Tag Archives: ABC Family

Huge – “Letters Home”

“Letters Home”

July 5th, 2010

Huge is definitively a dramatic series, a quality which sets it apart from the rest of ABC Family’s lineup in a pretty substantial fashion. While Greek is an hour-long comedy with dramatic elements, and shows like Secret Life of the American Teenager, Make it or Break It, and Pretty Little Liars fall pretty comfortably into the teen soap opera category, Huge is a series about the “real” life of a subsection of American teenagers. While the title implies a satirical glimpse into the lives of those who struggle with their weight, the show itself is a deconstruction of words like “Huge,” providing a multi-generational portrait of the challenges facing those labeled “obese” or “overweight” in our society. It takes ownership of the word, just as Wil (our central protagonist) takes ownership of her fat, and the result is a really compelling television series.

I wrote a piece for Jive TV discussing my basic response to the series, but since I quite enjoyed “Letters Home” (the second episode of the series), and because I know that there are some who find the series completely uninteresting, I thought I’d expand on those thoughts a bit. What “Letters Home” does so well is how it manages to create character development out of one-way communication, and how that theme extends from the basic letter writing to the personal interactions involved in the episode. While it continues to peddle in cliches, it treats those cliches with a great deal of respect, and looks at them from enough different angles that the show never feels like it is about the cliche but rather about the reality of those who are swept up in those stories.

In the process, it’s becoming the Friday Night Lights of summer camp cliches, which isn’t a bad spot to be in.

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Season Finale: Greek – “All Children Grow Up”

“All Children Grow Up”

March 29, 2010

Despite having been in college when the show began, I have never really “related” to ABC Family’s Greek in the way that you might expect. While I certainly have met people like the characters in the show, I went to a school without a greek system, and so I was sort of like a pledge myself when the show began. One of the show’s best qualities is how they’ve managed to turn the fraternities and sororities into an integral part of not only the show’s universe, but also each individual character: while no character is solely define by their position in a fraternity or sorority, it remains an integral part of their identity that the show has given depth over the course of three seasons.

While the show has its love triangles and its relationship drama, and its fraternity drama can sometimes boil down to simple concepts of revenge or rivalry, at the core of the series is a sense of belonging, a community that is powerful enough to want Cappie to never leave college, for Casey to abandon the opportunity to go to law school, and for Dale to want to be a part of it even with his moral reservations. And while I may not have been part of a fraternity, I fully understand the characters’ anxiety about leaving all of that behind, abandoning all of that for the great unknown. While the machinations of a show working to set things up to potentially continue in the future despite lead characters graduating are apparent in “All Children Grow Up,” the drama is driven by a nuanced and subtle portrayal of the struggles which come with leaving everything you know behind for something new; that we so wholly believe their concerns demonstrates the effectiveness of the show’s world-building over the past three seasons.

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Series Premiere: 18 to Life – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

January 4th, 2010

It’s not a huge surprise that ABC (likely through ABC Family), which already has a show about teen pregnancy, would be interested in acquiring the rights to 18 to Life (Mondays at 8 on CBC), a show which investigates teen marriage (as has been pointed out to me now, that co-production deal eventually fell apart). However, the Canadian series is not the same type of moralistic investigation that The Secret Life of the American Teenager wants to be. While it may not necessarily be offering an endorsement of kids who marry on an impulse at a young age (there’s a cautionary tale, here), it has no interest in taking the premise beyond its sitcom roots: this is a show about the madcap hijinks that face two kids trying to start a life together before their parents believe their lives have actually started, and the lack of moral aspirations is perhaps its strongest quality.

If you’re looking for something to break down sitcom expectations, you’re not going to find it here: of course the young couple have secrets that complicate their relationship, and of course their parents represent polar opposites, and of course they don’t think everything through before committing to their marriage. However, the pilot captures enough of the charm the premise is capable of evoking that I’m willing to endorse the show as a light-hearted negotiation of life, youth, and holy matrimony.

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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.

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Season Finale: Greek – “At World’s End”

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“At World’s End”

June 15th, 2009

To signal the end of the world, there are various signs of the apocalypse, things which let you know that doom is imminent. To signal the end of a season of Greek, though, you know that Casey and Cappie are about to become intertwined, Rusty will face some sort of crisis, and some sort of major fraternity/sorority event will take place.

However, what always impresses me about Greek is how the various parts all come together in such a way that feels far more organic than it has any right to, and with greater meaning than one would expect the show to aspire to. Sure, the episode had its comic subplot (Rusty and Dale’s altered purity pledge), but for the most part it tackles the fates of the siblings Cartwright with just the right amount of interconnectivity, and with perhaps the show’s most focused lens yet in terms of sidelining supporting players.

Combined with tying up a few loose ends, “At World’s End” isn’t the end for this show by a long shot, but it takes the episode’s theme and runs with it to the point of really encapsulating where these characters sit within the world of Cyprus-Rhodes university. And although there aren’t too many “critics” covering the show on a regular basis, it also proves how a combination of cultural relevance and self-awareness have made this without question the strongest teen-focused dramedy on the air.

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Greek – “Isn’t it Bro-mantic?”

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“Isn’t it Bromantic?”

June 1st, 2009

I had planned to blog about this week’s episode of Greek on Monday when it aired, but as it turned out I had already written thoughts on both Chuck and Conan O’Brien’s first Tonight Show, and I didn’t want to create an overload of sorts. But then, as I moved into the next few days, I had no other material to blog about, but just never got back to this week’s episode.

