Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The 2011 Summer Re-watch: Everwood "Friendly Fire" Review

NOTE: I had to switch Everwood and Dawson's Creek around this week. Next week, Everwood will be back to Thursdays and Dawson's Creek to Tuesdays.

In the third episode of the first season, the writers dealt with the issue of surrogate pregnancy. The formula for Everwood usually involved a hot button medical issue for one or both of Everwood's doctors. As a family-drama, Greg Berlanti and his writers needed to tell these kinds of stories because (as the thought goes) families watched family-dramas together and discussed what the episode and its message. Whereas its lead-in, 7th Heaven, never had any place for gray areas in the issues they presented in their episodes, Everwood makes a conscious effort to portray both sides equally and with only the bias of their characters--it helps that both doctors at the center of these hot button medical topics and issues possess deep intellect and sound reason. Any argument benefits from the presence of rational, level-headed thinkers; however, it's difficult to reason with the conservative citizens of Everwood who feel comfortable with their belief system and ethics.

The writers were wise to choose Nina as the first character to build the story of "Friendly Fire" around. She's a visible presence in the town because she works at everyone's favorite diner, Mama Joy's. She's Andy's next door neighbor, who sympathized and empathized with Andy's circumstances without passing judgment on the man like so many residents of Everwood did at the Fall Thaw. The woman's pregnant and she'll give birth soon. Brenda Baxworth, Edna and other women of Everwood throw Nina a baby shower. The enthusiasm of the ladies disappears when Nina reveals that she's a surrogate. Soon, Brenda's advising the entire town to donate money to Nina so she can keep the baby. When Nina announces that she's not interested in charity, or keeping the baby, Dr. Abbott gives his two cents on the issue. The conservative doctor sympathizes with the town's concerns over someone who uses medical technology to play God, who uses their money to pay less privileged people undisclosed sums of cash to carry that child to full term. If Nina felt confident in her decision, Harold argues, then why did she keep the matter a secret from her friends, doctors and neighbors who invested themselves in the child and who had the right to know. Andy counters Harold by arguing that technology cuts both ways. The same technology that makes surrogate pregnancy possible also makes ultrasounds and amniocentesis possible, which allows doctors to improve the life as well as save the life of a newborn. And Andy understands Nina's reluctance to inform the town considering the town's doctor just assassinated her character in front of her friends and neighbors.

The series only presents both sides of the argument without taking a side. The issue becomes more controversial when the town learns the mother-to-be is 55 years old. Andy, once again, defends Nina by revealing her motivations for being a surrogate: she needed the money because she wants her husband home more. If the money can help pay off loans then Carl might be more inclined to remain home. Andy crossed the line. Nina storms off. Harold grins and decides to eat his lunch in Mama Joy's, after all. And then, the issue disappears. The next time Andy sees Nina, she's in labor then she gives birth. Sure she was mad at Andy but one assumes she moved past it because the two never have an apology-forgiveness scene. The revelation that Nina made the choice for personal reason basically ends the argument. She doesn't care about what the residents think as long as she gets her husband home. The scene when she tells Andy's effective because her last line connects the two single parents--neither wanted it, and Andy identifies with someone who just wants her spouse back. Scenes like that one make Everwood a rich family-drama.

Andy brings Ephram along to assist in the delivery of the baby. The trio won't make it to the hospital in time so Andy uses a donut shop. Andy successfully delivers the baby, and Ephram has new admiration and respect for his father. Later, Ephram wonders how Nina could've parted ways with a baby she carried for the past nine months. Ephram doesn't think he could hand over his baby to someone (some foreshadowing right there). Andy opines that it's someone else's gain, not someone else's loss. Ephram worries about the child, how young he'll be when his mom's a senior citizen. Andy, again, opines that the mother could live until 100--the kid could be luckier than Ephram. Father and son haven't had a peaceful conversation since the series premiered. The two will have many more fights, bitter disagreements. Ephram will continue to miss his mother, and define his father through his memories of how perfect his mother was. It's nice, though, to have a scene where the two aren't at one another's throats.

