Image B Sound B+ Commentary A-
"Pilot", "The Last Stand", "Hot Objects", "Boggled", "Spooked", "Cheating", "Drawing the Line Part 1", "Drawing the Line Part 2", "Thanksgiving", "Finally", "Gimme an O!", "Friends," "Todd Mulcahy Part 1", "Todd Mulcahy Part 2", "Love and Marriage", "The Fugue", "Assassins", "Happy Birthday", "Docuventary", "Connections", "The Force", "Felicity Was Here"
by Bill Chambers
"Starring Golden Globe Award-winning actress Keri Russell and today's hottest young stars, Felicity introduces us to a wide-eyed college freshman and the most exhilarating journey of all--self-discovery. From co-creators and executive producers J.J. Abrams (Alias) and Matt Reeves, along with executive producer Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Tony Krantz, comes to Felicity, which explores the excitement and uncertainty of living in New York City--a setting where anything goes and anything can happen."
--DVD liner summary for "Felicity: The Complete First Season"
I had what I consider a pretty good excuse to watch the well-hyped pilot of "Felicity", a show that is not necessarily mine to judge: A year before, I directed co-star Scott Speedman in a short film--I like to keep track of the Ursa Major alumni. But, and the name-dropping/bean-spilling ends after this indulgence, Scott does not belong on a teen soap, per se--as far as my experience with him goes, the format is too rigid for his improvisational methods, which happened to lean towards the profane. It was a bit like observing a caged tiger throughout "Felicity"'s run, though I'd bet my bottom dollar that the first time his character, Ben Covington, called someone a "dick," it was unscripted. The moment sparkles.
"Felicity" hooked me rather arbitrarily. Perhaps, as I'd just graduated from university, it was a teensy bit of escapist clinging; I don't want to overanalyze my inclination to stick with the show, but by the same token I don't want to give it too much credit--it's watchable in the way that, if it were food, you'd describe it as "edible," especially early on. The second episode, for example, is pure drivel, a water-treading hour in which the title heroine officially convinces her parents (Erich Anderson and Eve Gordon) that she belongs in New York after having transferred there (abandoning plans to attend Stanford) on a whim in order to stalk Ben, the most popular guy from high school. Trouble is, she'd already laid her cards out on the table for mommy and daddy in the pilot, or so we thought.
There's little levity to the show in its first season--the glumness, I concede, deftly handled by Keri Russell, her performance maturing the most convincingly of all the actors in the cast. What humour there is seems targeted at the less sophisticated members of the audience: a gay coffeehouse manager named Javier (Ian Gomez)--which means, of course, that he has a precious foreign accent to go with his homosexuality; Meghan (Amanda Foreman), Felicity's goth roommate--while Foreman avoids caricature, the writers don't, saddling scenes with her with punchlines like, "Would you mind putting your skulls away?"; and an allergic reaction that coincides with midterms. Javier and Meghan would return in subsequent seasons and the japing wouldn't get any more piquant, but at least they took on lives of their own and ceased to be used solely for comic relief.
Which is not to say the unintentional laughs don't come fast and furious. Episodes 1.6 and 1.7, "Drawing the Line," parts one and two (the debut season was fond of two-parters, despite the precept of the show as a continuum), provoke a sort of mirthless chuckle over the show playing the date-rape card so early. Keep a checklist of Very Special Episode-isms handy and I bet you'll have ticked off each and every one of them by the heavy-handed cliff-hanger (1.21, "Felicity Was Here"--note that the pilot has not been assigned a number), right down to the lessons in cheating (both on a test and on a companion), safe-sex (pregnancy scares were held off until later seasons, mind you), gambling, and marrying someone for a green card. May twenty-first century angst bring with it a fresh set of social ills!
"Felicity: The Complete First Season" arrives on DVD with at least one brilliant hour that eases the burden of many others in the set. In the deliciously unpleasant "Todd Mulcahy, Part 1" (the second half is ludicrously sentimental, but never mind that), Felicity meets her match: a childhood crush who shows up at her dorm to obsess over her in much the same fashion that she does Ben. Before long, he has ingratiated himself in Felicity's inner circle, going so far as to befriend her boyfriend temp Noel (Scott Foley). The double-standard of the show is that it perceives him, Todd Mulcahy (played with desperate edge by Stephen Berra), as a threat while Felicity's fixation on Ben is forever portrayed as a baby-step towards independence, but that shouldn't inhibit your enjoyment of this classic example of a TV drama's potential for auto-critique and self-subversion. Let's hope that J.J. Abrams puts as much thought into his next draft of the upcoming Superman re-imagining as he did the conception of Todd Mulcahy.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment spreads "Felicity: The Complete First Season" across six discs--there are four 43-minute episodes apiece, with the last platter featuring only two. Image quality is soft and murky yet warm and cinematic; these were taken from tape masters, but the show won an Emmy for Robert Primes's cinematography and tends to always look a cut above network fare. Audio is a consistent Dolby Surround mix that's often hushed but serves the music well. The blah theme song sounds dynamic.
Co-creators Abrams and Matt Reeves provide commentary tracks for the pilot and season finale, unofficially dedicating the former to issues of casting and the latter to analyzing the evolution of "Felicity" (the character and the series, actually) over twenty-two episodes. The duo, friends since childhood, were green going in and that led to as much experimentation as it did falling back on proven formulas; hair, if you must know, is extensively discussed. Ads for "Soap Talk" and Soap Channel open Disc 1, but the aforementioned yakkers are it for "Felicity"-specific extras. (I suppose it is a bonus of sorts that the English subtitles transcribe lyrics for the numerous soundtrack selections.) "Felicity: The Complete First Season" is packaged in a cardboard box containing three dual-hub keepcases. Originally published: November 2, 2002.