Thoughts on “Party of Five” (Season 2)

My most common refrain while watching this season — that I uttered to myself in almost every episode and usually more than once — was “What an idiot!”, which is obviously not a good sign.  It was aimed at pretty much every character in the show, but most often at Charlie, which is of course not going to make me more enamored of a character that I already didn’t care much for from the previous seasons.  That being said, I think the issue here is less that the characters are idiots, but more that the show is trying to generate drama through overly dramatic situations, when a more low-key approach would work just as well and avoid requiring at least one person to be a jerk or idiot to pull it off.  In addition, the show continually struggles to create characters with flaws and ends up creating characters that are, well, jerks and unsympathetic because it struggles to give the characters any real self-awareness of those flaws.  Also, they tend to walk into their issues with eyes wide open and so when they have time to consider their flaws and that what they want to do isn’t what they should do and yet they seem to walk headlong into it anyway, unconcerned about things like that.  Charlie, again, is the prime example of this but pretty much all the characters get their moments.

The season starts by resolving the wedding of Charlie of Kirsten, as they had gotten engaged at the end of the last season.  The season again wastes Kirsten by having her be tangential to everything except her own “Bridezilla” tendencies over the upcoming wedding, which while not inconsistent is not something that we really needed to have, especially given that they were going to introduce a couple of new wrinkles to follow as they tried to give everyone a bit of drama to start off the season.  Julia over the summer while Justin was away took up even more with the brother of Jill, who was the typical bad boy that Julia had already shown a weakness towards, but his character is inconsistent as well.  This is, of course, going to end badly, but it gives Julia the chance to get concerned about someone that Justin was talking to over the summer and so get sanctimonious over that while doing far worse.  Again, it’s another example where the characters, even though they have plenty of time to think about these things, never seem to realize what they’re doing, even for an instant.  At any rate, eventually Justin finds out about it and they break up, but it doesn’t end there.

But let me return to the wedding for a minute.  The show could have just had them get married and add another wrinkle to the family drama, but again it prefers drama! and so, given that, we can be pretty sure that the wedding is not going to happen.  And given the history of the show, it’s going to be Charlie’s fault.  And it is.  Charlie is having some difficult writing his vows the night before the wedding, and when his bachelor party is delayed he ends up meeting a woman whose husband is cheating on her in the room next door, and as one thing leads to another he gets the chance to sleep with her, but then finally refuses and seems to have settled the question of whether he could only have one woman for the rest of his life.  Then he has a rather odd discussion with the janitor at the restaurant about how one could know if that marriage is really what one wants forever, which the janitor can’t answer, and then he goes to Kirsten and says that he can’t get married because there are too many changes and he can’t be sure that this is what he really wants.  This is strange because the entire point of that plot with the other woman was to have him feel that this is what he wants, so this sudden turnaround doesn’t really make sense.

I can find a way to make it make sense, but this is something that the show itself really needed to make clear where this is coming from given that they made a big deal out of Charlie’s revelation and then proceeded as if it never happened.  My theory is that Charlie was struggling with jitters, and figured that getting the chance to sleep with an attractive woman and then turning it down should have settled them, and it didn’t.  So then he felt that this was more than simple jitters and jumped to a conclusion that maybe he just needed more time to settle into all the changes, because he clearly felt that he loved Kirsten and wanted to be with her.  However, his insistence that “he can’t do this” is clearly incorrect and Kirsten was probably correct that in six months nothing would have changed, and that he just needed to get over the jitters and do it.  Again, though, the show really needed to make that clear, because otherwise it looks like an inconsistency to go from feeling settled to so strongly out of sorts, and Charlie was already not a sympathetic enough character to get away with something like that.

Anyway, after Kirsten pushes him to get his act together, he bails again during the pictures and ultimately Kirsten’s mother tells her to give him an ultimatum:  it’s either today or not at all.  Charlie being Charlie, he runs off for a while before returning right at the point when Kirsten is going to cancel the wedding … but then she cancels it because she can’t face the worry that at any point Charlie might decide to bail again.  This is, of course, a bit odd given that she gave the ultimatum and he ultimately passed, but this can make sense given that the ultimatum wasn’t her idea and that he ran off first leaving her to wonder if he was going to come back might cause her to rethink that idea.  Still, it’s a bit odd way to end it, even if it is dramatic!, which is again the flaw in this show.  So they aren’t getting married.

