Monday, March 19, 2007

Once and Again - Season Two

Not sure why it's taking the wife and I so long to rewatch the second season of our beloved Once and Again, but it is. I've been posting on each ep as we rewatch them - and the last such post was dated July 18, 2006! But over the past two weekends, we've caught up on a good chunk of the season. So:

Episode 9: Scribbling Rivalry
The episode that set up the ongoing sexual harassment/office politics storyline, with a new consultant coming in at struggling Pages Alive (the lit-website that Lily works as an assistant at) and wreaking havoc. This storyline was never a favorite of mine, nor was pretty much any of the Pages Alive stuff. I did like, however, the subplot with Judy discovering that Lily has basically stolen her "singles meeting through shared literary tastes" idea for Pages Alive and calling her on it. The show always did a fine, fine job of honestly and realistically portraying the sticky relationships siblings can have, and Ward and Hinkle play off of each other extraordinarily well.

Episode 10: Love's Laborer's Lost
A Judy-centric episode, with the character dithering over whether she should follow her heart and pursue a relationship with the soft-spoken laborer Will Gluck or continue to see the charming, if closed-off, professional she has been dating. As was so often the case on this show, sharp and insightful writing and acting work in concert to elevate pretty boilerplate plot material. And the same goes for the "teens-in-lust" subplot with Eli falling for Grace's somewhat stereotypically "bad" friend Carla. throughout its run, the show did a wonderful job of capturing the real pain that someone like Judy would face as a sensitive, smart woman who very well may never find the love and family she wants and who envies her sister for having just that.

Episode 11: Thieves Like Us
A stand-out from the season and the run of the show, and all the more impressive given the run-of-the-mill-nature of the plot - Jess' glitter makeup goes missing from her room and everyone suspects "bad-girl" Carla. The stuff that Bradys are made of, right? But the episode does a superb job of juggling the complicated emotions that can seem overwhelming to teenagers. It's really Grace who steals the makeup, in a confused attempt to act out against Carla and Eli, who seem oblivious to the effect their intense romance and dalliances are having on third-wheel Grace. Whalen is just great in her scenes - I know I've gone on at length about the tragic waste of her talents post-show, but she makes it hard for me not to gush in this episode. That very specific teenaged sensitivity, and fear of never finding someone, of constantly being on the outside looking in, is something she nails completely. Also worth mentioning is Evan Rachel Wood's performance in the episode - in particular in a scene with her psychiatrist where she confesses to stealing the glitter from her mother in the first place. As the shrink coaxes her to admit that she did it because she was upset with her mother for never having cared about being beautiful for her father, Wood makes us, all over again, feel the pain that still exists for these kids at their parents' break ups. It's a testament to the vision for the series that it never sweeps those constant emotions under the rug.

Episode 12: Suspicion
A plot-moving episode, with Karen getting an injunction against Rick's construction project and Karen breaking up with Leo because she can't see a real future with him. Also, we get more movement on the Pages Alive plot, with Graham coming on to Lily and Lily eventually accusing him in front of Christie of harassing her. The execution is as good as usual, but in the end this was a fairly forgettable episode.

Episode 13 - Edifice Wrecked
More drama around Rick's big project, with Grace joining the picket line against him. We also see David (Rick's partner, as played by Todd Field, and who is ostensibly a series regular) quit in disgust over the project. While not a classic episode, I liked how it gave Campbell a chance to play despair and depression, qualities he did a fine job of limning throughout the run of the show. The real big plot point of the ep, though, was Rick's somewhat bleary late-night proposal to Lily, which he seemed to be doing for all of the wrong reasons. Lily, touched at first, worries about his motivation and kind-of-sort-of turns him down.

Episode 14 - The Other End of the Telescope
The infamous "hostage crisis" episode. A busboy at Jake's restaurant, having had enough with the abusive chef, takes a Sunday brunch's worth of diners (and Grace and Tiffany) hostage, demanding an apology from the absent chef. O&A fans at the time scoffed at this episode, which seemed like (and certainly was, to a degree) an attempt by ABC to artificially inject some ER-type drama into the series and, hopefully, shore up what was a very flagging audience. seen now, from some distance, the motivations seem a bit more organic, with the emotional heaviness of having her daughter be in such a situation providing Lily with the clarity she needs to recognize that she loves Rick and does want to marry him. The drama and gunplay still come across as pretty heavy-handed, but I was impressed with how well the writer(s) was/were able to flesh out the character of the busboy in such a short span of time. The notion that a very naive, perhaps borderline mentally, young man could misinterpret the messages of hundreds of films and TV shows and bring a gun to work to make a bully respect him comes off as actually very specific, and more or less plausible. It is also in this episode that we learn that Tiffany is pregnant.

Episode 15 - Standing Room Only
Fallout from the engagement and the hostage situation is dealt with. A pretty standard O&A episode, wit the families (and Rick and Lily) clashing over a new step of becoming a new family, but a well-executed one. Everyone deals with the practicalities of Rick moving in with Lily and her kids in comic manner. The end of the episode, though, in which Rick and Lily force the kids to air their concerns at a family meeting, is nicely done, and lets us see the burgeoning dynamics between the four kids clearly,as they band together to mock and dismiss their ineffectual parents.

Episode 16 - Aaron's Getting Better
Patrick Dempsey returns for the first time all season as Lily and Judy's paranoid schizophrenic brother Aaron, who is doing better than he has in a long while. One of the all-time great episodes, with Dempsey a true revelation in the cliched actor role of playing "mentally challenged." What's so truly touching about the episode is the developing rapport between Grace and Aaron, and the way Aaron is able to comfort a heartbroken Grace when the boy she had assumed would be her first boyfriend turns her down. What was also illuminating for me was the subtle and effective method the writer and producers came up with for portraying Aaron's schizophrenia. Like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, Aaron sees a fedora-ed authority figure who really isn't there, but where in that film the treatment of the imaginary figures seemed almost cartoony, here it's dealt with much more subtly. The three imaginary figures Russell Crowe sees in A Beautiful Mind might as well be real - we as the audience are given no reason to doubt what Nash is seeing until later in the film. I understand that this was done to protect the surprise we the audience get when their imaginary status is revealed, but it also had the effect of making schizophrenia seem almost harmless, or extremely simple. Whereas, here, we get the sense that some part of Aaron knows that this mean, critical figure is imaginary and that he nonetheless can't help but react to what he says. we never see the figure's face, but only see him and, a few times, see him in profile, which does wonders to suggest the strange nature of how Aaron must see him. Of course all of this is accomplished only through Dempsey's excellent, subtle, and sympathetic work.

Until Whenever

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