Thoughts on “Party of Five” (Season 5)

This season, I think, really encapsulates the issues with the series as a whole, particularly in their plots and characterizations.  The season ends up being one with some good performances but with plots that don’t work or fit together — even with themselves — focusing on characters that the show gives us really good reasons to dislike.

The main plot that starts off the season is Charlie having a baby with his kinda-one-night-stand Daphne.  Now, she had originally wanted to have an abortion and he convinced her not to with the promise that once she had the baby if she didn’t want to keep it he’d raise it alone and it wouldn’t be a problem.  Given the personality of Charlie, it should come as little surprise that the show hints that he never really meant it and always expected her to come around and become attached to the baby once it was born,  Daphne, in fact, directly accuses him of this at one point when she’s struggling to become attached to the baby.  That being said, I don’t think that’s what they might to imply.  I think that Charlie was indeed perfectly willing to accept raising the child alone when Daphne was just someone that had had some fun with for a while, but when he actually fell in love with her he wanted her to stay, and so wanted her to come to love the baby, and so expected her to do that once she spent time with the baby and was exasperated when she didn’t want to and when that attachment didn’t happen, and when Daphne left them all behind.  Sure, he was an ass about it like he normally is, but I don’t think his jerkiness went so far as to have him promise to raise the child alone when he had no intention of doing that and didn’t expect that it would ever happen.

The issue with the Daphne plot, though, is that it focuses on her, who is a new character that was introduced right at the end of the previous season, so making her the focus of the main plot arc in the early part of the season was a risky move.  Yes, what you want to do with new characters is get them into the action quickly so that we can come to know them as well as the characters that we’d already followed for four seasons, but if you are going to do that you really don’t want to start them with a plot that leaves them as unsympathetic characters, and her plot has that in spades, from her feeling smothered by Charlie wanting her to do things to make the pregnancy go better and avoid things that might hurt it — like drinking — while she wants to go on doing those things and runs away at one point to live with a friend who is somehow the best option that she has and yet isn’t willing to do anything to help, such as not playing the drums while she’s trying to sleep.  It also doesn’t really help her character to not be at all interested in her own child, and to get angry over Charlie having to make the choice of whether to induce labour early or let things run because she’s incapable of making a decision.  Yes, it’s a difficult decision, but the impression is not that she wanted to let the pregnancy run longer but that she couldn’t decide, but then was upset at Charlie’s decision … although the impression that she couldn’t make a decision came from Charlie, who is not the most reliable of witnesses.  At any rate, when they bring in things like her relationship with her own mother to try to explain or raise an issue for her bonding with her child, it comes across as too little, too late, and I found that I just, at least, didn’t really care about her or her issues, and would have been perfectly happy if she had just gone away at the beginning and never came back.  That Charlie chases after her and that she comes back later to cause problems after he gets back together with Kirsten doesn’t make me like her any more.

Oh, yeah, that’s right, Kirsten ends up back and back in the main credits.  This didn’t help the show with its plots, because on top of having to have plots for the four main siblings, they also needed to have a plot for her 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 consequential, especially Claudia’s, which were repeats of what Julia had gone through in high school.  So now they have to have a plot for each of the siblings plus Kirsten without having the ones that by necessity would be less dramatic swamped by the more dramatic ones.  Since Kirsten’s generally involved her and her husband who was also a new character, that really couldn’t work because a) we didn’t care about him and therefore about their relationship and b) many people would have still wanted her to get together with Charlie in the end, which would only make them dislike her husband and like Daphne even less.

Speaking of Claudia, her plot continues from her going away to the school that she had applied to at the end of last season and then getting homesick and feeling that she was needed at home, and running into brick walls as Charlie in particular insists that they are paying a lot of money for the school and that it’s a great opportunity and so she has to stay.  The big issue I have with this overall plot is that it didn’t really make sense that she’d go there at all, because my impression from the previous season was that the primary reason she applied was because it was far away from home and things weren’t going well at home at that point.  Once Charlie gets better and things at home start to improve, she had no reason to go and probably should have just turned it down, because we don’t get any impression that she herself really wanted to go to that school.  It would have been so much better if they had simply made it be an opportunity that was presented to her and one that we knew she saw as a great opportunity but one that also had the benefit of getting her away from the problem situation that she was having at home.  Then, once things got better at home, we could still see that she thought that this was indeed still a great opportunity, and so when she was pondering returning home or not it would be more clearly a debate that she was having with herself, so that when she decided that she couldn’t take it anymore we could see that she really, really meant that, even if Charlie didn’t.  In fact, I would have had her get a scholarship so that money wasn’t an issue which then would let Charlie dismiss her concerns as being simple homesickness that she’d get over when we could see that for her it really was more that she felt that she was missing out on spending time with her family now that they were back together and that she felt that she was letting them down by not being there to help out when things went wrong, which would have made for a much more reasonable conflict that would need to be settled.  As it was, Griffen takes her home which makes her happy but causes some issues, all of which get simply resolved, making that entire plot line mostly pointless.

