Novak (novak) wrote,
Novak
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Personal: Mike Goes to Everwood

Today, I have decided, is Everwood day. The mail today brought me my long pre-ordered copy of the second season DVDs of Everwood from Amazon, and so that was Happy Mail.

Okay, so I'm a big geek.

Why am I touting a WB teen show? (From when there was a WB?) I try to watch as little television as possible. During Everwood's fourth and tragically final season (due to last minute mismanagement from the new CW network), I repeatedly saw a commercial for an upcoming episode of Everwood while watching my comic-geek fav Smallville. The commercial in question both quoted an impressive number of sources raving about the quality of the show, naming it the best family drama in years. (Sources I had heard of, which is always the clincher: I always check to see if the best movie or television review that could be found, usually saying something vague like "Great!', comes from a review from KRXB in Beeville, TX, or some other place similarly obscure.) The episode being advertised also seemed to be dealing with an ethical question and bringing one of the character's religious perspectives into play, and that sort of thing is something I always find professionally interesting as a teacher, just to "see what the kids are watching today," as though I were 97 years old. So I tuned in to just watch this one episode. And in the way drama seeks to do, I was hooked.

But, as I said, this turned out to be in the spring of 2006, the surprisingly final season of the show, though it was one of the WB's steadiest draws. Bad time to get into a series like that. Fortunately for me, I had learned these ways of the internet and was able to get access to all of the episodes of the series from the beginning, and watch them through, as a sort of 100-hour movie. (Not in one sitting.) And I was delighted in what seemed to me to be the best family drama I'd ever seen. No other show, other than the late great re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica had ever had me so impressed, or occasionally even floored, with the quality of the writing that I immediately found myself heading to the Internet Movie Database to find out who had written the episode I had just watched. Thus I became a fan of the writing of Michael Green, John E. Pogue, and Rina Mimoun, as well as the work of creator and producer Greg Berlanti, all of whom gave us passages of great literary quality. What I found so attractive about the show along with the quality of the writing was that this was a show that followed three generations of characters with equal sensitivity and depth: teens, parents, and grandparents (or four generations if you separate the fourth-grader from the teens). It was not the standard WB teen drama, focused on sexy teens and their sexy lives. The adults were adults, the grandparents cool and interesting characters, and not because they were made "just like the teenagers." The opportunities and struggles of each of the characters were appropriate to their age and life circumstances, and were dealt with by the writers with distinct imagination, not fearing to set up ethical dilemmas that were both contemporary and not "solved" with easy or politically-popular answers. If anything, there was a consistent – and attractive! – emphasis on integrity that was welcome on a television drama. And for someone like me, growing up in Oregon, Illinois, I also found an attraction to a small-town setting treated well, without a hint of coastal condescension in the writers.

Those apologetic comments aside, having tried to justify my geekiness, I have to say that I'm kind of disappointed by the quality of the second season DVD set. Everwood has had a troubled history with its DVDs. The first season DVD set, out in the timely way we expect with television shows these days, apparently failed to meet financial expectations for Warner Brothers, and so it has been five years until today's release of the second season set. The reason repeatedly given had to do with the admittedly wonderful contemporary soundtrack of Everwood, which in particular had the conceit of frequently having contemporary artists covering classic tracks of the 1960s and 70s, as well as a generous selection of originals. The licensing costs were prohibitive, fans were told, and the only way that this DVD set was apparently able to be produced was by replacing almost all the music (even cell phone rings!) with unknown tracks by unknown artists, losing those associations of familiarity. In the first few episodes, for example, now notably absent are:
"One Fine Day" by Robbie Williams
"The Things We Do For Love" by 10cc
"California Girls" by The Beach Boys
"Get Together" by The Youngbloods
"September" by Earth, Wind and Fire
"At Last" by Etta James
You can't help but notice the change, if you are at all familiar with the originals. Although there is serious marketing of music going on, there is also more to these soundtrack choices than simply sound or style, which seems to have been the chief criterion used in replacing the music. The replacement of Counting Crows' "Anna Begins" at the end of episode 14, with its lyrical uncertainty by a straight love song lyric really changes the mood and the foreshadowing of the story's conclusion. There's an integrity to the original work, that I hate to see messed with for such reasons. Worst of all is the removal of Art Tatum music in the episode "Three Miners From Everwood," with the Emmy-nominated performance of James Earl Jones as Will Cleveland, where they actually switched out specific music being discussed by the characters! Myself, I cannot believe that those licensing the music would make such further demands: I would rather simply have my music in the episode as "free advertisement."

Whereas the first season had all the sorts of extras one hopes for with a TV season DVD set – deleted scenes, director, writer and actor commentary tracks, behind-the-scenes features – the second season set lacks all of that except for the addition of deleted scenes, and these are not even linked to their specific episodes. Even the menus are the sort of static bare pictures that you associate with the cheapest of DVDs, and that just about everyone could construct on their own computer. Even the packaging seems too generic in that the most significant additions to the cast – Sarah Lancaster as Madison Kellner and Marcia Cross in a pre-Desperate Housewives turn in a wonderfully real and adult role as Linda Abbott – are absent. These two dominate the storylines of the season, but the packaging stays with "standard" photos of the core cast. But for a DVD collection I am particularly disappointed by the loss of the commentaries. They are such a relatively easy feature to create – again, practically something that could just be recorded on a home computer – and they add so much depth to a collection of this sort. Most season sets skimp on this feature, I think, after having witnessed the wonder of the Freaks and Geeks DVD set, where just about every episode features multiple commentary tracks. That is a far cry from the two or three episodes that usually receive a single commentary track in most TV DVD sets. Given the exceptional standard of work by the writers, directors and actors on Everwood, those features were what I was most looking forward to, as otherwise one could still just watch the episodes off of the internet in their original form.

It is enjoyable to see the episodes on my television instead of my computer screen, of course, and the second season story arc is as solid as that of the first season, and continues in dealing with the consequences of those earlier events in a paced and realistic way, not indulging in the Hollywood tendency of having earlier events neatly resolved by the end of an episode or story arc. (Only in the fourth season did I find that the show started to slide a bit toward that WB Network emphasis of "sexy teens and their sexy lives," but even then was only slippage and not yet a disaster. The show easily had a few more years before it would have come to a timely conclusion.) In particular, I have great fondness and sympathy for this season's Madison storyline, having also begun my dating life with a girlfriend who was a few years older than me, and significantly more mature than I was. I can wince in sympathy to watching Ephram flounder about in an all too teen tendency to muck up a relationship by conjuring up far too much unnecessary drama. I also very much enjoyed James Earl Jones making a wonderful "character actor's" part of Will Cleveland in a recurring role that justly earned him an Emmy nomination.

So it's wonderful to have gotten something after all this time, but I can scarcely believe that the last year's work on producing these DVD sets resulted in something so minimal. Warner Brothers seems oblivious to the quality of what they produced here, as you see happen occasionally with some classic movie or show that takes years or decades to get serious treatment by its owners. I can only hope that even the diluted versions of seasons 3 and 4 will be made available, in hopes of future viewers getting a chance to enjoy what this group produced over four years. I feel like I need to find out which executive to get in touch with in order to volunteer my time to make the final collections: and I am so not a person who spends their life obsessing about television. So I feel like that impulse, too, just testifies to how highly I think of what these writers and other artists achieved.
Tags: everwood, favourite shows, high school, movies/film/tv, personal, writing
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