The Complete First Season
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t’s easy to want to dislike “October Road” right off the bat. Its central character Nick Garrett (Bryan Greenberg, “Prime”) is the writer of a hugely successful debut novel with the annoying title Turtle on a Snare Drum. Nick has writer’s block, but avoids dealing with it via an invitation to speak at the college in his hometown. He hasn’t been there in 10 years, and in the interim has hardly spoken with his father (Tom Berenger), brother or his rag-tag band of high school buds.
He also left a girl, Hannah (Laura Prepon, “That ‘70s Show”), behind with nary a goodbye. Worst of all (for Nick), his novel was based on these people and he barely changed their names. But it’s fiction, right? That’s what he keeps telling everyone when he sees them again. The DVD cover features two achingly clichéd taglines: “Sometimes you’ve got to look back to see where you’re going” and “Can you ever really go home again?” If you hate this show already, then I’ve been unfairly harsh – “October Road” is too nice to hate. If nothing written thus far has offended your sensibilities, you should check it out because you may just love it.
The setting here is the fictitious Knights Ridge, Massachusetts – an idyllic little college town where it seems eternally autumn. The leaves on the trees are glorious shades of red, orange and amber. Children ride their bikes up and down the streets without a care in the world. The adults are seemingly content, even if the dreams of their youth weren’t realized. This Norman Rockwell utopia is upset by the arrival of Nick, whose presence is unwanted by most -- even the trees don’t seem to like him, as they become slightly less colorful with each passing episode. Perhaps Knights Ridge slowly comes into a more realistic focus for Nick? Or maybe the timeline is just nearing winter? It’s hard to tell. In the first episode Nick botches the speaking engagement, falls for a girl (Odette Yustman) at the college, and learns that Hannah has a 10-year old son whose age, combined with a nut allergy that runs in Nick’s family, makes him wonder about the Child’s paternity. So instead of heading back to New York, he decides to stay, and all manner of soapy hell breaks loose – but like those leaves, it’s colored with a golden sheen. It can’t be said the show doesn’t know what it wants to be. It knows exactly what it is and what it wants to achieve (which in itself makes it something of a success). It’s just a matter of whether or not this is your sort of thing.
The biggest hurdle is its central character, who is impossible to like at the start. No offense to Greenberg who does a good job in the role, but are we supposed to empathize with a successful writer who’s not only blocked, but never has anything witty or profound to say? If he were an asshole, I might’ve understood him immediately. Truman Capote he ain’t, and it’s hard to imagine that Nick’s been successful at anything other than dodging his life. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Nick doesn’t even have another novel in him. Maybe the only thing he ever could have done is return to the only material he knows.
“October Road” was an ABC midseason offering and the first season is only six episodes, so don’t expect much resolution from the setups presented here. As the season progresses, it actually becomes tolerable – dare I say cozy even – probably in part because of its mission to wallow in nostalgia (each episode features at least one musical montage set to a pop song of days gone by). Particularly interesting is the story of Phil (Jay Paulson), one of Nick’s friends who’s been agoraphobic since Sept. 11. When he meets a charming pizza delivery girl (Lindy Booth), his cloistered world seems set to change once again. Paulson and Booth’s characters and performances are so sweetly winning that I’d have enjoyed a series just about them.
If the name Knights Ridge sounds vaguely familiar it’s because it was also the fictitious setting for the film “Beautiful Girls,” which was written by Scott Rosenberg -- one of the creators of this series. If one thought of “Twin Peaks” as the progeny of “Blue Velvet,” then perhaps the same could be said of “October Road” and “Beautiful Girls.” The show tonally and structurally has a lot in common with that movie, and before discovering the Rosenberg connection the similarities were already nagging me. “Beautiful Girls” was enjoyable all those years ago, so why am I so critical of “October Road?” Have I become jaded in my old age? Maybe it all has something to do with nostalgia.
Special Features: “October Road: The Journey Begins” is a mini-doc covering behind the scenes type of fare, featuring interviews with the cast and crew. It’s fairly watchable stuff compared to the standard deleted scenes and obligatory blooper reel that follow it. There’s also a “Season Two Preview” that consists of more cast and crew thoughts about what’s going to happen when the series comes back on Nov. 22. I wonder how many Season Two scripts are already written? If there are plenty, given the current writer’s strike, “October Road” might end up a sleeper hit. Nostalgia’s hard to maintain over the long haul, but if there’s nothing else new, it could be some of the only new material ABC’s got to offer.