Friday, February 15, 2008

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "Bachelorette Party"

Brief spoilers for the "Bachelorette Party" episode of "Cupid" coming up just as soon as I enjoy some chicken soup...

As Rob Thomas said in the review for "Hung Jury," that episode and this one were the chief victims of the sudden ouster of writer/producers Jeff Reno and Ron Osborn, as Rob and the remaining writers had to scramble to put together episodes that would have been Reno and Osborn's responsibility. The slapped-together quality was more blatant with "Hung Jury" -- "Bachelorette Party" is definitely a better episode -- but you can see how the rush hurt this one as well.

One of the cardinal rules of writing is "show, don't tell," but "Bachelorette Party" flows in the opposite direction at every turn. The characters -- most of them friends of Claire who have known her since high school -- spend the entire hour arguing about events that happened days, weeks or even years before the episode took place, whether it's the affair that Claire's friend's fiance is having with her other friend, or the grudges that the entire clique still hold from their teenage years. And unlike in "First Loves," we don't even get flashbacks to any of these events. The rhythm is constantly exposition/exposition/fight, and while the performances by Piven, Marshall and some of the guest stars are fine, it's very hard to get invested in any of this.

The idea of female friends holding onto the same misconceptions and beefs over 15 years and more isn't a bad one -- there are moments at the bachelorette party where I buy into these long-lasting friendships -- but it really calls for an episode with a wildly different structure than we get here, something that doesn't take place entirely in the present and deal entirely with the past. If Thomas and company had more time to craft the script, to build more sets (virtually all the action takes place at Taggerty's or Claire's apartment), maybe to hire actors to play the high school/college versions of Claire and her friends, they could have done something really interesting with the basic premise, but the quick and dirty version doesn't work.

That said, the scenes near the end -- Claire on the train with Heather and, especially, Claire, Trevor and Joanne at Taggerty's -- feature some nice performances by the actors involved. I just wish they didn't have to do so much heavy lifting.

I don't have much else to say about this one -- Trevor's first experience with sickness and Champ's fear of exposing himself on stage were amusing distractions -- so it's time for Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator (past and, maybe, future) Rob Thomas offers his own take on each episode -- which in this case is as brief as mine:
I can't say much about "Bachelorette Party" as I've tried to completely block this episode out of my mind. As I've jotted down my commentary on the previous episodes, I've screened them in the background in order to jog my memory a bit. With this particular episode I'm not even willing to do that. Why revisit the trauma?

Here's my macro problem with the episode. None of the women come off well. Now with the guest stars, this is something of a problem, but the episode also reflected badly on Claire, which was a primary concern. I always wanted Claire to be tightly-wound. Early in the season, I think we dialed up that aspect of her personality too much, but I thought we'd found the right balance at this point in the season. This episode set us back again. It was almost guilt by association. Interestingly, as I recall, the modeling for this episode was the Rosalind Russell/Joan Crawford/Norma Shearer movie, THE WOMEN. We missed the mark wildly.
Coming up next: I'm taking most of next week off, which means you have an extra week to watch the penultimate episode, "The Children's Hour," featuring an all growns up Tiffani-Amber Thiessen. You can see it here, here, here, here and here. We'll talk about it a week from Tuesday, on the 26th.

What did everybody else think?


Alan Sepinwall said...

Boy, everyone's as disinterested in this one as Rob and I were, huh?

Unknown said...

Heh. I actually thought it was better than everyone else thought (really. the jury one was bad). And even if it's pretty tell-not-show and high-school-bitchy, at least some good points were made in it, and it dealt with a character with the "slut" reputation (and the characters in the "perfect relationship") fairly and well.

Anonymous said...

This wasn’t one of my favorites, but it wasn’t totally horrible either. I think you’re right about the “show, don’t tell” problems. When I was first trying to watch, I couldn’t get segment #1 to launch, so I just jumped in at #2 – I figured I had missed all the scenes the characters were talking about (Trevor seeing the cheating couple, flashbacks from Claire’s high school days).

The biggest issues for me were:
1) Claire and her friends really did sound like children when they were picking on “the other woman” and even interacting with each other during the bachelorette party. (They reminded me of a mob from a Mark Twain novel) They didn’t seem like real, adult women. For an episode that could have allowed us to learn more about Claire’s past and give her some depth, instead she and her friends just seemed icky and annoying to me.
2) The episode seemed to try to make the viewers sympathize with a man who was actively slinking away to be with another woman in the weeks before his wedding. Again, icky and annoying.

The line about Claire always going for the Greek god types was, however, pretty funny (as was Trevor’s reaction).

Anonymous said...

