Judge Christopher Kulik lives on an August Cul-de-sac.
Our review of October Road: The Complete First Season, published December 5th, 2007, is also available.
Can you ever really go home again?
In the Fall of 2007, ABC introduced October Road as a follow-up to Grey's Anatomy. Its debut was strong with viewers, and thus it was picked up for a second season. Unfortunately, the writers' strike as well as a significant drop in the ratings hurt tremendously, forcing network execs to cancel the show. The fan base was marginal, but it was also loyal, as many started petitions to have October Road rescued and broadcast on another network.
Alas, that never happened.
Now, we have October Road: The Complete Second Season as a final curtain call to a once-promising drama. Question is, does it measure up to its initial season?
Facts of the Case
Let's first recap what happened in Season One. In 1997, we're introduced to high school sweethearts Nick Garrett (Bryan Greenburg, The Perfect Score) and Hannah Daniels (Laura Prepon, That '70s Show). Both are very much in love, but Hannah feels uncomfortable about Nick taking a six-week vacation to Europe alone. Nick promises he will return, and his circle of friends ensures he gets a proper send-off.
Jumping ahead ten years later, we find Nick now living in New York City. Recently, his first novel ("Turtle on a Snare Drum") had been filmed as a movie, and he's just been offered to teach a one-day seminar at Dufresne College. Problem is, the school is in his hometown of Knight's Ridge, Massachusetts. Nick isn't enthusiastic about this because he's worried as to how his high school friends will react to his visit, considering the fact his novel contained negative portrayals of them.
Once arriving home, he soon runs into Hannah, who is now the mother of 10-year-old Sam (Slade Pearce, Miss March). Naturally, the reunion is awkward, with Hannah understandably upset at Nick's unannounced, out-of-the-blue visit. Reacquainting with his high school friends isn't any easier. Nick discovers that Hannah is now living with grade-A jerk off (and local hell-raiser) Ray "Big Cat" Cadaldo (Warren Christie, Bachelor Party 2). Nick's one-time best friend Eddie Latekka (Geoff Stults, Wedding Crashers) is now his worst enemy, extremely offended at how he was written in Nick's book. However, Owen Rowan (Brad William Henke, Choke) is more than happy to see his long-lost friend again, as is Ikey (Evan Jones, Jarhead). Rounding out the circle is Physical Phil (Jay Paulson, Imaginary Heroes), a self-described hermit (or "live-in") who never leaves the house he shares with Eddie.
Over the course of six episodes, we see Nick carefully blending back into the social fabric of Knight's Ridge. He decides to stay when he becomes convinced he's Sam's father, although Hannah insists he isn't. Nick's father, whom everyone calls The Commander (Tom Berenger, Training Day), thinks Hannah is hiding something. Meanwhile, Nick gets romantically involved with Dufresne student Aubrey (Odette Yustman, The Unborn), while at the same time generating long-suppressed feelings for Hannah.
Season Two continues to follow all of these characters as they come to grips with Nick's surprise return. The transitional twist that opens the season has Owen learning of his wife's affair with Ikey and then fleeing off to NYC in a rage. After reconciling, Nick and Eddie drive there to coerce Owen into coming back and mending his marriage. Even though Nick confessed his love to Hannah, she decides to get engaged to Ray, which only complicates matters more. Phil gets close with a pig-tailed delivery driver known only as Pizza Girl (Lindy Booth, Wrong Turn), while the usually shallow Eddie starts dating a chunky bartender named Janet (Rebecca Field, The Metrosexual).
I don't usually request to review shows of this nature (i.e., soapish dramas), but my interests in the show were solely based on a true-life experience. In September of 2007, while I was staying at a hotel on Hollywood Blvd, I was awakened at 6:30 in the morning by the manager. He said there was a film crew outside requesting that I move my car so they could shoot a scene. Yes, indeed, it happened to be the crew shooting a Season Two episode of October Road. While I was backing my car out, an assistant director ran over to me and said they could actually use my car for the "East Coast flavor," since I was from Virginia. So, I parked my car in the middle of the lot and stayed outside for three hours as they filmed the scene. Did my car appear in the show, you might be wondering? In the third episode, "The Infidelity Tour," I saw a tiny piece of my fender outside a hotel window. It's not much, but it was more than I expected.
