Thoughts on “Party of Five” (Season 4)

In my post on Season 3, I lamented that the plots didn’t seem like they were all that monumental as they were in the earlier seasons, and at the start of this season I figured out why while watching Claudia’s plots in the early season.  See, in the early seasons each of them got their own plots, but things were far more interconnected because they were all living in the same house and doing things together, and so each plot at some point had a direct link to the other characters and it seems to me that there were more plots that involved all or most of them.  In Season 3 and Season 4, they started to split up, as Bailey moves out to go to college and Julia moves out to live with her husband Griffen, leaving Charlie, Claudia and Owen at home.  But it’s not just the physical distance that’s at issue, but instead the plot distance, as their plots involve their own circles more directly and focus on that.  So if you want to have each of them getting their own plots, you need to set them up and have a plot running for each of them, but in a context that’s mostly separate from everything else.  There is no need and it makes little sense to involve Bailey in Julia’s marital problems or to involve Julia or Charlie in Bailey’s new relationship, and so aside from a few small interactions and scenes they are mostly separate, which then loses the whole “family” aspect of this family drama.  And as I’ve already noted, I hit on this while watching Claudia’s since her plots focus on her going through the typical high school dramas that we’ve already seen and where no one else in the family can really play any kind of part.  Suffice it to say, I found her high school plots boring, but had to note that there wasn’t all that much more they could do with her given the other plots.

Now, an attempt to bring them all together again could have been being made with the plot of Charlie getting cancer.  This does reunite them a bit as it gives them something to all play a part in, and that and some other circumstances forces Julia and Griffen to move back home and for Bailey to work at the restaurant.  But the characters still go through their own disconnected plots.  Julia and Griffen still need to deal with his failing business and their failing marriage because of that.  Bailey still has to manage his apartment building and his new relationship with Annie — another recovering alcoholic with a child — while living with Sara, and there’s little interaction with anyone else at the restaurant when he’s managing it.  And the worst hit by this is Claudia, and can be evidenced by what happened with Owen, who is pretty much dropped from the show at that point.  It’s pretty easy to just park him somewhere and have us forget he exists, but we aren’t going to be able to do that with Claudia, and so they need to give her something to do, which is basically to act out and skip school and have a doomed romance with someone who just wanted to be a friend.  But with everything else going on there isn’t time to flesh that out properly, and so the chances seem to come on very quickly and then get unceremoniously dropped after Charlie’s cancer goes into remission when the treatment worked.  If you liked Claudia as a character — which I kinda do — it’s going to pretty much be like she isn’t in the show, until she is and her plots don’t make sense and aren’t developed and so it might have been better if they hadn’t even tried.

Matters aren’t helped by the fact that two of the main focuses of the season — Charlie with his cancer and Julia with her marital problems — are the most self-centered characters in the show.  Early on, Charlie isn’t taking the news of his cancer well, and is getting annoyed at the “help” everyone else is trying to give him.  This, to be fair, is a decent idea and likely fairly realistic.  But whenever he doesn’t want to do something or wants to avoid criticism he shouts “I’m sick!” at which point I wanted to scream back “Being sick does justify you being a jerk!”, because he does these things in a way that, yes, means he’s being a jerk.  While we can tell from his body language that he isn’t being helped by Claudia’s reciting of the facts of his disease or by Bailey’s AA advice, he doesn’t say anything until he finally explodes, and does it in the most insulting and stupid way possible, such as by calling Bailey’s advice “your AA crap”.  Now, it’s not necessarily bad to have someone try to keep things civil and finally explode and say something that they shouldn’t, but Charlie doesn’t say that and then realize that calling the thing that’s helping his brother with his alcoholism “crap” probably isn’t the right thing to do, but instead he calls it that again and shows absolutely no self-awareness that the issue was probably more that he needs to tell them more when things aren’t helping (at one point he does say that he’ll tell them more what he needs, but if I recall correctly that’s over them helping him with things, not over the advice they give him, and at any rate the issues don’t go away).

We get into self-centered on self-centered warfare when Charlie feels better at one point and with the encouragement of another cancer patient decides to go camping in the cold or to do something somewhat crazy, which Julia and Claudia oppose because going camping in the cold might actually make him sick, which would be a bad thing.  Julia gets angry at him and asks why she should be making sacrifices for his health if he isn’t, which has a germ of truth in it but is put in the most self-centered way possible.  The thing is that Charlie both needed to be looked after by the others and the others had to put their own things aside to take on his responsibilities, and so it’s a fair criticism to say that instead of doing something that might make him sick and will definitely exhaust him that maybe if he’s feeling better he should take some time to shoulder some of the burden that he’d been shirking for the past while.  Claudia’s whole issues, for example, start from no one having the time to be there for her or do anything for her, and Charlie constantly tells her “Not now” whenever she wants to talk to him about something.  It would be reasonable, then, to ask him to at least spend some quality time with the family instead of spending it with a new friend and leaving them all alone.  Charlie could then reply that these are the sorts of things that he needs to do to feel alive and like life is worth living, and that he can’t sit around wondering or waiting to die, which is a reasonable sentiment that could have led to a compromise.  Instead, Charlie presents it as doing what he wants — or “needs” to do — and Julia presents it entirely in light of the sacrifices she had to make, and so we don’t get any real debate or any idea that these are real people with real needs that need to be balanced against each other, as opposed to two selfish people insisting on being able to do the things they want to do.

