First Thoughts on “Wings”

So, I should be just about finishing Season 4 of Wings, and so am about half-way through. When I talked about Frasier, I noted that Frasier wasn’t a typical sitcom, having a bit of a different structure and thus being able to do different things than a normal sitcom would. Wings … is pretty much a typical sitcom.

This isn’t a bad thing. Wings is, in fact, a pretty well-executed and entertaining typical sitcom. It has the typical mix of odd and zany characters and uses the airport and small town situation to generate standard comedy storylines when appropriate and different ones as per the situation. It’s usually at least mildly humourous and is entertaining in general.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its issues. One of the bigger problems with it is that to contrast the steady and reliable Joe they have the roguish and spontaneous Brian, and their clashes drive a lot of the humour. This is good. The problem is that Brian isn’t the standard “willing to lie and cheat to get what he wants” character, but instead seems to be someone who revels in lying and taking advantage of people. He does so even when it would be easier for him to just be honest and get things the honest way, and his first inclination is always to scam people. He has more in common with Harry the con man from Cheers than he does with the typical rogue characters like Sam from Cheers, and he’s only slightly more moral than Roy is, who is established as a terrible person who scams and takes advantage of them with no remorse. Brian gets a few instances where he can be said to have a “heart of gold”, as he definitely cares a lot for Helen and even Joe, but overall he seems to be someone who is totally in it for himself and willing to scam anyone to get what he wants. This makes him an unsympathetic character.

This also bleeds over into their overly aggressive female characters, like Helen and Alex. Now, I really do like Helen. But she is presented as having a really bad temper, and acts out on it often with little consequences. After she and Joe break up, she gets upset and drives her Jeep into his office, destroying it. She then acts like his asking her to pay for the deductible is unreasonable, despite the fact that she had left him for over ten months, and he didn’t tell her that he was seeing someone else because her life in New York was miserable but she wouldn’t have come back if she had known that he was seeing someone else, which everyone acknowledges. Yes, she was hurt, but this was one instance where Joe was lying to her that wasn’t for his own self-interest or convenience, and Helen doesn’t really acknowledge that there. Overall, her personality is abrasive but we’re supposed to like her anyway. The same thing applies — but even more so — to Alex. Yes, Brian and Joe act very immature towards her — and overly so, because she’s not that much better looking than the other women they’ve dated — but she’s pretty abrasive from the start and Brian even gets derailed into being more sexist than he might be expected to be to give her a chance to react badly to it (we expect it from Roy, but no one needs a reason to dislike Roy). There are some instances where Alex softens a bit, but she’s still pretty annoying.

And it’s a good thing that Wings isn’t more than a typical sitcom, because it tends to screw it up royally when it does. Between seasons 3 and 4, they try for a multi-episode arc, where Helen finds out that she was accepted as part of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the gang decides to fly her out to watch it, the plane crashes, they get rescued, and Joe has to resurrect the business and get himself a plane. The problem is that everything is so contrived that it’s unbelievable: Helen happens to run into the guy after ruining his jacket, berates him for not responding to her audition tape, he says that it was good but that they had lost the label, then their second cello can’t perform and Helen is offered the spot, and they are playing the precise piece that is her warm-up piece, no one can make it but then there’s a string of events so that everyone can make it, there’s a string of improbable failures that cause the crash and then more things that make their situation extremely dire … for less than a minute as they are conveniently rescued by the Coast Guard, and then Joe has to wade through problems getting a plane, but then his is salvaged, and then somehow they repair it and get back into business. To be honest, I kept waiting for them to reveal it as a dream because it was so contrived, and every minute that they didn’t just made it less and less entertaining.

Beyond that, though, the characters and interactions work. The sibling rivalry between Brian and Joe works based on their personalities and histories, and it is established early that they can be remarkably immature about it. Lowell is a generally lovable idiot, Antonio works as a semi-competent and somewhat lovable loser, Roy works as a foil, and Fay works as a pleasant and eccentric person who can play dumb when necessary but also smart to buttress jokes at Lowell’s expense. The mix allows for various jokes to be made in various situations, with characters often trading off roles in a way that could be seen as out of character but end up fitting in with the characters. So far, it’s entertaining enough, although I can generally read through it.

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