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Cultural Catchup Project: New Beginnings in “The Freshman” and “City Of” (Buffy and Angel)

New Beginnings in “The Freshman” and “City Of”

June 19th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

It’s only fitting that, as Buffy and Angel’s paths diverge into two separate series, the Cultural Catchup Project forces them back together for the sake of analysis.

There is no plot-based connection between “The Freshman,” Buffy’s fourth season premiere, and “City Of,” Angel’s “pilot” of sorts which started off its first season: while there is a brief moment shared between the two episodes, it is an easter egg more than a substantial development. However, both episodes tell more or less the same story: our protagonist moves onto a new stage in their life in an unfamiliar location and struggles to reconcile their past life with their present situation.

In that sense, both episodes serve the function of a pilot: while “The Freshman” isn’t debuting a new series, it is ushering in a new era for Buffy, as she heads down the road to UC Sunnydale and discovers that it is truly a “whole new world” in more ways than she bargained for. And “City Of,” while unique in that Buffy viewers have a greater understanding of Angel and Cordelia’s characters than those tuning in for the first time, still needs to introduce Angel’s current goals and set up just what kind of show Angel wants to be.

And while both episodes were entertaining, I’m going to make the argument that neither of them were actually that successful when considered as the beginning of their respective seasons.

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Being Erica – “Cultural Revolution”

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“Cultural Revolution”

October 13th, 2009

I think what I find most interesting about this, the fourth episode of Being Erica’s second season, is that it has largely moved away from any sort of “change” resulting from its missions. There was a point before where what Erica did in her trips to the past would actually change the future, not always in ways as dramatic as in “Leo” but in small ways like sleeping with the nerdy poet at the Lake instead of her jock boyfriend. Those kinds of changes are something the show isn’t actually interested in so much, primarily because Erica’s life has largely stabilized and there is accordingly less of a need for fundamental change.

It does mean that “Cultural Revolution” is anything but revolutionary, positing a “What If?” scenario less to see how it would change the present and more as a test run for a current life’s dilemma. The episode suffers slightly due to a lack of suspense as to what decision Erica is going to make, but overall it’s another solid entry that sticks to the show’s formula in a pleasing fashion.

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Glee – “Preggers”

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“Preggers”

September 23rd, 2009

“I don’t want to be a Lima Loser the rest of my life”

On Sue’s Corner, Sue Sylvester tells it like it is. She’s bold enough to take a pro-littering stance, brave enough to say “Yes We Cane,” and ballsy enough to ask the homeless how that homelessness thing is working out for them. In Lima, Ohio, Sue Sylvester is a big deal with her two mentions in USA Today and her satellite interviews (that’s lingo, for interviews done by satellite), but without her national championships she is nothing. The studio boss tells her, flat out, that if she doesn’t remain a champion outside of this small little town she is no longer going to be telling the town how Sue sees it.

Because, without her success as the head coach of the Cheerios, Sue is nothing. She and Sandy, her new compatriot, are both teachers who don’t quite know how to deal with teenagers, and if not for her success Sue’s blackmail would be a desperate stab at power rather than a reminder of her existing control. She’s a big fish in a small pond, a fact which remains dependent on her continued success and perhaps one more mention in USA Today.

“Preggers” is an episode about the fact that the teenagers at the core of the show do not yet know what kind of fish they will be, and being stuck in this small town is doing very little to inspire them to greatness. Everyone has a different story, but to some degree your place of residence can just as easily make you (as it does for Sue, whose success breaks expectation and thus deems her a champion worthy of a public opinion segment) as break you. It’s the kind of place where Kurt is too scared to tell his father a truth he probably already knows, and where a sudden pregnancy is defined less by immediate consequences than long term ramifications. If these people are going to avoid being Lima Losers, they’re going to have to find a way to avoid the same kind of pitfalls (and, since this is technically a comedy, pratfalls) which await them.

And while part of Glee’s DNA implies a certain degree of fantasy, football players breaking into a dance sequence without getting a delay of game penalty for example, another part of it knows that life is not a game, and that musical numbers or no musical numbers high school is very, very rule. And, with an episode that seems to embrace this dichotomy rather than exploiting it for sudden shifts of tone designed to shock the viewer, Glee again returns to what made its premise so darn compelling in the first place.

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