Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"I'm sorry, I'm too disfigured to listen.": Two weeks of Men in Trees

There's always a bit of danger with a quirky show that the quirks might take over the characters and render them utterly divorced from reality, consequently robbing them of any of the humanity that kept people invested in their stories. Men in Trees has always toed the quirky line, sometimes crossing it to the detriment of the series but always finding their way back to reality just in time. The past two episodes, a two-parter surrounding the events of Patrick and Annie's wedding, illustrates this seesaw perfectly. However, even after it rights the ship it still ends on a troubling note that puts a bit of a pall on what has been an otherwise good season thus far.

This two-parter was originally intended to be the season ender of season one and therefore it has a cliffhanger feel that, while probably welcomed in May, feels downright strange stuck in the middle of November sweeps. Most of the first episode was spent stacking the deck against Annie and Patrick so thoroughly that Annie would feel the need to go so far as to call of her wedding in order to stop all of these bad things from happening. In the process, every single person in Elmo acted so damn quirky and so damn out of character and events felt so damn contrived that I wondered if I had stumbled into a different, bizzaro version of the show.

Also prevalent in the first episode was the highly factually inaccurate story regarding wolves invading Elmo and boldly threatening its denizens. Wolves don't do that, writers. Cut it out. Anyway, these wolves were obviously just a metaphor for Marin's fear of abandonment now that Jack has decided to take a job on the Bering Sea. Marin was another person acting out of character in this episode, suddenly turning into the sort of annoying, whiny, wishy-washy woman that populates other ABC soaps when she complained to Jack about his leaving but then refused to ask him to stay. The only good thing that came out of this story at all was the use of Josh Ritter's "Wolves" in the final scene, and even that felt way too on the nose. At least it sounded good.

Yet another story that felt off in the first episode was Pastor Eric's decision to choose Sarah over his judgmental church, and then ignore all of the vows he believes in so much and do exactly what the church was afraid of and immediately fall in bed with her. His struggle with the duties of his faith versus his love for Sarah is an interesting tale to tell, but having him throw it all away so easily felt insulting to the character and far too simplistic. Why not have him struggle a bit longer? I always find stories of faith on television to be compelling when done with care, and this just felt careless. Eric regrets his actions, but in the end Sarah makes up with him by convincing him that God would not be angry at him for falling in love, which...kind of misses the point. It's not whether or not God would be angry with him, it's whether or not Eric can be comfortable within this life he's chosen for himself and the sacrifices that come with that life. Oh, well. Hugs and puppies for everyone!

The second episode was generally back on track, with Patrick and Annie making cute again, Marin and Jack putting their differences behind them to enjoy their last night together, and the quirk dialed down about ten notches. Still, the show wouldn't be the same if something quirky didn't happen and this episode's whimsical (if grim) touch was Patrick being struck by lightning right before he and Annie exchanged vows. All because Mario Cantone couldn't keep his bobby pins out of Patrick's hair. Damn you, Cantone!

This is where the real trouble starts. The consequences of Patrick's lightning strike to the noggin? Amnesia, of course! Is it just me, or is amnesia completely DONE this season? Heroes had hottie amnesiac Peter, The Young and the Restless just wrapped up a big amnesia storyline, and freaking Samantha Who? has amnesia built into its premise, for goodness sake. Maybe I'm the only person with the perfect storm of television watching habits to catch all of these programs, but there it is. I have amnesia fatigue. Amnesia apathy. An excess of amnesia in my life. I don't want a Men in Trees with amnesia in it, even though previews of Patrick learning how "lame" he was in the past hint this story is taking a decent turn in the future. It just feels lazy, that's all. The writers were always successful in writing Annie and Patrick as a happy couple in the past, and I don't see why they needed to resort to such a hackneyed story device to keep them interesting. We'll see. Perhaps it will be genius! After all, I do enjoy Samantha Who?.

Next week: Jack meets a new woman on his Bering Sea job. This story definitely would have benefited from the summer hiatus, methinks. I'm not quite ready for Jack to be flirting with someone else yet.

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