|'Bear Breasts' episode screen shot from left to right: Cassidy, Erica, Dave, Ivan, Julianne|
Being a Being Erica fan can be tricky. You'll see from my previous review of seasons 1 and 2 that I was full of praise and awe for the show - Seeing Erica. There is lots to like about it: it reaches out to an under delivered demographic (unmarried, unkidded 30 somethings), it finds a nice balance between comedy and drama, it interweaves fantasy with reality effectively, the actors have the likability as well as the actorbility factor and it's not set in New York, LA or London. Season 2 wasn't afraid to challenge its boundaries in terms of the programme's format and its characterisation - and it did this effortlessly. Season 3 has continued to reinvent itself by introducing major new characters and changes to the way Erica experiences her daily travels, including phase two of her therapy which she is told will lead her to phase three - becoming a doctor of time-travel. However, I'm not convinced it works this time, or even if it does, I just don't seem to be enjoying Being Erica as much as I used to. Whilst acknowledging that there's still two episodes of season 3 to go, I'm going to give my reasons for why I think Erica's charm has dwindled. I wonder if others agree?
Not Being Erica
Well the programme used to be about a woman named Erica but now it seems to focus on a guy called Adam. There's nothing wrong with introducing new characters; season 2 brought in Kai - Erica's first time travelling buddy - and whilst he has appeared in season 3, he has not featured heavily despite the fact that his love affair with Erica has not really been resolved. According to twitter, Kai is popular, so why introduce yet another love interest to Erica's life in the form of Adam? I can see that the format of revisiting Erica's past every week was starting to run dry, but then why not revisit more of Kai's past, or the time-travelling doctors' regrets or even some of the other characters'? I always thought it would be interesting if one of Erica's family members or friends entered into time-travel therapy too, perhaps without Erica knowing but creating the anticipation that she might find out.
But too many stories
Erica already had several friends, a therapist, some colleagues and a few family members. Season 3 has continued to follow the terrestial lives of many of these, including her sister, her parents, her friends Judith and Jenny, colleagues Julianne and Brett and (Dr) Tom. Some of the storylines are really relevant and poignant, in particular Erica's mother's battle with breast cancer, Judith's possible extra-marital affair, Brett's mixed feelings of jealousy and revenge and Dr Tom's journey to violence-free sobriety and his difficult reunification with his daughter. It seemed that there was more than enough simultaneous storylines to be going along with here, but in addition to this, there is the new added aspect of group (time-travelling) therapy, not to mention the gay relationship (I will go back to this later) between Dave and Ivan, the owners of the coffee shop which Erica frequents. It's difficult to do all these stories justice in a 13 episode 45 minute drama and many stories were left behind for weeks at a time. I was particularly disappointed by the portrayal of a family who has a member with cancer, as, after Barbara, the mother, told her daughters her diagnosis it was barely mentioned again until (the much later episode when) she was told she was cancer-free. OK, so they needn't have broached the illness quite so painfully transparently and tenaciously as they did with kitty's lymphoma in Brothers and Sisters last year but there could have been a little more thought on how it would affect Erica - our protagonist's - daily life. But then Erica has been putting ALL her attention into how to get to Adam, emotionally and carnally. This could be interesting if it was an avoidance tactic but it clearly wasn't.
I love therefore I am ?
Perhaps it is simply because I am not a fan of romance fiction or heavily romanced narratives as a whole that explains why I am entirely disinterested in the Erica-Adam storyline. However, there are a number of sub-points I would like to make in relation to this storyline's shortcomings. Firstly, as mentioned above, what was wrong with the Erica-Kai chemical/cerebral romance (other from the fact that he was from her future - but hey - does that even figure in a time travelling show?), secondly, as also addressed above, hasn't Erica got better things to think about, such as her mother's illness or the fact that she seems to be time travelling her way to doctorhood? Thirdly, and as conveyed effectively by Kat Angus in her blog here, wouldn't it be more interesting if Erica had fallen for Adam and he had rejected her because he actually really didn't see her in that way - not because he is in fact suppressing his true feelings? One of the charms of Being Erica is the fact that she deals from week to week with life's daily mishaps, misfortunes and misgivings, and rejection is something that most people have to face at some point in their lives, however attractive they may be (another related point - how realistic is it that a man who sells juice at her local gym would try and bed her after one conversation?) Lastly, this kind of romance is age-old and typically Mills n Boon/Austen in format - where a man and a woman meet, get off to a bad start, have misunderstood yet sexually fuelled arguments about the sort of people they are, then get to see each other from slightly different perspectives, realise they have been quelling their feelings for each other and that they are more similar than they think e.g. both hot-headed: they fall madly in love. I would have liked to have seen some more unpredictable romance at least. How about if Erica had one day realised she really liked the geeky guy from group therapy or if Julianne and Ivan really had have fallen in love.
