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Case Number 02551

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Felicity: The Complete First Season

Touchstone Pictures // 1998 // 990 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dezhda Mountz (Retired) // January 24th, 2003

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of Felicity: The Complete Second Season, published March 1st, 2004, is also available.

Opening Statement

Sometimes it's the smallest decisions that can pretty much change your life forever.

The Charge

Writer and producer J.J. Abrams (Regarding Henry, Joy Ride) and TV director Matt Reeves (Homicide: Life on the Streets) created a television drama about a mousy college freshman who follows her high school crush to New York University. They got the best in the business to back them: director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment. With that kind of support and good buzz, the show, Felicity, became a mild, if short-lived, hit. Mixing college angst with the soap operatics only a co-ed dorm can produce, the show gained a following and instant fame for its young, comely stars: Keri Russell (We Were Soldiers) with her trademark curly locks, Scott Speedman (Duets), Scott Foley, and Amy Jo Johnson (Liars Club), among others. Now you can wax nostalgic with the six-disc set of Felicity: The Complete First Season, thanks to Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

Felicity Porter (Keri Russell) is a shy Palo Alto, CA teenager with her life planned out for her. Stanford University, Stanford Med, and residency at…yep, you guessed it, Stanford Medical. Her life has never been an impulsive one, thanks to her meek nature and her parents' controlling ways. One day that all changes in a whirlwind of brash decisions.

Over-interpreting the most popular boy in school's yearbook inscription, Felicity follows him to University of New York. She horrifies her parents and eventually herself, a fish out of water in this big bad city. Her only sympathetic ear at first is that of Sally, her French tutor, with whom she communicates by audio tape. Soon, however, Felicity learns she is not alone, but surrounded by new students as uncertain as she.

In this first season, we see how Felicity transforms from a sheltered girl who blurts out her deepest feelings at the risk of making a fool of herself (and she does) to a more sophisticated woman who carefully wades through the pool of relationships and career goals. It's a fun dip into the coziness of college life, of floor meetings and nasty professors, witch roommates and not-so-secret crushes.

Disc One

"Pilot"
As she graduates high school, frizzy-haired Felicity feels none of the joy and jubilation of her fellow students. She feels lost and somehow empty inside. Then she sees the most popular guy in school, Ben, her high school crush, and throws caution to the wind. She asks him to sign her yearbook, and he complies, writing something Felicity never expected: "I've watched you for four years…I admire you." Well, of course she's gonna follow him cross country to his school of choice in New York, because this is television. Her parents are furious, but, finally, Felicity charts a new course for her life, and boy is it a doozey. Sure, she makes new friends, like Julie (Amy Jo Johnson), and befriends the Resident Assistant right away (Scott Foley, Scream 3), but she realizes following a guy out to New York was foolish and confesses to Ben why she came. He's flattered and uninterested, but Felicity is still torn between logic and pure, foolish infatuation. Nonetheless, she tutors him on English assignments and manages to keep her sweaty, eager hands off of him.

"The Last Stand"
Julie likes Ben. She doesn't want to, but darn it, she does. And how can she help herself? Scott Speedman is HOT! In the meantime, because Felicity had confessed to reading Ben's college essay while working in Admissions, she thinks an anonymous request for her essay is from Ben. So she mails him a copy of her essay, which is a breathy treatise on her love for him. She finds out too late that her parents requested the essay, desperate as they are to find out why she blew off Stanford.

"Hot Objects"
Felicity and Julie work through their torn feelings about Julie dating Ben. Felicity says there's nothing between her and Ben but Julie is determined to stay away from him out of respect for Curly Girl. Yeah, right, like that's going to happen. At their first college party, a fight erupts between the girls and one of Felicity's tapes to Sally accidentally gets played over the speakers. God, was college this dramatic?

