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Reviewed by Will Harris
eflecting on the failure of his college-set series, “Undeclared,” Judd Apatow said, “One reason for the dearth of college shows is that it's difficult to be honest about campus life on network or basic cable. It's hard to portray truthfully. The truth is, kids are high, drunk and having sex. No matter what you do, you're fudging it.”
Hey, when the man’s right, he’s right. As a result, when someone tells you that the rightful heir to “Undeclared” is currently airing on ABC Family, you’re completely within your rights to be skeptical. Those who’ve been tuning in to the network for the last year or two, however, have been witness to some particularly interesting series, including “Kyle XY” and “Lincoln Heights,” and if you’re among that number, you’ll probably find it much easier to trust assurances that “Greek” is one of the most enjoyable teen dramas on the air today.
Despite all of the various plot lines within the series, it’s surprisingly easy to follow, mostly because everyone’s ultimately connected by virtue of attending the same college: Cyprus-Rhodes University. Rusty (Jacob Zachar) is a skinny and slightly nerdy freshman who’s trying to prove his worth in the post-high-school world by rushing a fraternity. This doesn’t thrill his older sister, Casey (Spencer Grammer), who’s a big-wig in the Zeta Beta Zeta sorority and has successfully made it through her time at the university without letting anyone know that she even has a brother. Nonetheless, he enters her circle when he finds himself being considered for a spot with Omega Chi Delta, the fraternity to which Casey’s boyfriend, Evan (Jake McDorman), belongs. Unfortunately, Rusty ends up walking in on Evan cheating on Casey with Rebecca Logan (Dilshad Vadsaria), a senator’s daughter who Casey has been courting for membership in the Zeta Betas. Rusty loses his shot at joining Omega Chi when he feels obliged to tell Casey what he’s seen, but Cappie (Scott Foster), Casey’s ex, decides to throw Rusty a bone and offer him membership in Kappa Tau Gamma, instead.
Did we say it was easy to follow? Seriously, it really does hang together pretty easily. The show provides equal time for each of the various storylines: we watch Rusty dealing with the balance between academics and the Greek lifestyle; Casey is trying to salvage her relationship with Evan, while learning that her Zeta Beta sisters care less about her than they do what Rebecca can bring to the table as a member of the sorority. Meanwhile, Cappie’s discovering that he still has feelings for Casey, which throws a whole new monkey wrench into the goings-on. Somewhere in the midst of all this, we’re also introduced to Calvin (Paul James), a gay Omega Chi who’s in the closet and trying to determine how long he’s going to be able to stay there. As interesting as Calvin’s story may be, it’s the Rusty/Casey relationships that drive “Greek.” But the show does still manage to pull Calvin farther into the proceedings by having him be one of the first friendships Rusty cultivates after arriving at Cyprus-Rhodes, as well as having him become a close friend to Ashleigh (Amber Stevens), one of Casey’s sorority sisters.
Despite Judd Apatow’s worst fears, the parties in “Greek” feel surprisingly real. There’s plenty of drinking to be had (one episode finds beer pong as a key plot point). Sex – both straight and gay – is seen to be occurring quite regularly amongst the student body; in particular, when Rusty starts dating Jen K. (Jessica Rose), the two go at it like rabbits. As for the lack of obscenities, the writers find ways to pull humor from things that aren’t said, like when Ashleigh needs to have a stain removed from an outfit. When Casey asks what the stain is, there’s just enough of a pause before Ashleigh offers “yogurt” as an answer that you know damned well it ain’t yogurt. Casey knows it, too, as evidence by her immediate response of, “Uh, ew!” There are also quite a few in-jokes scattered throughout the scripts, such as Casey’s acknowledged enjoyment of watching “Frasier” re-runs (Spenser Grammer is Kelsey’s daughter), and a reference to LonelyGirl15 is made solely to tease Jessica Rose, who indeed was LonelyGirl15. All of the characters receive a significant amount of development save one: Dale, who seems to exist almost solely to poke fun at conservative religious types. Not that it’s not funny, but it’d be nice to expand on his character a bit more, to see how he came to be the way he is.
“Greek” is definitely not a 100 percent accurate representation of the college experience, but it’s certainly a lot closer than anyone had a right to expect. It’s only half as funny as “Undeclared,” and that’s coupled with maybe a quarter of the melodrama of “Beverly Hills 90210: The College Years,” but the combination proves imminently watchable. With each passing episode, the show gets into more of a groove, making the greatest shame of “Greek: Chapter One” the fact that there are only 10 episodes to be had. Just as it started to breathe, class was over for the semester.
Good thing Chapter Two is airing even as this review is being written, then, eh?
Special Features: It’s a nice little set, with audio commentaries from cast and crew, deleted scenes, and a featurette on the making of the show. There’s also an extended music sequence as well as a sneak peek of the aforementioned Chapter Two of the series.