminded me how much I’m going to miss her presence in the fourth season.
Admittedly, the third season had its ups and downs – while it got off to a strong start, the whole “burning down the house” sequence at mid-season was a misstep which never felt in line with the stakes introduced up to that point in the series. However, despite my general disinterest in the result of Cappie and Casey’s relationship, I’d say that they did a fine job of bringing them together towards season’s end: there was some subtle and honest investigation of “college relationships” which did the neverending “will they, won’t they” something approaching justice, which is about all you can ask for as a series nears its conclusion.
I don’t think Greek is a must watch show that viewers need catch up on, but I think it’s the kind of series that people who like a good teen/college “dramedy” are going to discover on DVD (and, now that ABC Family finally has some sense, on Netflix Watch Instantly and Hulu as well). Right now, I think the stigma of ABC Family has warned off many people who would truly enjoy the series, the same sense of network branding which made shows like The Middleman and Huge – shows not coincidentally also released on DVD by Shout! – such tough sells to the “hip” viewers who might most enjoy them. However, considering Shout! Factory’s pop cultural credibility, I’m hoping that their association with this series will help potential viewers recognize that there is more than meets the eye here.
Greek is a charming show with some strong comic performers capable of bringing the gravitas when asked to handle more dramatic work, and it has built a compelling and engaging world which I will be sad to see depart my television screen later this Spring – Season Three offers plenty of evidence of that, and I think the DVD package does the season justice (especially for those fans who are not so inherently skeptical).