"Boggled"
That perennial game of sex, Boggle, brings Felicity and Noel to an impulsive kiss. Sure, he has an out-of-town girlfriend, Hannah, but hey, she IS out of town. Felicity gets to know her lab partner, fellow med student Elena (Tangi Miller), and Julie starts flirting with the Pink Guy—you know, the guy who doesn't know how to do his wash so all his clothes turn pink. Actually, the dude's name is Zack.

Disc Two

"Spooked"
Awww. It finally happened. Felicity's first armed robbery! The robbery takes place at Ben's when Ben and Felicity enter his loft. Shaken, Ben makes a lot of late night calls to Felicity and hangs out with her one-on-one, leading to an almost-kiss moment. Excited, Felicity comes to his Halloween party, only to see him making out with a Power Ranger. Noel tries to help. So, Felicity pukes on him. Damn spiked punch! Look for: The first appearance of Ian Gomez (The Drew Carey Show) as the hysterical Javier, Felicity's new boss at her coffee shop job. Gomez is best known for inspiring his wife Nia Vardalos' film My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

"Cheating"
The poor girl just tries to help, but good works blow up in her face. Felicity rewrites a paper for Ben without his knowledge, landing him in hot water for plagiarism. Julie and cinema student Zack heat up, as she learns the trials of dating a film geek, like sitting through the original Solaris (perhaps Soderbergh was inspired by his hidden Felicity habit?). Elena starts giving her heart away to a nice guy named Blair. Look for: Eddie Kaye Thomas (Finch from the American Pie movies) as the helpful video store clerk PJ, giving Julie film-geek dating advice.

"Drawing the Line Part 1"
In one of the funnier ongoing subplots, Felicity's rude, mean post-Goth roommate Megan (Amanda Foreman) guards an odd looking box with the paranoia of a heroin addict at a methadone clinic. Noel decides not to be Mr. Nice Guy and tells Felicity that because of his feelings for her, she can't keep confiding in him about Ben. Zack gets drunk and somehow thinks Julie saying "NO" means "PLEASE HAVE SEX WITH ME." Yes, this is the Very Special Episode Part 1 of Felicity.

"Drawing the Line Part 2"
Sure, it's a "very special" episode, but the writers of Felicity treat Julie's acquaintance rape with sensitivity and a nice dose of reality. She struggles at first what to do, and is loathe to talk about the incident, but finally seeks medical help. Word spreads, Ben beats up Zack, comforts Julie, and Julie herself confronts Zack.

Disc Three

"Thanksgiving"
This new circle of friends solidifies their freshman-year bonds with a Thanksgiving meal. The special guest? Why, Hannah, Noel's "out-of-town" girlfriend! And boy, does she have a surprise—she's moving to New York City! Felicity becomes jealous, Noel becomes nervous, and everyone is starving as Javier brings by the most beautiful bird you ever did see. Look For: The splendid Jennifer Garner, the star of Alias (now that's an upcoming boxed set that sets me a-drooling), guesting as Hannah. As you may know, though Hannah and Noel's on-screen coupling wasn't a lasting one, the two actors Garner and Foley are a happy real-life Hollywood husband and wife.

"Finally"
To keep their academic lives in check, Felicity and Noel, now a couple, try to stay away for three days during finals week. Doesn't happen. Bickering, bantering, and actual studying commence.

"Gimme an O!"
Christmas break is over. Felicity's done some thinking and tells Noel that she decides it's time for them to have sex. So she makes an appointment with Noel to lose her virginity. I'm serious. She does thorough research, thanks to sex books ("Gimme and O!" was roomie Megan's favorite book…in the seventh grade). Needless to say, their first attempts aren't too romantic.

"Friends"
Remember that nice guy Blair that Elena's been seeing? Well, he's been seeing a little of her friend Terry in the stacks, and not just with his eyes, if you know what I mean. Felicity catches them in the act and she and Elena do some detective work to find out the truth. Ben is frustrated as his dad cut his funds off for no good reason, and Julie searches for her birth mom, whom she has long known lives in the city. Look For:Jane Kaczmarek in the first of many appearances as Julie's isn't-she-or-is-she? birth mom, pre-Malcolm in the Middle.