As for Griffen, I didn’t like him at all in the earlier seasons but in the early stages of this one he gets so much better that I started to really like him as a character.  That being said, they revert him back to some of his former problematic attitudes and then shift him into the background at the end of the season, so that kinda fades by the end of it.

I have commented before that one of my issues with the show is that it seems to set up a certain plot and then jettisons it in favour of another plot.  In this season, two of the main plots end up doing that to themselves, internally, which then causes issue for them and makes it so that they really should have just picked one of the two things to go with to eliminate the inconsistency and make for a tighter and more enjoyable plot.

The plot that most contradicts itself is Julia’s main plot for the season, where she ends up stealing her roommate at college’s boyfriend — seriously, can Julia ever meet and start to date someone that she didn’t steal from someone else or that she met when she herself was dating someone else — who turns out to be abusive, as he hits her twice and also starts to try to isolate her from her friends and family — worrying that they’ll “talk” about him — in a way that fits into the isolationist abusive partner trope.  But the issue is that the plot can’t seem to decide whether he’s primarily abusive because he hits her — and her her roommate before that — or because he’s controlling and isolating.  Everyone who tries to convince her to leave him does so on the basis that he’s hitting her and presents that as the great sin, and yet when Julia ultimately leaves him she says it’s because she felt that she was losing herself in the relationship, which certainly isn’t what you’d say if the big problem was that he was hitting her.  Also, at the end she goes to sit alone and then decides to move and sit with other people as if this is some kind of triumph for her, when she didn’t seem to be someone who just wanted to meet strangers and is someone that had made friends from the classes she was in.  Again, that works for an isolating plot but not for a hitting plot.

And they had a great way to resolve things for a hitting plot.  After the roommate confirms that the boyfriend had hit the roommate and was almost certainly hitting Julia, Charlie and Bailey run over to get her to leave him, and she gets all indignant on them — in a way that would suggest that she was defending him too much except that, well, that’s pretty much how she reacts to any such challenge — and forces them to leave.  Claudia had believed Griffen when he said that the boyfriend was hitting her and wanted something to be done, and was upset when they said that there was nothing they could do until Julia wanted to be helped.  Given that this is Claudia who doesn’t take such things as an answer, it would have made so much sense for her to go over and try to talk to Julia about it and end up in some way talking to the boyfriend who then would end up hitting her to get her to shut up.  This, then, could have clued Julia in to the fact that it’s not affecting only her and that he really has a problem that he can’t fix, and so she could have left for that, in a way that would shake up her monumentally self-absorbed personality by allowing her to make a major move based primarily on how it impacted someone other than herself.  But we can’t have that, so they went with this, and unfortunately this makes no sense, as again it’s presented as her thinking that the controlling and isolating behaviour is the big problem when really the big problem is that hitting thing.

The other main plot is an issue over Owen.  Now, throughout the entire season Charlie was, as usual, wrapped up in his own things which meant that Owen wasn’t getting any attention, and when Charlie runs off to chase down Daphne he stays with Bailey and Sara for a while.  As things like that went on, Owen’s teacher noticed that he might be having processing problems and so have a learning disability, and the description of it makes Bailey think that he could have had the same thing, making it personally.  However, it takes a lot of extra work to do which Bailey is willing to do and Charlie, at least at first, isn’t since he doesn’t think it makes sense.  So Bailey eventually decides that it would be better for Owen to stay with him than with Charlie, which of course pisses Charlie off.  The fighting escalates to the point where Bailey goes to court to get custody of Owen — after Owen breaks his arm learning to ride a back — which Bailey loses after an acrimonious battle.  And then in the same episode, I think, Charlie gets the idea that maybe Bailey is right and asks Owen to tell him if he wants something from Charlie, and I guess Owen said that he wanted to go live with Bailey, because he moves in with Bailey, even though Charlie is still mad at Bailey and Bailey wants to make up.

Again, we have two plot points here that don’t align very well, and would have worked so much better if they’d simply picked one and ran with it.  There’s really no reason here for Charlie to completely dismiss the teacher’s opinion about Owen having a learning disability, and there’s no reason to go to court over that since it seems like a compromise could have been worked out (Claudia was on Bailey’s side in this and likely could have done at least some of the work, making it easier on Charlie to do the rest, for example).  On the other hand, the reason that Charlie wasn’t doing it was because he didn’t seem to have any time for Owen, and that was the main reason for Bailey to get Owen to move in with them and, as he argued, let Charlie focus on the new baby.  If Owen needed attention, that would justify wanting him to move in with Bailey and the dramatic actions Bailey was taking to get him.