But Charlie is going on the honeymoon anyway, because the reservations aren’t refundable and, as usual, he just needs to get away.  He takes Claudia with him because Claudia is incredibly upset that he ruined the marriage, but then he promptly meets another woman and ends up sleeping with her, while ignoring Claudia except at one point where she comes back late and he starts going full-on “I’m the boss!” on her, which is obviously not going to make her less upset with him, especially given that he dragged her on this trip and what she was doing was the first thing she’d come across that was actually fun.  Anyway, Charlie also wants something more regular, at least, with the woman he met but she doesn’t, which again is odd given that he was just freed from a relationship.  He might have wanted to get something serious again, but if he was upset by the serious relationship ending he should have been more hesitant to start something with someone else, and so his suddenly wanting something more serious from that pickup doesn’t fit with that.  But consistency, thy name is not Charlie.

More on his issues later, but let’s turn to Bailey.  Jennifer Love Hewitt enters the cast in what I am sure is her breakout role as a girl who is interested in him but that he doesn’t notice.  Hewitt actually really has the right looks for the role because she doesn’t look as “mature” as the other girls in the cast and so is just “cute”, and so we can imagine why someone might overlook her while noting that she seems really nice and is actually quite pretty, especially when she smiles (Hewitt has a really nice smile).  But I think they made a mistake with the character, and the worse part of it is that the issue is, again, consistency.  Sara is presented as being a bit of a klutz and a blabbermouth when nervous, which along with her somewhat shyness puts her into the category of girls who are shy and don’t express their feelings but then when they get going run with them until they say something embarrassing at which point they get embarrassed and run away.  Sara is often too angry and forceful in such scenes, such as when she lets slip that she’s in love with Bailey and then gets angry and storms off when he can only stare at her in shock.  It would have worked better for her to have blurted it out and then run off before Bailey could respond, which could have led right back to the scene the next day where they talk it out, without making her look unreasonable for being surprised that Bailey had no idea what to say when she told it to him.  The show also gives her a “poor little rich girl” persona that it doesn’t follow through with, while still having her be shy and reserved at times but then also to get very angry at Bailey at times, sometimes when it’s his fault and sometimes when it isn’t.  It also adds on an “adopted” character arc that isn’t bad but is just something else to complicate things for her and the relationship.

Now, in the early stages, Bailey tries to treat Sara like Jill, which doesn’t work, which leads them both to conclude that he isn’t ready yet.  Fine.  But then his best friend Will wants to date her, which is again only there to add drama! to things.  Very quickly, everyone discovers that Sara and Bailey are in love and Will bows out, so it adds little to the dynamic other than perhaps as a push for Bailey to get over Jill, which could have been done with a one shot character just as easily.  They have their normal ups and downs, which all culminates in Bailey breaking up with her at the climax of the season because he feels like he has to be responsible for everyone else’s feelings while no one feels the need to consider his, and he doesn’t want to do that anymore (more on that at the end).  They do get back together, though.

I have to say that Bailey is probably the character who comes off the best in all of these things, because even though he often does stupid and insensitive things and acts like a jerk, he does seem to have the self-awareness to know when he’s doing that and usually genuinely apologizes for it, and in fact at times he seems to apologize for things that aren’t really all his fault.  That and the fact that he is in general pretty responsible makes him fairly sympathetic, especially when compared to everyone else in the show.

Back to Julia.  Her bad boy boyfriend ends up having to go away to military school because he steals from the contractor fixing up the restaurant and gets caught.  He tells Julia not to write to him, but says that he loves her before he leaves.  She, of course, almost immediately starts chasing Justin again, and after wearing him down starts dating him again.  As with Bailey in the previous season with Kate, she doesn’t bother to tell the other guy about that, so he only finds out when he comes back.  Soon after, she ends up getting pregnant, which gives an interesting one-episode consideration of abortion — and Sara, having been adopted, makes a good argument as to why she can’t support Julia by noting that she wouldn’t be here if her own mother had made that decision — before a convenient miscarriage resolves the choice, but Julia is still upset and bothered by this (which is not unreasonable) but as is usual for her she takes it out on everyone else, especially Justin, which leads to them breaking up while she tells Bailey not to break up with Sara because she and Justin had an issue and he doesn’t.  However, she didn’t seem to make any attempt to work any of that out while Justin continually tries to work it out, so that comes across as a bit hollow … especially since she ran off to meet her bad boy boyfriend while struggling with this and harbours him as a fugitive and ropes Justin into helping, which obviously went over like a lead balloon with Justin.  So she comes across as being a bit selfish and self-centered, which is fine for a teenage girl but is not going to incline us towards being sympathetic towards her.  (She even at one point gets an idea to get some privacy by getting an attic room when she has her own room and is upset when Bailey wants that room because he’s sharing a room with Owen.  Yes, it was her idea but it was clear that he needed the room more.  She does eventually give in, however).

