Judge Clark Douglas does not recall ever joining a fraternity. That may be a good sign that he actually did.
Our reviews of Greek: Chapter Four (published March 15th, 2010), Greek: Chapter Five (published January 16th, 2011), Greek: Chapter Three (published August 18th, 2009), and Greek: Chapter Two (published January 29th, 2009) are also available.
College. It's a rush.
One of the latest shows from the ABC Family channel, Greek offers a look at the life of a group of college students trying to work their way through the crazy world of Greek fraternities and sororities at an Ivy League college. "Hmmm," you may be thinking, "A show about fraternities on the ABC Family channel? Really?" Those were certainly my thoughts when I heard about this. I expected either a Gossip Girl-style social drama or a rowdy Animal House-style comedy, but neither of those really seemed to fit in the realm of traditional family programming. So, what is Greek all about, anyway?
Facts of the Case
A new year of college is starting, and a group of new and old students are setting their sights on various goals. The principal characters are:
• Rusty (Jacob Zachar, Surf's Up): A very intelligent, socially awkward young freshman who is nervous about entering college life. He determines to join a fraternity, much to the dismay of his older sister, who is also attending the college.
• Casey (Spencer Grammar, As the World Turns): Rusty's older sister, a junior. She is currently one of the higher-ranking members of her sorority and doesn't want her geeky younger brother ruining her image. Casey is currently dating the very well-respected Evan, but she's still not entirely over her broken relationship with the messy-but-loveable Cappie.
• Evan (Jake McDorman, Aquamarine): A handsome and charming guy who also happens to be the top dog of the very prestigious Omega Chi fraternity. He is in a relationship with Casey.
• Cappie (Scott M. Foster, Quarterlife): The ever-drunk and stoned but surprisingly crafty leader of the Kappa Tau fraternity. The Kappa Tau members are all very unambitious, and prefer to spend their time sleeping, drinking, having sex, and watching Old School.
• Rebecca (Dilshad Vadsaria, Vanished): The snobby and mean-spirited daughter of a powerful senator. She is only a freshman, but as soon as she becomes a Zeta Beta Zeta pledge, she becomes Casey's savage nemesis.
• Calvin (Paul James, Cry Wolf): Another young freshman who is a semi-closeted homosexual. He worries about what revealing his secret to his Omega Chi brothers could mean and also tries to cope with a frustrating relationship. Calvin is one of Rusty's good friends.
• Ashleigh (Amber Stevens, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift): Casey's friendly and ever-supportive best friend. She loves to talk, to shop, and…well, to talk and shop.
• Dale (Clark Duke, Superbad): Rusty's strange roommate. Dale is a conservative Christian Baptist, a science geek, and keeps a confederate flag on his wall. Nonetheless, he is a surprisingly sensitive and good-natured guy, despite his frequent declarations that everyone in the college is going to hell.
I've provided character descriptions rather than plot descriptions, because this show takes a whole lot of twists and turns over the course of 10 episodes. To offer any kind of plot description, I'd have to be turning in significant spoilers by the second or third episode. Suffice it to say that nobody is precisely who they seem to be, everybody seems to have a side we don't expect, and no relationship will be permitted to go without severe challenges.
Ten 43-minute episodes are spread across three discs:
As I said, I expected comedy involving drinking/sex/drugs and/or soapy drama involving relationships and power struggles within the Greek system. Those elements are certainly here. However, I am pleased to report that I didn't roll my eyes at this show nearly as often as I suspected I would. In fact, Greek won me over very quickly with such attributes as likeable and complex characters, quick wit, and a sometimes fiercely satirical look at the ridiculous nature of fraternity/sorority life.
Surprisingly, Greek is one of those shows that is able to have its cake and eat it, too. On one hand, it views the various plot lines from a slightly detached perspective, giving us a sharp look at the sheer silliness of everyone's actions. On the other hand, it lets us grow close enough to the characters to actually care about their plight. Were this a standard-issue CW show about privileged young adults behaving irresponsibly, it might have been incredibly irritating. Thankfully, ABC Family has created a show that's worthwhile viewing for a teenage audience and entertaining enough to satisfy older viewers.
The show deals with a lot of important issues in a very amusing and engaging manner without ever slipping into the sort of preachiness that you would expect. Topics such as drugs, alcohol, sex, virginity, religion, homosexuality, romance, and relationships are dealt with honestly and thoughtfully. Too many television shows aimed at families attempt to paint a much-too-glossy portrait of high school and college life, and this one doesn't shy away from the controversial moments. Yes, there's a lot of drinking, a lot of sex (mostly implied), and a lot of foolish decisions being made. This may terrify some parents who want to protect their kids from such horrible programming, but the truth is that a whole lot of teenagers (and even more college students) are doing these things. Greek presents things precisely as they are but also encourages a certain level of responsibility that I imagine will be far more effective than simply trying to pretend these issues don't exist.
I admired the way that the show refused to turn even the more extreme characters into unrealistic caricatures. One of the most compelling characters on the show is Dale, the conservative Christian zealot with the confederate flag. At first, he seems like nothing more than a source of comic relief, providing laughs with his strange convictions. As time passes, we realize that Dale is not merely a goofball but a very good-natured individual who would never dream of trying to force his strong beliefs onto anyone who isn't interested. The plot strand dealing with the relationship between Dale and Rusty is one of the most compelling of the series. Likewise, the supposedly villainous Evan is permitted moments of genuine goodness that are quite touching, while our hero and heroine Rusty and Casey have moments in which they turn into real jerks (particularly during the season finale, when Rusty became impossible for me to root for). Everyone is presented as a human being, with a lot of individual character traits, strengths, and weaknesses.
The show's semi-soapy quality admittedly makes it a bit addictive; I imagine you'll find yourself speeding through these episodes in no time at all. There are also some strange and surprising plot strands that bring the show into the realm of the weird and offbeat. I enjoyed most of these quite a bit. Two notable examples: Rusty convinces Dale to help him steal a top-secret "weather machine" being kept at the college. The plan? To make rain fall from the sky…made of beer. Another plot involves the ghost of a former student haunting the sorority house where the girls are having a slumber party. It's nice to take a break from the love triangles and romance every once in a while for something unexpected.
Special features here are perfectly adequate. There are three audio commentaries, one featuring the creators, two featuring the cast. The former is the most interesting and offers some tidbits about the show's inspiration. The other two commentaries are lightweight and fun, but insubstantial. A few deleted scenes are okay, a 10-minute making-of featurette is exactly what you would expect, and a sneak peek at the next chapter of this saga promises even more soap. The perky colors throughout the show are captured in a solid DVD transfer, which only struggles a bit during some of the (few) darker scenes. Audio is solid, particularly favoring John Swihart's brisk, chipper score.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are a few occasions when the writing simply doesn't seem to be quite as high as it usually is. During a couple of episodes in the mid-section, things seem to be sagging at times, and the characters suddenly begin to act a little more one-dimensional than they have been. These problems vanish after too long as if nothing had happened, but it does indicate that the future success of this show depends entirely on how long the writers can keep their creative inspiration up. It takes some work to keep a show like Greek fresh, and the wheels do get stuck in the mud every so often.
This show caught me off guard. I really didn't expect it to have so many assets and so few liabilities, but it is genuinely good stuff. I don't just mean that it is a reasonably responsible show in terms of the messages it sends (which it is), but it's also just plain good television. It's funny, smart, well-acted, and generally does a fine job of keeping viewers hooked. If future seasons of Greek are as solid as this one, I think we can expect this show to stick around for quite some time.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
• Deleted Scenes
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