Season three’s crux is the “Surprise” and “A Mountain Town” two-parter. “Surprise” begins in-media-res. Amy looks sad. The house is dark, full of random folk, plus the Brown family and the Abbot family, waiting to surprise Ephram (because Julliard granted him an audition). Hannah’s in tears and unwilling to talk about her test results. Harold is eager to discuss a matter of importance with Andy. Once the teaser ends, the story returns to a week before the surprise story so that the viewers can see how the characters got to that place.
Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall posted a blog about the death of the stand-alone episode. Marvel’s Jessica Jones inspired the post. Sepinwall urged show runners not to forget about the stand-alone episode. The era of heavily serialized shows has created a blur effect. Episodes don’t stand apart. Each is connected. Without one, the narrative’s not whole. The emergence of cable dramas, streaming site dramas, and the premium channels changed the form and structure of television drama. Stand-alone, sometimes referred to as filler, episodes emerged in network dramas not as a choice but as a necessity. 26 episode seasons were normal in the 90s. The major networks continue giving shows 22 or 23 episode orders. None of the network dramas I regularly watch produces distinctive stand-alones. The Vampire Diaries works in three acts during a season—essentially three mini-seasons in a season. Not one Arrow episode stands out as an episode of network dramas of the past would (Buffy and ANGEL, or even Dawson’s Creek).
An old friend and I used to write a weekly humor series that we posted on various websites for friends to read. We were heavily from LOST, The X Files, relevant popular culture at the time, the pop-punk and independent music scene, as well as a little Charles Dickens. We wrote 22 little episodes between 2005 and 2006. We mostly wrote stand-alone silliness. Our main character got too high and wanders naked into the backyard of a home in Edgemont, PA! Our main character and his faithful friend, a dog named Puppers, wanted Wendy’s, but he didn’t have enough change. Him and Puppers walked the streets of Philly in search of loose change for a Wendy’s meal. We renewed ourselves for season two and stuck with the stand-alone silliness, but with more of our overarcing mythology involved. By season three, we started off silly, but we shifted hard into constant myth-centric narrative that wasn’t very good because it narrowed our fictional wonderland of characters. Writing our stand-alone episodes built and revealed the world moreso than our grandiose and nonsensical mythology. So it was with ANGEL, Buffy, and The X Files, and a number of other series in the 90s and early 2000s—even Everwood.
Season three of Everwood’s main arc is the slow, slow march to Ephram learning about his son in “Fate Accomplis.” It’s also about him and Amy experiencing normalcy, being in love, after two emotionally intense seasons. Andy accomplished what he wanted when he moved his family to Everwood after Julia’s death. If Everwood had 13 episodes for season three, the writers wouldn’t have a problem cutting the non-essential parts of the season. Andy and Amanda? If not cut, then significantly reduced to an episode or two episodes. Nina and Jake? I think that would’ve been reduced. My point is a shorter episode order would’ve narrowed the world of Everwood. I don’t think an Everwood in 2015 would’ve given us “The Perfect Day.”
Every time I watch “Surprise” and “A Mountain Town” I’m aware of the tonal shift of the writing. I noticed a difference between “Surprise” and everything between it and “Complex Guilt.” The two parter is what they wanted. I would not want a reduced Everwood season that expedited the major drama of the season, which is tearing asunder Ephram and Andy—and Ephram torching his hard-earned future. Aside from the Amanda-Andy atrocity, season three’s full of good moments, scenes, and stories that allows the viewer to transport to the fictional little town. It’s a world that would not be as complete and full if the writers focused much of the storytelling on the baby drama that really drains the season. If not for the late Rose’s cancer arc at the end of the season, I think Everwood would’ve been downright bad in season three.
“Surprise” is much better than “A Mountain Town.” Hannah learned that she won’t suffer the same agonizing death as her father, but she’s so blown away by it she can’t speak. Harold told Amy the truth about Madison. Emily Vancamp played it as a quiet shock. No histrionics or hysteria (it’s the opposite of Gregory Smith’s performance in #317 and #318). Rose becomes the catalyst for Bright to change his womanizing ways after a sexual harassment incident at work. Bright, so trapped in uninspired stories in season three until Hannah colors his world in “The Perfect Day”, begins apologizing to the women he wronged, thereby becoming the man he thinks Hannah deserves. And the Andy-Amanda affair finally ends! Ephram barely appeared in the episode, as well. He’s going to be a drag.
#316-“A Mountain Town”
One understands the episode’s importance upon hearing Irv’s narration, the first of season three (and the last of the series, I think). The narration’s from his book. In his book, he paralleled his life with The Doctor’s, and he also contrasted their lives. Season four has an episode in which Andy reacts to the contents of the book. The production moved to New York City for the episode. Ephram won’t find out about the baby until the next episode, which makes his open desire for his Dad and Delia to be part of his future in New York for his Julliard education heartbreaking for the viewer and Andy. I don’t particularly like “A Mountain Town.” It’s a bad kind of deliberate. Ephram could’ve told Andy he wanted him in his life at any point in the season, but the writers waited to maximize the drama of the baby fallout. It’s their last decent conversation until season four. Greg Berlanti, though not involved daily in season three, has a fatal flaw in his writing: soap opera melodrama. Arrow has some strengths, but its weakness is contrived melodrama. Berlanti pitched the Madison/Andy baby nonsense before he stopped running the show, which left Rina Mimoun with a pile of shit to work with in season three. Madison was a terrible character. She should’ve gone the way of Tommy in season two. She was a bad idea the writers wouldn’t let go of because, I assume, they loved Sarah Lancaster. I don’t like the melodramatic-as-General-Hospital Madison/Andy scene. I don’t like her running into Ephram Manhattan on a weekday afternoon. The A story is a contrived, soapy, and melodramatic mistake. Season four basically drops it. If The CW brought it back for season five, Berlanti would’ve forced Madison and all the bad melodramatic ideas back into the show. The audience had to wait 2 months for the Ephram/Madison conversation in the café. The writers couldn’t blow everything to shit with the shittiest idea in the series.
What else happens? The stories in Everwood are of the vignette kind. Bright continued atoning for his past. Amy told him how’ll he know when he genuinely loves someone and wants to settle down with her, which foreshadows his crush on Hannah. Edna and Irv reunited. Irv finished his book. The episode closed with an oft-quoted Everwood line: “I look towards the doctor, and I can hope to hope.” (I may’ve missed the accuracy of the line). I don’t like that line either. I expected more from Irv’s narration. I understand the line—it is rooted in the heart of the series—but I don’t like it. It’s written for specifically for the impending Andy/Ephram drama. And, well, I’m going to continue rambling and repeating myself if I don’t stop writing here.