I've started watching through A Very Peculiar Practice. Normally, I hate sitcoms. I find most of them very irritating. You have a protagonist, who you're informed is a nice person but who never does much of anything to prove it, because the entire framework of the show is built on them being backed repeatedly into socially untenable corners and not doing anything sensible to get out of them. You could resolve most of these plots in about five minutes if someone, anyone, just sat down and went, "Look, this is awkward and all, but here's what's going on." But of course nobody ever does that, because if your protagonist grows any kind of backbone or accidentally buds some common sense, there goes the premise of your series.

Davison has a knack for picking comedy projects that I actually think are hilarious. Including about half of his sitcoms, which I think is a record. I started watching this thing figuring I'd sit through a couple of episodes, see what I thought of everyone's performances, and then turn it off, because the usual round of stupidity started getting to me. And, indeed, everyone on this show is patently insane. Davison is cast as Stephen, the Only Sane Man, so he's gotten off light with good handful of reasonably understandable neuroses.

He does, however, have a spine. I decided I was probably not going to turn it off quite as quickly as I normally do when his character sat down one of the lunatics and actually said, "You don't really mean all this, do you? Because no reasonable person could possibly say that in all seriousness." It turns out that he was serious, because he was unreasonable, but this is exactly the sort of mistake normal people make when dealing with loons. The important part here is that he said something, rather than going all jellyfish and wobbling along with it because he's terrified of not fitting in.

I decided I probably wasn't going to turn it off at all at the end of the episode, when one of the other doctors made a serious mistake out of sheer negligence, and his response was to get very angry and go yell. Another thing that irritates me no end is that sitcoms, in their attempts to get ever more outrageously "funny", make little distinction between grades of 'terrible things that might happen'. Trying to impress the boss? Accidentally decapitate Grandpa in the process? Whoops! Not here. Awkward things do happen to Stephen -- when he's around the lady he likes, sometimes his sentences come out stupid. But that's not even vaguely in the same league as medical malpractice, and it's not treated as if it is.

Unusually enough, I also find that so far I'm quite liking the romance. Stephen has what are politely referred to as 'issues'; he's fresh out of a marriage that seems to have broken up quite cruelly, although we don't get all the details, and he seems rather traumatized. The lady he's sweet on is a social psychologist who specializes in non-verbal communication. Normally, I hate this on TV, because the people who write it did their "research" by reading Cosmo on their lunch breaks, and all of the things they quote are complete crap. They've got it pretty simplified here, but not to the point where it makes me wince. She's managing to flirt and apply desensitization techniques at the same time without screwing up either one. Davison's also playing pretty accurate to what Stephen's problems are supposed to be, particularly by the standards of television, where a lot of the conventions of the medium kind of interfere.

Whenever the story setup involves two people helping each other by falling in love, especially when the one with most of the emotional knowledge is the woman, there's the danger of falling into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory. There have been a lot of things written about MPDGs on the internet in the past few years, and one of the key aspects of the trope is that this woman is supposed to be a force that changes his life from the outside. The MPDG traditionally drags her target kicking and screaming out of a narrow, unhappy existence, and into a lovely liberated sunny meadow full of butterflies, completely against his will -- he puts no work into it, he bears no responsibility for it and he has plausible deniability all the way up until the moment it works, just in case it doesn't. It's the male equivalent of waiting for that knight in shining armor, and it's not very interesting to watch.

This series has actually managed to avoid it. She gives him the opportunity to try a lot of things he otherwise wouldn't have, and he's certainly motivated by the fact that he's crushing on her like mad, but she doesn't shove, pester, chivvy, or shame him into anything. She tells him her plan, and if he's not willing, it doesn't happen. She listens to his input. There is much talking -- with actual content about relationships and history and expectations and negotiation, not wuvvy gibbering. Captain Awkward would be proud.

The series doesn't seem to be available on R1 NTSC DVD, unfortunately, but most if not all of it can be found on YouTube. R2 PAL viewers can of course get it wherever they get their normal media fixes; there's a couple of series box sets, which may or may not have any significant differences between them.

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