In the episode 'Bear Breasts', Ivan - who later becomes engaged to Dave - decided he wanted a go of Julianne's breasts and they explored the fact that gay people can get straight crushes. The whole episode was set during Toronto Gay Pride and also Erica's old gay friend, Cassidy, from season 1 (who had a crush on Erica) returned. This is the only episode of Being Erica that hasn't involved time travel - which I kind of missed - but also it felt like the episode was trying too hard to be gay. Everything about it was gay, from the feather boas to the giant ice penis sculpture on the bar counter. It's as though the writers went out of their way to portray non-hetero love but it came across as forced and its forcefulness could be viewed as a kind of inverted bigotry. It's difficult to judge whether it worked inside of Canada (talking from a British perspective) as it's possible that Canadian TV has never really explicitly addressed gay relationships, a subject which found 'visibility' on British TV in the 1980s and 1990s. If I was to watch Queer as Folk in 2010 it may appear dated; a desperate attempt to make everyday life as a gay person normative when prior to this it had not been viewed as such. Now, no one questions people's sexuality in the same way; it's something which just isn't a 'thing' anymore. With Ivan and Dave, it seems that there isn't much to their storylines which isn't about the fact that they are gay. In a way, this also adds to my whole critique of Being Erica season 3's romance focus.
Time, space and what goes in between
Until now, I've avoided discussing in any detail the new group therapy format. Does it work? Firstly, does it work in the sense that only the pasts of Erica and Adam are visited with any purpose; what about the other three group members? If their stories are not relevant then why are they there (other than to give Erica an opening to a new time-travelling romance)? Secondly, how do they see what is going on in each other's lives before they are summoned to the group session room by Dr Tom? There are scenes of them entering the room in their pyjamas because someone is about to do something pivotal like sleep with the wrong person. When they get there, they know straight off why they are there. Do they all have crystal balls where they can spy on each other? I don't think I am being petty in asking this as with Erica we often have access, as viewers, to the private places of her kitchen or her bedroom and the sorts of thought processes which she occupies in those spaces, so it makes sense that if she had a crystal ball we would see it, right? I don't think she has a crystal ball. I just think that we are not supposed to think about this particular aspect of time travel. Is this satisfactory? You could say that we don't question how the doctors know everything about their patients and that that doesn't matter but I think that we don't search for answers with these characters because they have always been presented to us as mysterious people with mysterious powers. They are doctors of time travel; only they know how they do it. Erica is still just Erica who cannot control when or how she travels through time so how come she can see other people before they are about to do it?
And what about those doctors? If there's one thing I find fascinating about season 3, it's the addition of a new doctor to the quantum hierarchy - the somewhat boho looking Dr Arthur. It makes you wonder how many more doctors there are. And what is their ultimate goal? Well these questions haven't been answered and I'm hoping that they will be in the last two episodes or in season 4 - if the programme's renewed. Wouldn't you just love to see what the composed, calm, collected and slightly smug Dr Nadia was like before she found her therapy? We've watched Dr Tom lose his cool a little in all three of the seasons and the episode which revolved around him this time - 'Physician Heal Thyself,' was eye-wateringly gripping throughout and beautifully understated towards its end. Whilst Erica is the clear protagonist, Dr Tom comes a close second as a male protagonist counter-part - or at least he did until Adam entered the equation. In the episodes which have focused on Dr Tom we start to see snippets of his past life such as the house where he lived, his once wife and the bars where he frequented. As viewers we are offered this insight into his past in the same way in which we always have been with Erica. Yet, whilst we see a large piece of the patchwork of Erica's current life - and now too Adam's - we are only invited to see the same square patch of Tom's - with square being a relevant word here. Surely, by the end of three seasons of Dr Tomisms, we are allowed to know at least where he lives? Perhaps he sleeps on those inner city pavement benches where Erica often seems to bump into him late at night as he looks pensively into the equidistance before summarising the meaning of her day - not his. This is my final criticism of season three and in a way the lack of Dr Tom-ness is highlighted by the presence of some of my other niggles. Anyway, I can't completely criticise the season because it hasn't finished yet and even when it has, there may be another one to come where some of these issues will be worked through. As I've always loved Being Erica, I sense that writing this may become one of my regrets. Maybe I'll learn something about another part of my life when I come back to it and re-read it a later date.
|Dr Tom in binman guise- screenshot|