What I Like (and Dislike) About “What I Like About You”

So, I’ve been watching an old show called “What I Like About You”, starring Amanda Bynes and Jennie Garth as two sisters (Holly and Val) who end up sharing an apartment in New York — Val’s — after their father gets another promotion that requires him to move to Japan, and Holly doesn’t want to go. The most consistent sidekick is Gary, a friend of Holly’s who starts with a crush on Val but that, thankfully, gets dropped by about mid-way through the first season. The first season starts with a boyfriend for Val, Jeff, who gets dropped at the end of the first season.

The underlying premise, at least at the start, is the fact that Holly and Val are very different people who now have to live together again. Holly is spontaneous and free-spirited and fun-loving, while Val is organized and serious. The clashes in their personalities, especially since Val has to be the parent figure here, drives most of the plots in the first few seasons, but this fades in the later seasons, although Val is still portrayed as being uptight and serious despite being far less so in the later seasons.

I’ve also found that the pace of the show is very fast, so much so that if I try to read while watching it — as I’m prone to doing — means that I end up missing stuff (which is hampering my re-reading of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”). I also find that, other than in the pilot, it tends to stay away from simple stable comedy plots where Holly does something that she shouldn’t and the whole episode is spent following her trying to avoid having Val find out about it. In fact, in one episode she sneaks off to a concert without telling her system, and the humour is entirely driven by all the problems Holly has along the way: they get a flat tire, the tire rolls away, Val and Jeff catch up to her, the car rolls away, and so on. They revert to the staple jokes more in the later seasons, but still much of the humour is driven by the incidentals and not as much by trying to hide what’s going on.

As we get past the first season, the cast of characters increases, to include a new friend for Holly, and a number of potential boyfriends, while Val loses her steady boyfriend but picks up a friend. And this gets into something that is both good and bad, because while I really like Holly’s friend Tina and think she works quite well in that role, I find Val’s friend Lauren very, very annoying. There’s really no reason for Val to be friends with Lauren, who is selfish, self-centered, and at least amoral. Tina’s worst qualities, on the other hand, are generally her snarkiness and how she doesn’t think things through, and she shares with Lauren a propensity for falling for the wrong guy and being far more promiscuous than Holly. Unfortunately, Tina gets underused; she doesn’t even typically get the “competing with Holly for the same guys” plot that Lauren gets. Which is sad, because one of the things about Tina that makes her work so well is that that sort of thing could work, as given the actresses involved it’d be perfectly reasonable to think that someone might find Tina more attractive than Holly, while Lauren just isn’t as attractive as Val is. So what happens is that Tina, a much more interesting character, gets swamped in the big crowd of Holly’s friends and boyfriends, while Lauren gets a big role in Val’s life but is mostly annoying there, overly competitive and incompetent in business and not really a supportive friend. While Tina ended up using her looks to get ahead at work in one episode, the only way Lauren could have been any kind of competition for Val — which is how they met — is by using her looks. The Tina character, I think, would have worked better as Val’s friend than as Holly’s.

Also, the show seems to be arguing for the idea that, when it comes to relationships, all women like bad boys. For Holly, both Henry and Ben are considered to be exceptionally nice guys, which is even commented on in the show … but Holly will end up with the more attractive but more of a jerk Vince. For Val, Jeff isn’t bad — if a bit of a doofus — but after that they try to set her up with Peter who she’s somehow attracted despite him being a massive jerkass, and then they turn Rick into a bit of a jerk as he sees his ex-fiance without telling her (and marries the ex later), and even when Vic returns — who was at least reasonably nice — he comes on so strong after their spontaneous wedding that he really does come across as a jerk … and Val ends up with him to end the series.

Also, by the end of the series, while the humour is still entertaining, I’m getting heartily sick of Holly’s boyfriend issues. It … just … never … ends.

That being said, overall I like the show. Season 4 is probably the worst season I’ve seen so far (and I’m only about 4 episodes in!) but it keeps me relatively entertained and I even laugh on occasion. It was definitely worth revisiting.

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