Saturday, October 13, 2007

"You're a mean, competitive...rhymes with Mitch!": Men in Trees

After being strangely and unceremoniously yanked off the air last February only 18 episodes into their 22 episode order (to make room for the detestable October Road, of all things), Men in Trees finally returned on Friday with a new episode designed to reintroduce the characters and establish the dynamics of all the relationships in Elmo. Although they were mostly successful in this quest as new viewers were easily brought up to speed, for the long-time viewer it felt a little slow.

Employing a fairy tale book structure that didn't quite work, the episode began with Marin stranded on a mountain in the middle of an arctic cyclone while the rest of the town holed up at the Chieftain bar. Cutting to two days earlier to learn how Marin got there, we learn that handyman/boring man Cash took her to visit a "soul healer" who advised Marin to write her troubles on rocks, hike them up a mountain, and throw them off to unburden her soul. Convinced the cyclone is going to miss Elmo, they make the hike and unfortunately get stuck in the storm. When Jack learns of Marin's predicament, he immediately runs to save her despite fiance Lynn's protests. Seeing as Marin's the main character, his success or failure was never in question, so this story really just dragged along to its inevitable conclusion without generating any great interest. Yawn.

Despite this failure, many things about the episode still worked. The strength of this show is its quirky ensemble and the warmth and heart the writers and actors bring to each character, and putting the entire cast together in the Chieftain and letting them simply interact with each other for an hour was a great idea that totally worked.
This episode's main goal was to get some closure in the Marin/Jack relationship before Jack's impending nuptials to pregnant fiance Lynn, and although the methods were a little tired, the closure did feel earned with a nice scene between the two in the Chieftain kitchen. As always, though, it's the periphery characters that make the show, and Annie and Patrick's struggles over Annie's insane competitive nature, Mai and Buzz's fight over the circumstances of her mail-order bride selection, and Sara's acceptance of a loan from Ben and the complications that causes with Ben's wife Theresa that really round out the hour and bring the quirk we've come to love. The less said about the fart storyline, the better.

As much as the writers spin this as a show about the search for love, what this show is really about is community, as evidenced by things like the "Emergen-tree" storm warning system. Luckily for viewers, this is a community that is just plain pleasant to be invited to watch for an hour each week. Let's just hope ABC realizes what a cute little gem they have in this show and allow them to air without interruptions and time slot changes this year.

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