Claudia also gets her turn to carry the Idiot Ball, where she breaks her arm while ice skating and while off meets a bad girl and becomes friends with her, which gets her to give up the violin after the cast comes off so that she can do all sorts of “normal” things, like smoking and drinking.  Again, this is a plot driven by drama! as it would have worked far better to have her meet up with someone, well, actually normal instead of someone who is clearly a bad influence, to remove that argument from the table.  Then Claudia could have started to enjoy a normal life and wanted to keep it, and been afraid that taking up the violin again would be “uncool” and so would get her cut off from her new friends (outside of the time commitment), which would have played into the ending better when Claudia fears that doing that will lose her her friend when it ended up not doing that while the actual ending has her lose her friend because she doesn’t want to do the more extreme things her friend wants to do.  As it is, Claudia gets a friend that we have no idea why she wants to be a friend with, and it adds ridiculous subplots with smoking and drinking that were unnecessary for the main point of the plot, which is the choice between a more normal life and her musical talent.

Which leads us back to Charlie, whose foibles form the major drama! at the end of the season and follow from this.  Claudia’s teacher catches her smoking, and of course she’s about Charlie’s age and interested in him, and so is his natural prey.  Claudia demands that he not go out with her teacher as a condition of the deal he wants to make to get her to stop smoking, and so of course he almost immediately ignores that and goes after her anyway, with bad results when Claudia finds out.  And of course the teacher wants to take things slowly which Charlie doesn’t want, and so while he had turned down an attractive anchorwoman who was interested in him after he catered her birthday party right after that he immediately seeks out the anchorwoman and has sex with her, in his typical move to punish someone who won’t do what he wants.  At any rate, the teacher eventually gives in but then finds out that he was seeing the other woman, and breaks up with him, and Claudia calls him out on this but Charlie is mostly unmoved.  Well, he soon after finds the anchorwoman with another man and calls her out on that, and when she points out that he did the same thing he argues that he at least feels bad about it, which gets her to reconsider and want to have a more set relationship, even though as far as the show was concerned Charlie doesn’t really seem to feel all that badly about it.  This gets even more inconsistent when later she wants to make things more serious and he says he only wanted something casual … but if he wanted something more casual then he had no cause to get angry at her for dating/sleeping with someone else, as that’s what casual means.

The “I don’t want anything serious” rears its ugly head again, as she says she loves him while receiving a reward which causes him to bail on the relationship, lying that Kirsten wanted him back and he wanted to go back to her.  Of course, the anchorwoman checks it out and finds out that he’s lying, which leads her to seek active revenge against him.  She had loaned him some money to fix up the restaurant and in the interests of “protecting her investment” … gets a group together to buy the building and kick him out (by not renewing the lease).  So they were going to lose the restaurant because of Charlie as he protests that it isn’t his fault, despite the fact that if he had just been honest with her she probably wouldn’t have done this, but Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and his lying to her makes her go extremely over the top in her revenge.  Which, BTW, also makes little sense, but is there for drama!, as her simply calling in the debt could have provided everything the end of the season needed without this over-the-top revenge that makes her look a bit psycho, to tell you the truth.

Anyway, Charlie goes back to Kirsten and actually talks about how he’s ruined everything, which made me wonder if they were finally going to have him show some self-awareness, but then he ruins it by using that as a way to get Kirsten back … right before she is going to marry someone else.  Of course, this doesn’t stop him from trying, and while she’s angry at first she eventually gives in, runs away with him at her wedding, and gets back together with him in a way that is really quite idiotic.  So the start the season by breaking them up and then at the last minute getting them back together, restoring the status quo in an odd and very roundabout way.

As for the restaurant, their missing grandfather had returned earlier on in the series and offered Bailey a scholarship to a far away university so that Bailey could go.  Well, Charlie asks him for help and he goes to Bailey and says that he can save the restaurant, but only by using the money that could have gone to that scholarship.  Bailey is torn by this because he really, really wants to get away, which is again another issue of drama! because Bailey hadn’t really shown a desire to go away and the better explanation is that it was too good an opportunity to give up, which fit better in with his feelings that he was expected to be unselfish and give everything up for others.  Well, the actor is first in the opening credits and we know that Bailey as a person won’t let the restaurant be closed so that he can go away to university, so he gives up the money and the restaurant is conveniently saved.

Okay, I’ve ranted a lot about the season, and, yeah, it’s not a very good season.  That being said, despite it’s overemphasis on drama! it does generally work as a family drama.  I wish they’d tone things down to make them more in line with what family dramas tended to do and put more focus on Claudia who plays the role really well, but it’s entertaining enough that I’m not thinking that it will be a struggle to finish the series.  Still, the show is directly heading for a place in the box of shows that I might want to rewatch at some point in the future as opposed to the closet for shows that I am likely to rewatch at some point, so there’s a lot of room for it to improve and it only has a little bit of wiggle room to avoid being a series that I might try to sell.  We’ll see which way it goes with season 3.

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