Monday, June 7, 2010

Seeing Erica: Review of Being Erica, seasons one and two

‘Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also’ – Karl Jung

The deal
Being Erica is a 45 minute seriocomedy with a trickle of sci-fi, about a 32 year old woman who, ultimately, changes, and who is forced to reflect upon the process of these changes within her time/space continuum. Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk) asks herself why she made the choices she did in her past and considers how she would make them differently if she could return to them. And she can return to them, thanks to an extra special therapist called Dr Tom (Michael Riley), and that’s where her tempo-spatial options become a bit unconventional, giving Erica the capacity to be less like Bridget Jones and more like Doctor Who. It is droll and it is relatable, but it is also philosophical and judicious. Our life stories are complicated and part of this is because they are unpredictable and subject to the lives of others; and this is something Erica comes to realise more and more. She learns that being Erica is about being her truest self, but it is also about not being Erica - about how other people see her and respond to her, for better or worse.

Being in your 30s
I first saw Being Erica advertised on E4 on a lacklustre October night in 2009 when I was tired from lecturing and also tired from just turning 32 myself. I nearly went to bed but I decided to give it a glance, mostly because I didn’t recognise any of the actors I’d seen from the pre-clips and because it was a relief not to have to look at the cast of Friends. I didn’t know until I saw the CBC logo at the end of the closing sequences that it was Canadian; we don’t get much Canadian TV in Britain. It’s about time we did though, and I’m pronouncing that ‘aboot’ time. Of course, I could see myself in the protagonist straight away, being the same age and also being without all the presence of those socially inflicted markers of responsible adulthood; a prestigious profession, a flawless husband, a house with a garden and the embodied accomplishment of your family’s expectations regarding those things. But I also liked the fantasy element in the form of time travel which both complimented and counterposed the reality of Erica’s life. I'm not the most avid sci-fi fan, so the fact that the geeky specifics of time travel itself was kept to a minimum worked well for me. As someone who inhabits academia, I also revelled in the use of assorted philosophical quotations; ultimately, it’s good to hear some of the scholars I’ve read intermingled into the dialogue of a TV drama. When I got to the end of the programme I was hooked but it was because when Erica travelled back in time to change something embarrassing from her high school years, the thing she wanted to change transmogrified into an equally mortifying scenario forming an unexpected turn in the narrative (thanks to its creator Jana Sinyor). This wasn’t the perfect outcome which Erica, or myself as the viewer, had assumed. Yes, she had changed her actions with the better intentions of a more mature mind, but, seemingly, equally ill fated consequences resulted. Or did they?

Being Errored
Regardless of what fate - or something like it - might throw at you, you can always learn from the choices you make and sometimes you just learn that you are doing the best you can. In Erica’s case, she is able to take this knowledge back into her future, enabling her to, not necessarily make different decisions of those pending, but to view these new decisions from a more robust perspective. Part of this fresher viewpoint is to move beyond the unnecessary expectations of others. At the end of episode one, an aloof lover decides to ask her out for another drink as long as she puts something more suitable on – she’s in her pyjamas – and she replies saying, “well at least I’m dressed” then gives him the brush off.

So Erica has an advantage. She doesn’t just draw from her past and remembered errors to navigate her present, as we all do, she draws from those past experiences in the context of their reinvestigations. Erica-then and Erica-now meet somewhere in the middle, whilst propelling her character forward. As a result, life gets better for Erica. Season one sees her work her way up the career ladder of a publishing house, gaining responsibilities and recognition along the way as she chooses to present herself fairly but confidently; she finds new love with an old acquaintance; she overcomes jealousy issues she has with friends and works through some latent tensions she feels towards members of her family and in-laws. Despite the anticipated dark finale of season one, where she revisits the most poignant of her regrets (no spoilers here!), her affirmative learning curve appears to continue into season two. This season keeps the interest of the viewer because it challenges the formula and the boundaries of the first season’s episodes, experimenting more with time travel and with the past experiences of the second most important character, Dr Tom. Towards the end of season two, you notice that some of Erica’s newly realised dreams are starting to dissolve. Again, the narrative resists our expectations of a happy ending and of the kind of archetypal plight we would see in a Hollywood heroine, whose linear storyline would either involve peppy, go-ahead 'success' or admission and subordination to a more powerful romantic, male counterpart. In fact, this last point is further contested in season two when we realise that Erica’s seemingly omnipotent and somewhat infuriatingly slick therapist has his own time travelling therapist - and it’s a woman - and this helps him to seem less smug. These episodes, where Dr. Tom's past is revisited, acted exquisitely by Michael Riley, not only give his character texture but they form a part of Erica's emotional evolution and they work to disperse the binarity of the Erica / Dr. Tom relationship. So through the two seasons Erica progresses as a spirit and as a conveyor of wisdom herself. I was contented with the season two finale because it raised many more questions than it had answered, one of which being: do we really need to accomplish the conventionally designated criteria of husband/house/profession in order to be fulfilled as individual women? So far, thankfully, the answer seems to be no, it's about seeing your individual accomplishments more cogently. The other question, which both seasons raised, was, do we always make decisions to the best of our abilities?

Being Beccy feels different to it used to, since watching Being Erica. It is because it has encouraged me to ask questions about my own past choices but also it has forced me to consider the nature of regret itself. In the beginning, Erica writes a list of every regret she has. So I have asked myself what my own regrets are and I have come to the conclusion that I don’t have any, not because I believe that my life has panned out in the best possible way based on the decisions I have made but because I know that I never made those decisions lightly. They were the best decisions I could have made under the circumstances of my place within that particular time and space. Maybe I’d make completely different choices if I went back to 13 with a 32 year old head (and I might revisit this in another blog post), like Erica can, but as Erica learns, the outcomes can still be equally unpredictable. What is important is that we take something away from our experiences, because they make us more full-bodied as life’s observers and participants. This can only be an attractive thing for a writer too.

Season three has been announced and it is currently being filmed in tantalising Toronto. It should hit Canada’s CBC this autumn (or fall). America’s Soapnet, which has recently finished screening season two, will probably get it a season after that. But what about the little, old UK? Well, aside from the news that they're planning a UK remake set in Glasgow from the makers of the fantastic Spaced - called You Again - E4 says it will show season two of Being Erica this autumn. Thus, the third season, which reports to be the most ambitious so far, is possibly a long time in the future for us. There are, however, ways of, shall we say, channelling these future seasons to our present, British located electrical devices. The internet knows no tempo-spatial bounds. A bit like Erica and Dr Tom.

The image used above was the only relevant one I could find which was licensed for creative commons. Any permission to use other images on a range of topics would be appreciated.


FemEd said...

Nice article. I love Being Erica.

Shai Coggins said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Beccy. And for saying hello on my blog. :-) Hope to read more of your blog too...

Latamoderna said...

GREAT review!!!I am now obsessed with Erica, I live in Mexico and we can watch it on BBC. But i missed some episodes so i started it all over... on internet. So, now i am in the middle of second 2 and I feel like you, a little bit like Erica.

Thanks so much for your profund review.

Dr Ken said...

Thanks Femed, Shai and Latamoderna, for your kind thoughts. I looked at your websites but I can only read in English and a bit in French!


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