They should have picked one side and stuck with it.  They could easily have had Bailey feel that this was what he had and wish that he had known so that he could have gotten the help he needed, but have the tests from the school be vague or not ready and so Charlie was wondering if this was just because Bailey saw something that might have fit for him and so was interpreting this in that light, and so was risking making Owen do a lot of extra work that would be hard and wouldn’t be fun because of what he thought of himself.  This would work so much better, then, when Bailey shows the information to Kirsten and having her confirm it which would then convince Charlie — she actually studied that sort of thing and wasn’t biased except for wanting the best for Owen — and then they could conclude that the best person to help was Bailey and that the time commitment meant that Owen should stay with him.  On the other hand, they could also have easily have Bailey being concerned that Charlie wasn’t paying much attention to Owen — and Claudia — before the new baby and now with that and the new job Owen wasn’t getting the attention he needed and they had already had problems with Owen from that, and so pushing that Bailey could give him more attention and it would work out better for everyone, and then Charlie would be pushing back on the basis of his being the “father-figure” but eventually coming to realize that, yeah, it would probably be better for Owen to live with Bailey and, hopefully, that he’s more the brother-figure than the father-figure.  But the combination of the two makes little sense and makes things far more rancorous than they needed to be.

Of course, the show then does the really stupid thing of having the teacher note that Owen seems to think of his family as separated and so suggest that Owen seemed to be going through something akin to a divorce, which gets Sara and others to suggest that Bailey, Sara and Owen move back into the house, which Bailey resists at first but then agrees to, which makes Sara annoyed for … some reason.  Since she suggested it — even though she didn’t think it ideal — being mad at him over that made no sense and hits the personality traits that make her annoying (she’s good when she’s being nice and annoying when she’s being aggressively angry over things).  Also, it was far more likely that Owen was more upset that Bailey and Charlie seemed to be fighting than that he missed the house and wanted to have everyone live together, which would explain why he was so happy when Charlie and Bailey were doing things together with him.  But the most idiotic thing about this is that almost immediately afterwards … Charlie decides to move out and leave the house to Bailey, insisting that he had wanted to get out on his own for five years despite the fact that when Bailey brought that up against him in the hearing he was incredibly indignant at the suggestion.  And, of course, doing this completely defeats the purpose of having them move into the house in the first place, which is conveniently and completely forgotten.

There’s also a subplot where Bailey hires a new manager for the restaurant, they fight, they get caught in a blackout and are attracted to each other, they kiss once, and then they avoid each other, and then he gets overwhelmed and comes to her for understanding — they are both control freaks — and she wants to have a physical affair and he declines, and so she quits, and this is never mentioned again.  All of this is pointless and makes no sense, as she isn’t that pretty and things weren’t going that badly with Sara for him to be tempted to cheat, and about the only thing that could be tempting about her is the personality, which would have worked better if they had turned it into at least a good working relationship and what might have been a friendship, with her cutting it off because she had enough problems in her own life — no boyfriend or friends because of her control freak behaviour — and couldn’t handle having to deal with his as well (there could have been the undercurrent of attraction there as well making it more difficult).  This could have made a nice contrast to Charlie relying on Kirsten for that with Bailey looking for someone he could do that with as well and having to find another way.

There’s also another little subplot with Claudia getting a boyfriend who is a bit of a weird duck and a jerk and staying out late and changing her look, which bothers Bailey, which ticks off Claudia so much that she asks Charlie to ask Bailey to dial it back.  The problem here is that it comes out of nowhere and is inconsistent with how Charlie himself generally acted when he was actually paying attention.  They actually had the grains of a good idea here as when this starts Charlie lets her stay out late because he trusts her and Bailey first gets upset when she comes home later than she said she’d be.  There is an explicit point made where Claudia tosses the idea that he doesn’t trust her to Bailey’s face, which could have led to a great examination of whether Charlie really trusted her or if he simply knew that she could in general handle herself and was more relieved that she wasn’t one more thing he had to think about, which wouldn’t work for Bailey, and so we could have a debate over whether Bailey was being overprotective or whether Charlie just wasn’t paying enough attention and find a nice compromise that way.  Instead, it seems to end with her having a pager which doesn’t really seem to solve anything.

The season ends with Charlie and Bailey asking Kirsten and Sara, respectively, to marry them, and Kirsten initially at least asks for time to think while Sara says yes, but then later Kristen accepts and Sara demurs, which reasonably annoys Bailey but that he seems to come to terms with right at the end of the season, making it mostly pointless.

For all of its problems with its plots — and, as you can see, it has a lot of problems with its plots — and despite that two of the main characters are really annoying — Charlie, for being a self-centered ass most of the time, and Julia, for being completely self-absorbed — the show is still what I’d call “watchable”.  The performances are good, Bailey comes across the best out of all the characters because he seems to have at least a modicum of self-awareness and so understands when he screws up.  I also still do like Claudia as a character when they aren’t derailing her character and it is sad just how often she has had to be the voice of reason, even when she was younger.  Still, the show too often tries for drama! when normal drama could do and would even make things work a lot better than having two or more incredibly dramatic plots fighting for screen time.  Again, this one seems to be heading straight for my box of things to rewatch at some point, maybe.

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