Complete First Season
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Reviewed by Will Harris
Canadian-made show about the American college experience? It sounds crazy, but by God, it just might work!
“The Best Years” was created by Aaron Martin, who’d spent more than enough time on “Degrassi: The Next Generation” to earn the right to move from high school to college. The series focuses on Samantha Best (Charity Shea), a plucky orphan who’s spent a decade within the foster-home system and fought long and hard to earn herself a scholarship at Charles University. It’s her big chance to make something of herself, but it’s still a struggle given that, in addition to her studies, she also has to maintain a job at a local club in order to pay for her meal card.
Life at Charles University is decidedly different from what Sam’s experienced up to this point in her life, not least of all because she lives in a co-ed dorm. She finds herself with a roommate, Kathryn Klarner (Jennifer Miller), who’s come to Charles to find herself an Ivy League boyfriend, join a top-level sorority, and get an education – in that order. The relationship between them starts strong but falls apart so dramatically by the end of the first episode that you’ll be convinced they’ll never recover from the damage done. (More on that in a moment.) Sam also meets up with Cynthia Song (Siu Ta), who seems at first to be a real sweetheart but, in due time, turns out to have a lot of problems in her past that have made her into total stalker material. You’ve got Devon Sylver (Brandon Jay McLaren), a star athlete who’s got a thing for Sam, though he first has to get rid of his current girlfriend; on the flip side, there’s Noah Jensen (Randal Edwards), who’s the nicest guy in the world but, alas, more than a little bit geeky when it comes to expressing his love of film.
It’s not as though we don’t already have a great show about the college experience on cable right now, what with ABC Family’s outstanding “Greek,” but you have to hand it to “The Best Years” for offering up a pilot episode which features a moment so dark and unexpected that you almost feel like you have to keep watching the show, lest you miss something just as awesome. In fact, it’s so awesome that, if you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t dare spoil it here, except to say that you’ll meet a character within the first episode who you’ll be convinced is there for the long haul but isn’t. Now, the bad news: there aren’t all that many moments during “The Best Years: The Complete First Season” to match the one in the pilot. Oh, you’ll be consistently entertained at Sam’s evolution as a young woman and the mystery surrounding her connection to the rich and powerful Dorothy O’Sullivan, and there are plenty of other B-stories with other characters to keep things interesting throughout the season, but the full-fledged shocks only come once in a blue moon.
“The Best Years” is late-teen angst, taking the high school melodrama of “90210” and upping it a notch to include things like drug addiction. It’s not consistently groundbreaking, but during those moments when it leaps outside the box and throws you for a loop, it grabs your attention and keeps you watching.
Special Features: Unfortunately, there aren’t any audio commentaries from the cast or crew, but the back of the box does proudly trumpet “over 70 minutes of exclusive bonus features.” These include behind-the-scenes footage, cast interviews (some of which also appear within the behind-the-scenes footage, making it rather less impressive), outtakes from the wrap reel, and the original auditions and screen tests of the cast members.