Close, but… well, maybe not that close

First things first. I neglected to mention last blog, but I’m also thinking whoever reads this reads Beth’s as well, but there’s a wedding ’round these parts come September. So things are good. Very good. There will be more to say, and more websites on which to say it, hopefully very shortly (as soon as I get my ass in gear to finish the web copy… #sheepish)

But shifting gears, I wanna complain about Canadian TV. Being Erica, in particular. Strap in for the cut, if you dare. It’s a doozy, hope you packed a lunch.

Being Erica. It’s on the Seebeesee. The last time I actually watched something on the CBC, besides Arrested Development reruns, was Made in Canada (one of my favourite shows ever, incidentally). Made in Canada was nearly a decade ago at this point. Between jPod, Sophie, MVP, and whatever other garbage they’ve had since about 2000 (ok, maybe I’m being a bit harsh, and it’s no worse than say Global’s skid of shows), I have not had any interest in turning it on. Apologies to any actual Canadian TV people who may be surfing the blogosphere who may have worked on something there. I hear The Border is quite good, have never partaken though.

And if Being Erica continues on the path it’s on, it’ll be another decade until I see that weird honeycombish logo ever again. I wanted to like this show, I really did. I’d heard and read good things from a bunch of Canadian TV writers, so we tuned in for the pilot, and in subsequent weeks. Now, I don’t want to invoke any sort of ‘Kool-Aid’ metaphor, but it seems that the heaps of praise that were, well, heaped on, are undeserved, in my view. This is a show that feels phony, flimsy and sloppy. Mostly that last one.

There is just so much that it wants to do, but that it falls short on. It tries to be edgy, namely through the inclusion of completely unnecessary profanity (and this coming from someone who finds Jennifer Carpenter’s potty mouth on Dexter to be an incredibly endearing character trait), to the forced-feeling sex/nudity scenes (which can’t decide if they’re playing for laughs, shocks, or drama, at any given moment). Both feel shoe-horned in simply to create the need for the “Mature Content Warning” bumpers after each commercial. They add nothing to the substance of the show or to the weight of the drama/comedy. The sex elements in particular feel a little grody. It would be fine if it was a more adult show, but lift out the about 90 cumulative seconds of raunch in the entire series so far, and it’d fit fine in a family block of shows. And not only that, but they have, unless I’m mistaken, so far been confined to the teenage flashback years of the show. Sexy pieces that would be a little risque for a grown-up plotline, set as happening to a 16-year-old. I am no prude, at all really, but I have a problem with tonal decisions that make a viewer uncomfortable for no reasons. It feels like manufactured edge for edge’s sake. It feels even more like someone decided that they wanted some buzz on the CBC, so they threw in a couple four-letter words, punched up a couple of racier story points, and called it a day, hoping (and sadly being proven right) that they’d get their demo numbers anyway.

But forget all that, pretend it’s been edited down, or the edge actually works. I’d forgive the occasional story lapse or weak character if the whole thing didn’t feel SO damn sloppy. It’s taken three airings to fully pin down the word that best sums up my problem with it. And while some may say, “But Liam, is that REALLY enough reason to damn a whole show? Shouldn’t quality of the meat of the gist of the nub overwhelm the occasional missed detail?”, I say, NO! If you can’t be bothered to clean up the simplest detail with your story, how are we to have faith that the rest of your show will be any good?

I’m going to sum it up with a point that will be pshawed by anyone making the argument above, but I will then qualify it: in ep 3, the one I watched last night, Erica’s jerk high school boyfriend (the one who basically date rapes her and films it in her regret-history) makes this claim – “I’ve got some Limp Bizkit in the stereo…” etc, etc.

This is a flashback meant to take place in 1994, in the spring of 1994, before a high school graduation. Limp Bizkit DID NOT EXIST until 1995. Let alone become popular enough to be on a Canadian kid’s stereo. In fact, according to 15 seconds of research on Wikipedia, their first hit wasn’t until at least 1999(!).

Ok, smallish nitpick you say. I say that it’s emblematic of not only the writing, but of the whole feel of the show, and it took until that moment to be crystallized in my head. This is a show that wants the audience to feel nostalgia for an era in its character’s past, but also that it does a terrible job in recreating. Music in flashbacks is ALWAYS a couple years off from the time it’s supposed to be set, as is fashion, and the worldliness of the characters. And for a show set around the entire idea of time travel to correct mistakes in one’s past, one of the first things they better sodding get right is the period pieces. And Being Erica does not. It feels lazy, like the show wants really really badly to have people identify with a time that it has a passing familiarity with, but is trying to pass off as being expert in. I’d say maybe it’s just my demographic, as I DID live very much through the time periods the show is traipsing in, at about the same age (about 3 years behind, but I’d take that as an expert voice over 10 years the other way any day), but I’ve also heard from some voice in my demo that love it.

And I haven’t even touched on Dr. Tom.