OK, I have to be nice about this episode for the sake of Scott Atkinson (who plays Ben). You see, I went to college with Scott. I didn't really know him, but I was dating someone who was active in theater with him. I remember Scott as a hilarious Doctor in Moliere's The Doctor In Spite of Himself. I remember him as an outrageous Richard Henry Lee in 1776. But mostly I remember him standing up for me when my boyfriend made fun of the dreadful play I had gotten involved with. You see, my friends and I made the mistake of trying out for a play that the theater regulars were smart enough to avoid, and of course we all got parts. When my boyfriend was teasing me, Scott was nearby and said something nice about my performance, but said it in a way that sounded like he didn't know it was me. I've always remembered that kindness, and I'm glad to see his lengthy list of credits on IMDB.

This episode was the first time I spotted Scott's name in a show's credits. I remember how excited I was when he appeared on screen, confirming that yes, it was the same Scott. So I'll just focus on the things I liked about this episode. (grin)

Love Trevor's reaction to the experience of sneezing. You'd think after his hangover a couple of episodes ago that he'd realize he is vulnerable to such mortal ailments, but of course, he's not dealing with the reality of his situation very well. Love him being a baby about his illness.

Love Trevor's idea to get Champ over his fear of nudity by being the party's stripper. I howled at Champ's humiliation when he shows up in all his glory at exactly the wrong moment. Watch him sitting in the background through the next scene, sheepish, cape wrapped around him. And that little grin when one of the girls says that they would be "shooting kamikazes and objectifying that glorious man."

I do like that they cast the slutty girl in a sympathetic light.

There's an interesting idea underneath here: the contrast between what we want to do and what we're supposed to do. There are the girls you sleep with and the girls you marry. Heather's the girl you sleep with, and Ben, after a long time of stalling, proposed to the girl he's supposed to marry. Except that he is genuinely in love with the slutty girl. Trevor and Claire's argument about which of the two kinds of love is better is very interesting.

Yes, it would have been better if they had built the story in action and flashbacks instead of dialog. The business with Trevor and Heather talking in the background, when you have absolutely no idea what's going on, was particularly grating. But there's plenty of good stuff in here.

afoglia said...

"Boy, everyone's as disinterested in this one as Rob and I were, huh?"

Or some of us just fell two weeks behind. Just caught this episode tonight, and you hit the nail on the head. (Except there was no scene at Claire's apartment; there was one at her office, and one at Trevor's apartment.)

"The business with Trevor and Heather talking in the background, when you have absolutely no idea what's going on, was particularly grating."

Maybe I subconsciously remembered it from the original airing, but from the uncomfortable meeting of Trevor and the groom, I already figured out he was cheating and Trevor knew. I didn't figure out it was with Heather till the second time Trevor talked to her.

This episode didn't just suffer from being set in the present, but also being set almost entirely in the bar. I think more scenes over a few days, at different locations, might have improved things. The couple of the week had only a few minutes of screen time together. We had no idea whom the groom preferred till the end. I think some doubt would have helped.

But maybe this was a story about grudges between friends, in which case you were right.

I did wonder a few times why Heather even bothered to attend the wedding/bachelorette party. She seemed to hold these people in little more than contempt. Why would she continue to be friends with people she thinks doesn't like her? Or maybe it was just feeling cranky because her love was marrying someone else? The writing is never quite clear.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this isn't one of the show's better episodes. However, my recollection from watching the show when it aired on ABC was that none of the episodes were unwatchable, and that is holding true as I rewatch the show on Youtube.

Alan Sepinwall said...

(Except there was no scene at Claire's apartment; there was one at her office, and one at Trevor's apartment.)

I'm pretty sure the scene where Joanne and Ben reminisce about how Claire fixed them up takes place in Claire's living room, but I suppose it could be her office. Either way, it's a standing set that didn't have to be built on a tight schedule.

Christy said...

I liked this episode! I came eagerly to discuss it and then read what you and everyone wrote. Yes, I agree with all your points, but still, it worked for me. My own baggage filled in the inadequacies of the script.

Anonymous said...

I liked this episode, too. What really worked for me was Trevor: he's a hero, he really is. Yes, he's a "hero of love," but in this episode he's really the voice of honesty, prompting people to reflect on their feelings without doing something outrageous or over the top. He causes the drama, but really it's about prodding the three characters to be honest with themselves.

I also thought there was some resonance in the whole idea of these people receding back to high school instead of dealing with the present day. So easy to do. Yes, it could have been handled better, but still, I liked that approach.

Rob's right, Claire doesn't come off well. But some of that is Claire's role as a facilitator -- she's always portrayed as putting her head down and Doing The Right Thing regardless of it obviously not being right anymore, and that's what she does here. She's following the script for what she's expected to do. It takes her ride on the El for her really to break through.