Best Years: Season 2
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Best Years: Season 2

If you examine television series that depict life in high school or college you just might perceive a trend, such shows fall into one of two major categories; salacious or played for laughs. On one end of the spectrum are series such as ‘Gossip Girls’ intent on painting teens as hedonistic creatures existing only for sex, drugs and perhaps the latest fashions. On the other end exists shows that want to be more family friendly attempting this through either a realistic approach to the subject of overtly with comedy. There are many that have chosen the humorous route such as ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ but since realism balanced with family acceptance is extremely difficult and hence less explored. To our north in Canada they have managed a number of series that relate their life of a teen in reasonable terms without making teens out to be completely out of control. Pioneering this trend are noteworthy show like ‘Edgemont High’ and the ‘Degrassi’ junior and senior high series. Both of these enjoyed some notoriety both in their home country and here but there is another series that deserves to be included in this illustrious company but regrettably joined the ranks of ‘brilliant but cancelled’; The Best Years’. The first thing that must be stated in reference to this series is it was targeting a slightly older demographic; college students. This is a two edge sword for the writers. While the principle characters are old there is more latitude in the situations available for the stories but this also means the production can all too easily degrade into the typical college farce. Thankfully our neighbors to the north have a lot of experience with restraint, discretion and quality. The downside here is their studios appear to exhibit a similar response to such a well crafter series as is seen here; cancellation. The show met an untimely demise after only two seasons.

Creating the series is Aaron Martin, who had experience helpful in this endeavor, ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation’. If you have never seen this series or the one under consideration here the make it a point to check both out and witness how a youth oriented show should be constructed. This series focuses on a young woman, Samantha Best (Charity Shea) who is just trying to find her path through life. Although just leaving her teen years behind she has already encountered more than her share of hardship. She is pretty, intelligent and friendly. With all that going for her you might think the road to success would be assured that is definitely not the way life so far as worked out. Ten years prior to the first season of the series Sam lost her mother to cancer. The treatment was protracted and expensive financially ruining her family. In desperation her father committed a crime getting killed in the process. This resulted in a decade that Sam would spend in the foster care system. After aging out of the system she is given an opportunity to attend an Ivy League school; Charles University in Boston. That first season was all about Sam trying to fit in to a group of students vastly more privileged than she, they may have had to work to be there but nothing on the order of what Sam had to overcome. Thought this initial view of Sam we watched as she navigated the often turbulent course of boyfriends, new peer groups and a greater degree of freedom concerning sex and alcohol use. One of the pervading themes here is the way these subjects are dealt with. Sex and drinking are depicted as part of the college experience but they are not glorified but they are also not seen as shameful or wrong. The writers do address the fact that there is need for self control and that these activities come with very real consequences.

Responsibility is one of the main themes pervading season two. At the end of the first season Sam found she was unable to cope with the social pressures and took a road trip south of the border. Season two begins eight months later after Sam has meandered around South America taking menial jobs such as mopping up in cantinas and engaging in a brief love affair that ends extremely badly. Initially she has a bit of difficulty getting reinstalled in the school but her friend and guardian angel, the wealthy and powerfully influential Dorothy O'Sullivan (Sherry Miller). Dorothy pulls some strings to reinstate Sam with one proviso; Sam has to babysit and room with Dorothy’s wild child daughter, Alicia (Lauren Collins). This task is far from simple especially when a sorority selects Alicia to become the butt of a cruel joke. She is seduced by a frat house lothario only to be publically humiliated. Sam does her best to prevent this from happening only to find the true goal of these machinations was to embarrass Sam making the sorority look good to Alicia. This also places Sam once again in a tricky romantic entanglement. The second season was in many ways an attempt to save the series with a major change in course. This was problematic since the series was not lacking in quality or even a clear narrative voice but the network needed to demonstrate stronger ratings. In short they tried to fix something that wasn’t broken. While it is not uncommon to re-tool a show in its sophomore season to keep things fresh but in this case the change was premature. At least thanks to DVD the entire series is available. This was a realistic view of college that holds to the middle of the road without excessive controversy. Too bad a well crafted series is all too often handed a pink slip but this one is in excellent company and worthy of a place on your shelf.

Posted 07/05/2010

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