Julia’s self-centeredness carries over to her relationship with Griffen.  I had never cared for him before this season, but here despite being pretty clueless and getting in over his head the big thing about him is that for the most part he really, really tried to make things work for all of them.  Julia, on the other hand, tended to be very much only interested in what she wanted and didn’t seem to be making all that much of an effort at all, taking a job that didn’t pay and then pushing to take a job that paid less when they had no money and so on and so forth.  This abruptly changes at the end of the season, when after cheating on her and being overly apologetic about it Griffen suddenly decides to be a complete jerk about everything, but then separates from her so that she can have a happy life (just when she starts to think that her happy life would have to include him) which doesn’t make a lot of sense but I guess resolves that issue, which is fine, I suppose.

They do give Julia one moment of a sort of self-awareness, where when the three older siblings go off to a cabin for a weekend she comments that after their parents died she started wanting everything now and not being willing to wait, presumably because she’s seen how quickly things can end.  Bailey has come across the best in this season, as usual, and relates his normal complaint about not being able to do anything just for himself but always having to help and be there for others.  Charlie doesn’t really get a revelation, and is the character who most needs one, which doesn’t make me any more inclined to like him as a character.

Bailey’s plots focus on him going to AA and getting off the booze, while managing an apartment building with Sara so that they can have a decent apartment (she could get the job as a manager when he couldn’t because of his felony drunk driving conviction).  He starts dating the woman upstairs — after they fight with her over repairs — and it proceeds as per normal until he has to take over the restaurant and can’t see her, which drives her back to drinking for … some reason.  The problem here is that they had hinted that getting into a relationship in the first year of AA is a bad idea because it provides too many potential issues that can set recovery back, but she’s in her second year at that point and the show, for whatever reason, has her be the one to have a setback instead of him, which makes that evidence both oddly right and oddly wrong.  When she finally recovers, her ex-husband comes back — really her husband because he never finalized the divorce — and she for some reason in the space of a couple of days decides to get back together with him and move to Oakland with him, supposedly for her daughter.  This makes the entire previous episodes about him getting to know and get into the good graces of her daughter and them moving in together and Sara’s giving up the apartment pointless.  But it gets her out of the picture and frees him up to get together with Sara, which is clearly what the show wanted to do, but again it’s an issue where drama! comes into play to cause some interesting storylines to be dropped.

Another example of this is yet another issue with Child Services.  Claudia has been skipping school and the school can’t reach anyone — Charlie has been in the hospital with pneumonia — and so Claudia finally gets caught and after a misstep Julia and Bailey talk to the counselor and seemingly clear things up … only for Child Services to come in and threaten to take Owen and Claudia away, and it takes Julia and Griffen talking about how they are always going to be there for them to get that resolved.  And then Charlie gets out of the hospital and it wouldn’t be an issue anymore.  It was there to add drama! and then forgotten, along with Claudia’s problems, as she ends up in therapy over it but before they — and we — can find out what was driving her issues Charlie’s cancer goes away and she ends up in a romance plot.

The end of the season adds two things that we are supposed to be happy about but that aren’t as good as they seem.  First, their partner in the restaurant Joe gets a really good offer for the restaurant and Charlie wants to take it because it has already been established that after the cancer treatments he is thinking about doing something that he more enjoys, but the family wants to keep it, so at first he agrees but then decides on his own that he doesn’t want to do it and to sell it no matter what they think, at which point Bailey gets very upset that they didn’t think he could run it and finally goes to have it out with Charlie, whose best reply is that he doesn’t want to lock Bailey into that, but finally they relent.  The problem with this is that long-time family friend Joe who wanted to preserve the family business gives them a choice of sell with him or buy him out, which means taking on a lot of debt, which then is the best reason not to keep the restaurant (they need to take out a second mortgage), but is also a bit of a dirty move for Joe to play on them, especially since there’s no reason given for him needing the money or anything.  This could have played out with Charlie not liking and not wanting to run the restaurant and with Joe being unwilling to do that that being the push to do something with it — or not, as it could have just been Charlie complaining that he didn’t want to do it — and then realizing that Bailey did want it which would have had the same impact and could have followed the same storyline without that extra jerk move on Joe’s part and the extra debt that the best possible outcome would have never come up again.

The second one is that Charlie takes up with a stripper that was supposed to come to his party celebrating being cancer-free who is a bit of a flake, and their first sexual encounter was unprotected and results in a pregnancy.  She doesn’t think she’s ready to be a mother and wants to have an abortion, and at first he wants that too but then thinks differently and basically browbeats her into agreeing to at least have the baby and see if her thoughts change and if they don’t he’ll take it, ignoring that one of her issues was that she wouldn’t be able to work while pregnant and ignoring that going through a pregnancy that she doesn’t want is not exactly going to be easy on her, and yet it seems like we’re supposed to be as happy for them as the family is.

Anyway, the show’s plots are somewhat weak and I am really tiring of Julia and Charlie as characters, and Claudia gets short-shrift in this season.  Still, the show is entertaining enough that I don’t find myself not wanting to watch it at all, even as I rant about parts of it.  A comment from malcolmthecynic on “House M.D.” described that show as basically mediocre with some good scenes, but I think that’s more true of this show.  Some of the performances are good and really work, but overall it’s more of a standard family drama that’s nothing special.  This is a show that seems destined for my box of shows that I might watch again at some point, but not anytime soon.

One Response to “Thoughts on “Party of Five” (Season 4)”

  1. Thoughts on “Party of Five” (Season 5) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] to be in, which only added to how overloaded the seasons already were.  As I noted when I talked about the last season, all the family members were split off into their own little groups which made the plots seem less […]

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