Nothing sets off my bullshit
detector quicker than a "hit" show that
hasn't even been on the fucking air yet -- like Felicity,
whose pre-premiere commercials declared it "the season's
biggest hit" or some such nonsense. Excuse me, but in my
dictionary, a "hit" is defined as "something that
has been successful." The WB, however, apparently has its
own vocab. First the overhyped Dawson's
Creek, now the overhyped Felicity, which invites
comparisons to watercooler shows like Ally McBeal and
Beverly Hills 90210. At least Buffy
was a genuine WB hit, a slow starter whose fan base snowballed
into an X-Files level of worship. But Felicity
is what my dictionary defines as "a marketing hit"
-- something that's referred to as a hit before it becomes a
hit, and becomes a hit because it's been referred to as a hit.
Which sums up Hollywood in a nutshell.
All of this is on my mind instead
of the show itself, which is a bad sign for the show. Felicity
isn't as self-conscious or grating as Dawson's Creek,
but then few shows are. Neither is it especially compelling.
I'm not sure why we're supposed to care about Felicity Porter
(Keri Russell), an honors high-school grad who travels 3,000
miles to go to the same New York college attended by some guy
she barely knows but is smitten with. Are we supposed to find
this romantic and endearing? Sounds like a stalker to me.
Turns out, of course, that
Felicity isn't just there to pine for her crush (Scott Speedman),
who in any case is going out with someone else. No, she's on
a journey of self-discovery. Her rich parents wanted her to go
to an approved university to follow Dad's footsteps in medicine;
she'd rather stay in New York, see what the snow looks like in
the city (probably pretty gross: it's a city), and maybe
get serious about her hobby as an artist. This sort of new beginning
usually has more weight when it's a fortysomething woman starting
over after a divorce. There's something depressing in the idea
of an 18-year-old working on building a self two weeks into her
first semester. Felicity seems like the sort of sweet, nice,
conscientious kid the mass audience will be comfortable with.
The press seems to be as smitten
with Keri Russell as Felicity is with her dream guy. It's hard
to assess her talent on the basis of this role; if this actress
has any edges, they've been sanded down here. Russell is cute
and fumbly in a way that's supposed to tug at your affection,
but to me, in the pilot episode, she's just a good-natured blur.
The rest of the cast, including Scott Foley as a dorm adviser
who's warm for Felicity's form and the perpetually unhappy-looking
Amy Jo Johnson as Felicity's new friend, didn't particularly
jump out at me as talents to watch. Janeane Garofalo is heard
but not seen as Felicity's former French tutor -- they mail audiotaped
letters to each other -- and the snap and experience in her voice
puts her in-the-flesh castmates to shame.
Felicity might get half a point of good will
if it had been created by a woman looking back fondly on her
college days; it'd still be sappy, but such nostalgia is forgivable.
But the show is actually the brainchild of a few wishful-thinking
guys. Ron Howard is among the producers, who also include J.J.
Abrams (who wrote the pilot) and Matt Reeves (who directed it).
If the latter two names don't ring a bell, Abrams was one of
many cooks spoiling the overheated broth of Armageddon;
in a previous stage in his career, he was Jeffrey Abrams, writer
of the cloying Regarding Henry. Reeves, meanwhile, directed
the weirdly dark-toned David Schwimmer flop The Pallbearer,
and his work on Felicity has a similar static gloominess,
as if he thought he were interpreting Eugene O'Neill. So Felicity
is a male ideal of a young heroine: smart, but not brilliant
enough to scare off the audience; independent in a fuzzily abstract
way; apparently virginal and uninterested in parties, beer, drugs,
or anything that might upset Ron Howard. Then again, the show
is young: we may yet see Very Special Episodes in which Felicity
smokes her first spliff and buys her first condoms.
The bottom line with Felicity,
as with any show, is: (A) Do I want to spend one hour a week
with these people, and (B) do I care about the themes and conflicts
established in the pilot? Dawson's Creek flunked this
test with me, and so does Felicity, with its crippling
good taste and its utter lack of understanding of what makes
good TV drama. It's a very delicate flower, this show, and though
the delicateness could conceivably work for it, I don't think
it does. (It looks especially anemic airing right after Buffy.)
Romantic yearning, freshman jitters, a young woman's search for
identity -- all perfectly valid issues, if only they weren't
used in such a synthetic attempt to snuggle into our hearts.
And do we really want to watch Felicity deal with her feelings
for the inaccessible stud over an entire season or beyond? I
don't. And I won't.