I'd be remiss if I glossed over Andy and Nina's argument because their brief fight's part of the theme of "Friendly Fire." The Brown family has difficult with their friends, or a person they want as their friend. In the case of Andy and Nina, both adults possess the maturity to overcome their brief fight. Their fight's a non-issue. In contrast to their friendship is Ephram and Amy's, who must overcome peer pressure and high school culture to have a honest friendship that won't hurt either one's feelings. Amy hurts Ephram's feelings, though, when her friends dis-invite him to a party and she doesn't bother standing up for him as Kayla and Paige humiliate him. Their friendship borders on something more though, which adds more complexity and confusion. The disinvite wouldn't hurt Ephram as much if he didn't love the girl but he does. Like the majority of teenagers, they yell and criticize one another rather than handle the situation like adults because they're teenagers. Amy and Ephram make up by the end of the episode after a refreshing dose of honest from Amy, in which she admits that Ephram scares her because she cares a lot about him. Their friendship won't be a smooth ride. They'll hurt each other. Colin Hart won't be in a coma forever either.

Little Delia tries to find a friend in her class because she's lonely and has no one to eat lunch with. Magilla, the school bully, becomes her friend. The road to their friendship's complicated. Delia let him take stuff from her because she thought he'd want to be her friend. Eventually, she's honest and tells Magilla that she thinks he needs a friend as much as she does. That night, Magilla calls her.

Through three episodes of Everwood, the strength of the series is in its honest storytelling and its respect for the characters. The teenagers are treated like people. The issue of surrogate pregnancy's handled honestly and without bias. The show's conviction in its story, its choices and its character makes the show special and unique. During its original airing, when it follow 7th Heaven, Everwood was a breath of fresh air.

Some other thoughts:

-I rarely write about the actors and I don't know why. Regardless of the TV show, I barely write about actors even though they're important to the quality of the series. Writing, after all, only takes a series so far. Emily Vancamp's among my favorite actresses. The girl's talent is immense. "Friendly Fire" is a particularly strong episode for her. For instance, her scene when Ephram chickens out from asking her out on a date--Emily's facial expressions convey everything Amy's thinking and feeling. She looks flattered, expectant, maybe excited without the slightest hint of dread or fear that Ephram wants to ask her out. Essentially, her reaction's the complete opposite of the girls I liked and told while in high school. In another scene, when she apologizes to Ephram, her worried expression that conveys self-doubt and hesitance says it all. I have no idea what the words on the page of the script read but it takes talent to convey emotions written on a page. I think Emily benefitted from being the same age as her character (me and her could date, theoretically, since we're the same age). Her body language reminds me of the girls I knew in high school.

-My favorite scene in the episode exists outside of the A, B and C stories. A patient of Andy's insists that he take his boat, the Sea Breeze, out for an afternoon. Andy decides to take the boat out. Of course, when he sees the boat, it's a decaying big piece of wood. Soon, he's in the middle of the lake with no sea and no breeze. The boat begins to leak in several areas. In a fit of frustration, Andy yells to the heavens and his wife about his decision to move to Everwood--she didn't know the town nor the people because she didn't get past the gift shop. I can't blame Andy for getting his frustrations out, especially after his dealings with conservative Everwood. The scene works because it blends humor and honest emotion. It begins comically, as Andy's boat turns on him before Andy's bottled-up thoughts are uncorked.

-"Friendly Fire" introduces the enigmatic character of Wendell, who I wrote about in November when I wrote about "A Thanksgiving Tale." The teen has a vested interest in Ephram's romantic pursuit of Amy Abbott. Apparently, he gets a DVD out of the whole deal. Somehow, he learned that Ephram's a classically trained pianist. Wendell gave Ephram the opportunity play piano for the Everwood Swans, a ballerina group Amy dances in. He calls Ephram and offers only one sentence of instruction before hanging up. Wendell's one my favorite character, who disappears without mention midway through season one. If someone granted me access to a Green Lantern conference call, I'd only ask Berlanti questions about Wendell.

-Amy receives advice from her grandma, Edna, about Ephram. The best part of the scene is, when Edna tells Amy it's not easy to love someone when the entire town's telling you not to as she looks at Irv, who tries to carry three ice cream sundaes to the table. It's very sweet.

-Oliver Goldstick wrote the episode. Goldstick wrote two Everwood episodes and served as a consulting producer for a stretch of time. He's a TV veteran who once wrote for Coach. He now makes a living writing for Pretty Little Liars.

-Danny Leiner directed the episode. His next job as "Friendly Fire"? Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. He also directed Dude, Where's My Car? and various episodes of television that include Freaks and Geeks, Arrested Development, Felicity, The Tick and some other episodes of various TV shows.

UP NEXT: "The Kissing Bridge." An STD's going around the high school, so Andy and Harold are brought in for some sex education. Meanwhile, Edna has a personal attachment to the doomed Everwood kissing bridge. Watch it here:


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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.