Disc Four

"Todd Mulcahy, Part 1"
Felicity gets a taste of her own medicine when Todd travels cross-country to "kiss her," in his own words. See, he had a crush on her in grade school, and wants to finish where they…uh, left off. Okay, this guy's a nut, worse than Felicity. Unfortunately the fates must think so too because as he says good-bye to Felicity he gets hit by a bus with an obviously blind driver. I mean, the boy gets hit HARD. He's not the only one: Elena confronts Blair—with her fist.

"Todd Mulcahy, Part 2"
Todd miraculously survives, and Felicity's obsession with his recovery prompts Noel's jealousy. (Dude, he almost died, get a grip!) Felicity agonizes over her academic life, feeling a pull to her artistic talent despite getting accepted into a very competitive medical seminar.

"Love and Marriage"
Noel learns his brother is gay. Yay! Someone to shop for shoes with. Oh, except Noel is straight as straight can be. Ben, having to work with Felicity now and struggling with his new hardships, wonders if he's in the right place. Javier doesn't want to get deported so of course he asks Ms. Helpful, Felicity, to marry him, even though it's quite obvious Javier would make a nice companion for Noel's brother.

"The Fugue"
Sure, Hannah had issues with Noel too, but darn it, she's still moving to New York. Noel can't quite let go and visits Hannah, much to Felicity's distress. So distressed is she, in fact, that she sleeps with Eli, an art student. Not a good move, Curl Girl.

Disc Five

"Assassins"
Noel's dumb idea comes back to haunt him as he sets up a dorm "getting to know you" assassins game, complete with suction cup dart guns. Noel's busy with his issues with Felicity, especially after she tells him she slept with Eli…when Noel didn't so much as get his groove on with Hannah. Oops. Needless to say, this confession doesn't help…

"Happy Birthday"
…because Noel has decided to move out. Felicity tries to stop him while the gang puts together a party for Julie's birthday. Julie gets quite a present: her birth mother finally steps up and admits the truth. In a fun subplot, Megan's parents come into town forcing a complete transformation—Megan wears demure clothes and hides all skulls that normally lurk on her side of the room. Felicity relishes the opportunity to torture her. Look For: Jane Kaczmarek's real life husband, Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), in a cameo as her on-screen hubby.

"Docuventary"
Noel waffles about moving out, and Ben sinks further into gambling trouble after starting a bad horse-betting habit. In these tense times, Sean, Ben's roommate, tries to make a college documentary in one of his many attempts to make money (don't know why he needs to because he owns their gorgeous apartment), and everyone uses it as a free therapy session. Sean even catches Ben on film in a barroom fight as a result of his gambling tensions. Another Alias Connection: Abrams recruited Greg Grunberg, the actor who created Sean, to his hit show Alias. He plays Agent Eric Weiss, the wise and witty companion to Michael Vartan's über-serious CIA handler Vaughn.

"Connections"
Ben is not doing so well. Because of his gambling debts, he can't afford tuition. He keeps scrapping with his bookies' goons and tries to get a loan, but nothing's working out. Meantime, Felicity gets to fill in for her no-eye-contact assistant manager Abby at her coffee shop job, and her first task is to fire someone. Oh dear.

Disc Six

"The Force"
Megan's at it again. You know, performing spells and stuff. Normal college student Wicca behavior. Somehow, her "clumsy" spell is working on Felicity, who breaks things right and left. However, Felicity is not clumsy when it comes to relationships, now balancing life and love with ever more sophistication. She, Julie, and Noel decide to join Ben on his road trip home. Noel, however, decides to accept an internship to Berlin.

"Felicity Was Here"
Through the uncertainty, the first-semester dowdy clothes, and the reckless insecurity, Felicity has developed into a wild woman. She's got tighter (barely) clothes, good grades, and that certain something that makes Noel and Ben fight for her like elk in heat. Okay, it's not that dramatic, but Noel asks her to Berlin, and Ben wants her to go with him on his road trip since Julie and he have parted ways. Uh-oh. What will this headstrong, newly confident girl do?

