Thursday, May 19, 2011

The 2011 Summer Rewatch: Everwood "Pilot" Review

I watched the pilot episode of Everwood on a Sunday night in September 2002, six days after its official premiere on TheWB Monday. Why? I don't recall. TheWB aired promos for the show throughout the summer. I was drawn in by the promos--it was something about the small-town mountain town. I remember sitting around on a Sunday night with nothing to watch. For whatever reason, I ignored the Monday premiere. In those days, TheWB aired repeats of their popular shows on Sunday nights. Everwood received many positive reviews from critics. The network, I think, wanted to air the first episode again before the second episode aired the following night because of the great response. The pilot captured and engaged me like no other television show. As a sixteen year old who preferred movies, Everwood showed how good television could be. I remember the scenes that I watched with a lump in my throat because that lump returns every time I watch the series.

Everwood follows the Brown family after they move from Manhattan to a small mountain town in Colorado called Everwood. The family moves shortly following the death of Julia Brown, Andy Brown's wife and Ephram and Delia's mother. Her death changed her husband's life forever. A renowned neurosurgeon in Manhattan, Andy gave it all away to prove that he can be the father he never was while his wife lived. His decision to leave Manhattan neurosurgery for a small town that's ceased being a destination had everyone scratching their heads, thinking that Doctor Brown went a little crazy. Andy's not crazy, though. A long time ago, he made a promise to someone to be in Everwood, to give medical miracles to the small town folk.

The decision to move further strains Andy's relationship with his son, Ephram. He doesn't understand the reason for the move and he has over ten years of resentment built up towards his father because of the many times Andy missed something special in his life because of his job. Ephram doesn't understand his father, but he tries to. He tells Amy that he knows his father saved many lives when he missed birthday parties and recitals but that truth doesn't lessen the sting. Ephram's emotions are complicated and so is the relationship. Likewise, Andy doesn't understand his son nor does he know how to relate to him. He remembers Julia advising him to ask a simple question like 'how was your day?' Andy has to talk with him, rather than at him. Their relationship's evolution continues throughout the series, so there's plenty of time to write about it. I won't leave out the iconic scene between the two when both wish death upon the other. The emotion, anger and resentment's visceral. It's the scene that showed how special the series would be.

What most interests me about the "Pilot' is the meditation on the process of moving on and letting go following the death of one's spouse and one's parent. The theme carries on throughout the first season of the series, but no other episode captures the grief and sadness quite like the first one. The wounds are still fresh and open. Life in Everwood picks up 8 months following her death. I recently lost my father. I know the sadness I feel currently won't disappear at the 8 month mark or in 8 years. The saddest, most emotional moments of the episode involve Andy talking about his wife or remembering moments from his life with her. I think of the scene when the police informed Andy of her death, of the beautiful, haunting image of Andy bowing his head and leaning on the wall. Andy finds his new office, the old Everwood train station, after he follows the scent of Julia's favorite perfume. Every year for Christmas, he bought the perfume for her, but the fragrance made it difficult to hide. He follows the scent to the broken down station, where Brenda Baxworth tells him that trains were re-routed to Central City because Everwood's ceased being a destintion. "Not to everyone," Dr. Brown replies.

The scene becomes more meaningful when we learn why Andy moved his family to Everwood, Colorado. Several years ago, he and his wife had a conversation about Everwood. Julia and her parents stayed a night in Everwood because the train they rode through the state (most likely the California Zephyr) couldn't move through a snowstorm. Julia described Everwood as the beautiful place she'd ever seen. She told Andy she imagined heaven looked like Everwood. She told her husband that Everwood's where she'll be when she dies. Andy, with tears in his eyes, promised his wife that he'll be there too, and he looks at his wife as if for the last time. The scene's heartbreaking in its honesty in showing how much Andy misses his wife. I find myself, sometimes, whispering quietly my intentions to be at my father's favorite part of the beach in Delaware. Delia worried about her father. She watched her father speak to air and, later, dance with it. She told Irv (Edna's husband and the narrator of the series) that she thinks her dad's sick. Irv confirms that he is sick--with a distraught heart. Delia, more wise after Irv diagnoses what ails her father, told Andy that she knows he's suffering from a distraught heart, in one the most dust-inducing scenes in the series. In another scene with his neighbor, Nina, Andy tells her that he moved to Everwood to prove to his wife that he could be the kind of doctor and father she wanted him to be. Maybe it makes him crazy. Nina tells Andy, "if that's crazy then I hope my own insanity isn't far away." Andy's profound sense of loss, the different dynamics he has with each child, his soulful mission to be with the spirit of his wife while fixing the broken relationship with his son, is the heart of Everwood.

Pilots are among the toughest scripts to write in the industry because the script needs to accomplish so much in under 70 pages. Greg Berlanti needed to establish his main character and the rest of the core characters, build the world without overwhelming the audience, set up various arcs for different characters, create an episode "template" to show how the series will continue as a weekly episodic television series and communicate the show's tone, hook the viewers with the brilliant beats. If Everwood isn't the best Pilot in TV history, it's certainly in the top five or top ten because it's brilliantly simplistic, clear, communicable in its execution, but it contains tremendous depth. The significant character and arc beats are simple yet engaging, meaningful and full of conflict.

For instance, the other doctor in town is Dr. Harold Abbott. For decades, Everwood had one doctor until Andy moved into town. Now, two doctors compete. Harold's mother, Edna, works for the rival doctor because bad blood exists between the her and her son following her quick remarriage to Irv after the death of her husband and his father. Harold's also the father of Amy and Bright Abbott. Amy flirts with Ephram because she wants his father to perform surgery on her comatose boyfriend, Colin Hart, and Ephram falls in love with her. During the 4th of July, Colin stole his father's key so he and Bright could take a joyride. The joyride ended in an accident and Bright doesn't remember anything. The stories come from the Brown and Abbott families. The first season of Everwood's insular but universal, tender, warm, and familiar. The heart of the heart of ourselves.

In the weeks ahead, I'll dive more into the other arcs and stories of the first season. The friendship between Amy and Ephram, as well as the evolution of their relationship, is among my favorite in television. The dynamic between Harold and Andy is terrific. The family dynamics in the Abbott household is heartwarming and wonderful. The future arc with Colin Hart is outstanding. I'd write more about the Pilot but I must stop writing now. Join me next Thursday when I re-visit "The Great Doctor Brown."

Greg Berlanti wrote the episode. Mark Piznarski directed it.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.