At any rate, I later read several good things about the show but decided to wait for it on DVD as I never have the time to keep up with a show week in and week out. I'm not really a fan of these types of shows but nonetheless I agreed with my esteemed colleague Judge Katie Herrell that the first season was refreshing and endearing. While I felt there were far too many coincidences (as opposed to contrivances), I was hooked because I liked the characters and how they interacted with each other. As with other shows of its ilk, there is a heavy emphasis on romance, secrets, family, friendships and small-town gossip. Still, executive producer Stuart Rosenberg (the show is based on his own life experiences, serving as a follow-up of sorts to his 1996 film Beautiful Girls) managed to engage me with the pilot episode. Some of the storytelling was quite fresh, especially when it came to the honest relationships. The rich soundtrack included many '90s hits from such bands as Hootie and the Blowfish, the Goo Goo Dolls, and Soul Asylum. In other words, it was a well-crafted opening season and I can see why ABC opted to continue with the show.
After viewing Season Two, however, I know now why it suffered in the ratings. No matter how hard it tried, few of the episodes here matched the freshness and quality of the ones in the previous season. The characters were all there, but instead of advancing the themes it simply goes in melodramatic circles. Virtually everything about Nick's long absence and his suspicious novel are abandoned in lieu of trite dialogue exchanges which cater exclusively to the male-female courtships. The story turns were, by and large, uninspired and predictable. It seemed like as soon as one bad relationship healed, another one was damaged, which made the proceedings sluggish and banal. When all the main characters were affected in some way, the show brought in others and threw the baggage on them. Halfway through the season, I practically didn't care anymore, as it annoyingly ignored the initial questions raised about Nick's past and his search for the truth regarding Sam's real father.
I'm not saying the season got worse as it went along, but it did lazily slip into cruise control, offering little in the way of surprises and character development. Even the introduction of new characters doesn't help matters, as they just absorb the tired problems and dilemmas of the regulars. Veteran actors such as Veronica Cartwright (Alien), David Paymer (City Slickers), Frances Fisher (Titanic), and Armand Assante (Assassins) are all supremely wasted. Many opportunities are lost here, as the writers & producers artlessly resort to bland soap plotting rather than following up on their once-intriguing ideas. Granted, October Road never gets weak to the point of unintentional laughter. It just seems to peter out to an utter dead end. It's a shame, too, considering the excellent beginning and Rosenberg's appealing circle of subjects. Perhaps the Writer's Strike awhile back would have doomed the show, but I firmly believe it lost a large portion of its audience due to all the reasons I listed above.
Fans of the show are no doubt clamoring to find out how everything wraps up in "Road's End: The Final Chapter," a special 10-minute epilogue filmed recently to include in this DVD set. I don't altogether blame Rosenberg for this joke of an episode, which has "duh" stamped all over it. It's nothing more than a cornball conclusion that hastily closes the series and provides a "happy ending." It is almost unbearable to watch.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite all my somewhat harsh complaints about Season Two, there are some surviving virtues. Most of the actors are quite good, taking the superfluous material and running away with it with sincerity. I particularly loved Booth as the Pizza Girl, a character so irresistible and bubbly she deserves her own spin-off. The relationship between Eddie & Janet worked the best, going in directions you don't exactly see coming. In addition, Stults and Field did a fine job of exhibiting their frustrations and longings, creating some truly passionate moments. And Tom Berenger commands (pun intended) every scene he's in as the father who is finding happiness for the first time in years since the death of his wife.
Shot on location around Atlanta, the crystal clear cinematography is rendered beautifully in the 1.78:1 anamorphic picture. Sonically, we get a 5.1 Surround track and English subtitles. The songs are once again chosen carefully, with Jordan Zevon ("Studebaker") and Liz Phair ("Why Can't I?") among the talented artists chosen for the season's numerous montages. The extras are light, but nonetheless welcome (except for the finale in terms of execution). There's a three-minute blooper reel, which is amusing, but best of all is a featurette entitled "The Scenic Route: A Behind-the-Scenes Tour." Berenger, Stults, and Prepon all provide interviews, and take us on the shooting sets and even some of the locations.
I'm not disgusted or upset with October Road: The Second Season, just supremely disappointed in how it didn't complement the first season in so many ways. Still, fans of the show aren't going to care and pick up this set regardless, so they are welcome to it.
While the characters are free to go, the Second Season is found guilty for being excessively maudlin.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
• Final Episode
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