Gerrrrrrrrrrg, Dr. Tom. Perhaps one of my most quickly reviled characters in a long time. From writing, to conception, to performance, nothing about Dr. Tom feels right. Dr. Tom is basically the god hand plot device that lets Erica go back and relive key moments in her life. He speaks almost entirely in faux-wise quotations, which (as someone who’s written like this before and now knows better) is one of easiest ways to alienate people from a character. I literally want to shake the smug look off his face every moment he’s on the screen. And his reasoning for doing what he does to Erica is nebulous, even taking the whole time-travel thing for granted, at best. She of course has to learn a lesson each week, but none of the lessons (and their requisite ‘twist’) ever work out like he thinks they do. First, he sends her back to avoid getting drunk and making a fool of herself at her prom. So she makes the conscious decision NOT to drink, alienates herself from her friends, gets thrown up on, has rumours about her being a whore started, and has to parade through the dance naked but for a wrapping of toilet paper. What a zany and unexpected confluence of events! Or the time she regrets losing her virginity to a jerkwad, so she tells him off instead, then has ANOTHER rumour started about her, but meets the Nice Guy™, so decides to screw him instead, since she’s at her high school reunion in the present, and of course the mousy nerd is a hottie, but it turns out he’s a dud too! He likes trains! What the hell? Why does she make these decisions and jump through these hoops (except of course for the OTHER high school friend who is not-so-subtlely in love with her who she doesn’t notice until the story requires it) if there is no extended payoff? She cycles through these guys at the rate of about two an episode at this point, when it would arguably have been much more interesting to draw out the revelation that her initial impression of the Nice Guy™ was wrong for a couple more hours/episodes, to let her explore the ‘why’ of her decision-making more fully than ‘I wanted the guy who wasn’t the jerk’.

Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve made a compelling case here. It just feels like this show could have been a home run, but that it is settling for the easiest decisions possible, looking for ‘twists’ where it doesn’t need to, and not making any effort to make itself into a cohesive and tight presentation.

Compare it to Privileged, a new CW series this past fall. Nearly the exact same premise, minus trappings, and take away time travel. Quirky literate/literary-profession girl, big cast (right, another point of Erica’s that bugs me – 14 credited cast, I can name like 2 characters who are at all interesting or compelling), trying to take stock and correct course, screwed up family, messy romantic entanglements, best friend who pines. It’s a tad uncanny if you watch one after the other, as we did yesterday. And it’s also further depressing to Canadian prospects when you then realize just how much tighter and more entertaining Privileged is after the opening teaser than the entire hour of Being Erica you just finished. And before the American argument is made, note those two letters there, CW, and realize that said network routinely places below telenovelas and syndicated reruns, and is generally seen to be spiralling the drain. This bottom-feeder network has put together something that easily outshines a highly-promoted piece of entertainment that airs on what we ostensibly consider to be the touchstone of Canadian art and culture.

I asked myself (and Beth, out loud) after finishing Being Erica last night, if I was looking for faults, ergo being too hard on it, but we both decided not. We were both excited to see something on the CBC that fit our sensibilities (in theory). We read the pre-press, noted similarities to our beloved Wonderfalls, watched the pre-air web promo pieces, with Erica in her office cubicle and that nerdish blonde who’s currently populating a bunch of ads, and those were pretty entertaining. Sadly, that nerdish blonde, who in a short web series, managed to create the most compelling supporting character in the Being Erica universe, was of course eliminated once Erica loses that job in the pilot of the series proper.

Being Erica just has the feeling that it’s trying to be clever for its own sake. That it thinks by being clever that its pulling one over on the viewers it thinks it’s getting on the CBC. That a ‘typical’ CBC audience wouldn’t notice the Limp Bizkit thing, or the ironic university-era clothes that were wrong, or that they tried to pass off the Four Seasons Centre (Toronto opera house, basically) for an office building. The opera house is another good example of slop that really bothered me. If this is a show for a hip, urban audience, then that audience, basically by default in Canada, largely resides in Toronto. Those that don’t may well have at least visited Toronto, or have some other connection. But for at least the potential 5 million people in Toronto, not to mention the more millions within a couple hours drive, the instant the camera cut to that scene, we knew it was the opera lobby. And it isn’t even as though the show is being sold to Americans/international viewers who wouldn’t know, or wasn’t being set in Toronto. It’s set in Toronto! What if she ever needs to attend a cultural event in the course of her attempts for work IN THE CULTURAL INDUSTRY. They’ve already burnt one of the best settings for a 90-second scene that could have been set in any other lobby in Toronto. It just feels so lazy.

Wow, I was worked up about this. I just … I really wanted to like something new and Canadian. Slings and Arrows ended ages ago, and Corner Gas doesn’t really excite me anymore. This really could have been good, really good. But it feels too much like it’s trying too hard to be too many things without considering what those things even are or what they mean.

Maybe I’ll give it another shot or two, I’ve still got episode four on the PVR. But both Beth and I get so vocal when we watch it hollering out nitpicks or advice to the characters, I may need to carb up before going any further in it.

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