To be honest, I kind of liked “Isn’t it Bro-mantic?” on a number of levels, primarily because it catered to my own opinion of these characters quite slavishly. By placing Casey at the depths of patheticness, the show portrayed as being the revolving third wheel of doom, which I totally see as a dominant character trait for her when she’s not coupled off with someone. I’d normally think this is annoying, but since the show so willingly paints a picture of Casey as selfish and close-minded in the face of the situation, it’s actually quite realistic and honest.

Don’t have a whole lot to say about the episode, but figured I’d drop a few thoughts after the jump.

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Greek – “Social Studies”

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“Social Studies”

May 25th, 2009

It has been a really long time since I’ve taken the time to write a blog post about Greek, but it is amongst the list of shows that I have kept watching without, well, telling all of you fine folks about it. Part of this is because, in the list of in-season priorities, Greek is often low on the list, although I often watch it quite soon after it airs: however, it’s usually as a break from blogging about something else, or in between classes when I don’t have time to write about it after the fact.

I say all of this knowing full well that, most of the time, Greek is not the kind of show you can really ‘review’ in the critical sense. However, I don’t want to be seen as someone who believes that the show is without any sort of critical merit, and that it should always remain in the realm of the guilty pleasure. The series has a deep bench of characters who are almost all capable of intereacting with one another, and has struck a tone that isn’t saccharine and manages to maintain dramatic and comic interest without falling into scandal or soap operatic archetypes.

The show is never going to be high level drama, but an episode like “Social Studies” is a great example of the way the show can take a scenario common to any college series of this nature and really use it to build existing storylines. That the episode is dealing with the show’s relationships should turn me off to this particular entry into the show’s strong backend to the second season (it’s a really weird schedule), but something about the way the episode handles the two relationships made the episode work for me.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Middleman – “The Flying Fish Zombification”

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“The Flying Fish Zombification”

Season One, Episode Five

Airdate: July 14rh, 2008

Of the shows that aired this past summer, there were a number which could have made their way into the time capsule: the second season of Burn Notice was entertaining, In Plain Sight kept my attention most of the time, and I thought that Secret Diary of a Call Girl had one really fascinating story that I just wish they hadn’t rinsed and repeated again and again.

But they all felt like old ideas, well executed but ultimately feeling like a pitch where two other shows are combined with a “meets” in the middle. But you can’t do that with The Middleman, a show which defies all attempts at genre definition or, more importantly, shoe-horning. While its rapid fire dialogue in its pilot brought Gilmore Girls comparisons to the surface, and its almost nostalgic treatment of super villains and threats to humanity hearkens back to older examples, the show set its own course for a show that didn’t fit into any box.

Unfortunately, it didn’t fit into any demographics either: the show never took off with ABC Family’s targeted young female audience, leaving its future seriously in doubt. But I believe that it needs to be remembered, and as a result place an episode into the Time Capsule to help spread the word.

Picking “The Flying Fish Zombification” isn’t just because of its great name (all of the episodes have those), but rather because I feel like the show’s wit and creativity emerges in both the A and B stories. Wendy (Natalie Morales) being trapped between her normal life and her work as a Middleman is one of the show’s central ideas, but never before was it more entertaining than when Dubby was caught between fighting with The Middleman (Matt Keeslar) to stop zombie-creating fish being used to create an exclamatory soft drink and the genius that is Art Crawl. The former was just plain fun to watch, while the latter gave the show’s fans their battle cry and introduced us to the wonderment that is Noser’s version of “Stump the Band.”

This is a smart and intelligent show that deserves a better fate than a quick and dirty DVD release to recoup costs: even if they have no plans to bring the show back, the creative vision of Javier Grillo-Marxuach deserves a proper sendoff and a DVD that reflects the show’s unique place in 2008’s television landscape.

For now, a spot in the Time Capsule will have to do.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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Greek – “Gays, Ghosts and Gamma Rays”

“Gays, Ghosts and Gamma Rays”

September 16th, 2008

Operating at all cylinders, Greek taught the other Teen-like drama shows a thing or two as it continues a strong second season. It’s an episode where every storyline revolves around some sort of potential relationship or conflict, and yet in each instance it’s much more of an investigation into individual characters than it is broad cliches. Sure, I’m still a bit frustrated with Casey, but the rest of the episode (And her new beau) represents a sign that the ensemble is clicking together perhaps the best it ever has.

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Greek – “Let’s Make a Deal”

“Let’s Make a Deal”

September 9th, 2008

As last season wound down, I was spending a fair amount of time blogging about ABC Family’s Greek. The show is of a surprising quality considering the network, and at the time the schedule was light on shows and as a result I felt Greek deserved some more coverage. At the same time, though, this is not a show that requires much deep analysis: it may be smarter than your average teen-driven dramedy, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t filled to the brim with every cliche you could imagine.

But, I am still really enjoying the show’s second season, especially this week’s episode. The first two segments were as predictable as they come: the drama from Franny and Evan’s new relationship, the further meltdown of Rebecca’s family life, the continued drama surrounding everything Casey touches, etc. This part of the show isn’t bad, but it’s better when there’s elements that are more interesting. Last week, we saw the beginning of this as Rusty’s first individually driven storyline in a while brought the introduction of his RA, Max, and a new chapter for the series.

“Let’s Make a Deal” is really about that chapter, actually expanding on where these characters are going this season versus just paying off their storylines from the finale. Cappie, Evan and Casey represent the three pillars of the series’ drama, and here we get some sense of their individual arcs (even if two of them lean a bit too closely to the other member of the triangle). And there is something interesting to be found in each, something that continues to remind viewers why Greek has an identity that sets it apart from similar series.

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