The Evidence

As Felicity: The Complete First Season flows from one emotional moment to another, it rarely becomes twee, or sappy sweet. Felicity captures the essence of college so well: the abandonment of high school personas, the sense of adventure for the first time, the days fraught with insecurities and doubts of the future. Like the best television shows, a genuine community builds: the goofy and charming RA (which Foley plays perfectly with his comedic timing and ability to listen so well to his fellow actors), the naïve freshman who learns the lessons of life quickly and wisely, the super-hot guy who I guess is a wonderful character but I really couldn't tell because I was too busy gazing at him…what else has Scott Speedman done lately and can I review those projects too?

I couldn't help getting sucked into this series. The twists and turns of the plot were relatively true to real life with that extra soap opera oomph that good television provides, although the potential union between Felicity and Ben seems forced at the end of Season 1. Sometimes the characters sound older and more eloquent than college upstarts really are, but Felicity gets nowhere near the annoying precociousness that pollutes Dawson's Creek. Of course, the sensitive acoustic music and serious slo-mos get a little cloying, but the straightforward dialogue and heavy doses of comic relief go a long way. The writers kept their sentimentality in check for the long haul, and the story lines were irresistible.

I wish my college life had been this exciting. Oh well, I went to school where the average belt buckle was larger than my head. What did I expect?

Technically speaking, this 1.33:1 full frame transfer is well done. Colors are rich, capturing the sophisticated New York City presence that series creators Abrams and Reeves were obviously seeking. Rich browns, warm creams, and muted colors reflect the old city buildings of the campus and its surroundings. They are reflected very well on this DVD except for a bit of heavy shadowing, where some browns and blacks get a little too deep and murky. The full screen presentation was true to the actual presentation of the show, so no qualms there.

The sound impressed me, surprisingly. I kept sitting up and looking around my apartment, confused as to the weird muddled sounds I was hearing to my right and left—when I realized it was my side speakers catching subtle pigeons clucking as Felicity and Ben talk on the dorm rooftop. This is not a show that warrants major sound tweaking, considering its dialogue-driven nature, but Buena Vista still gives us a well balanced, thoughtful Dolby 2.0 surround sound mix, with no hissing, fuzz, or obvious ADR work.

Not much on extras here, especially considering what a runaway hit this series was for at least the first two years of its short run. We do get a nice sandwich of commentaries, however: Abrams and Reeves comment on the pilot and the final episode of the season, pointing out how the plot makes a clean circle from beginning to end. The commentary is fun, laidback, and yet full of nice bits. They discuss how haircuts caused a huge ruckus from fans (though it didn't happen until season 2, Russell's dramatic chop created some much-needed controversy in Felicity's second season), inside scoops about the sets, and genuinely reflective musings on details of a show they obviously hold dear to their hearts. It's a fun, mellow, informative commentary.

Still, I longed for a behind-the-scenes featurette or documentary on the history of the show, considering what a hit it was initially. Or how about a where-are-they-now update?

Closing Statement

Extras aren't substantial enough on this disc, but the transfer is fine and the show is first-rate as young-adult dramas go. A must for fans who can foot the $59.95 list price, but even this occasional viewer is happy to have gotten her fill of Felicity and the gang. A well-done show and an elegant if short-stocked DVD boxed set.

The Verdict

I'll go easy on these guys. Felicity: The Complete First Season is sentenced to a bad hair cut—the show and commentary make for a good enough package even for non-collectors—though it helps if you're a fan of Scott Speedman.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 92
Extras: 70
Acting: 90
Story: 92
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile

Studio: Touchstone Pictures
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 990 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Drama
• Romance
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentary by Creators JJ Abrams and Matt Reeves for Pilot Episode and Episode 21

Accomplices

• IMDb
• A Felicity Page








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Review content copyright © 2003 Dezhda Mountz; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.