By: Aleks Chan
I’ve kept up a long, slobbery love affair with the fantastically imperfect ABC Family dramedy GREEK. This modest little show about the relationships of students in the Greek system at the fictional Cypress-Rhodes University is comprised of pieces both unremarkable and occasionally brilliant – I’ve found myself cheering along as often as I’ve recoiled in frustration. The show kicks off its 10-episode final season tonight, and after a tonally bizarre premiere (one that I’m almost tempted to suggest you skip altogether), a promising endnote is in the making.
And like someone who paid to see either of the Sex and the City movies while in theaters (especially the second one), I am overcome by an unwarranted need to explain myself: God help me, if this show doesn’t come across as incriminating as hell. That its first season print campaign featured the principal cast swimming in a giant red plastic cup didn’t help. But I’m glad GREEK has played out the way it has, itself an almost transcendent accomplishment: its boldface stab at crafting a smart bildungsroman inside those claustrophobic, beer and puke-stained frat houses and sorority palaces is at the very least venerable. While it has never sufficiently made Pan-Hellenic internal politics interesting, it has unspooled some well-done relationships that have maturely, humorously, and sincerely found legitimate, reasonable stakes during a time in young adults’ lives difficult to dramatize.
College is a notoriously difficult place to set a TV series, because unlike high school, most people fondly look back at their undergraduate years as a great experience. GREEK has combatted this by sidestepping a realistic portrayal of college altogether and investing its creative juices in developing realistic college characters: they make mistakes, second-guess themselves, and experiment with their identities. An upside to all of this is that it organically allows for all kinds of characters: I don’t know any other show on TV (except ABC’s THE MIDDLE, which would surprise you with how progressive it can be) that is pro-gay, pro-faith, and racially diverse in a way that doesn’t glibly patronize.
In the grand tradition of Herskovitz-Zwick-Abrams-Whedon-Big Chill-type ensembles, the (arch) moodiness is lead by a lovingly maddening female star (the kind so well characterized that you want to reach into the screen and shake her when she’s about to make a mistake), and GREEK has cultivated a nice fusion of the tepid earnestness of lovelorn Felicity Porter and the strong-willed pluckiness of Buffy Summers in Casey Cartwright (Spencer Grammer, daughter of Kelsey). Better yet, Casey’s probably watched and admired those aforementioned TV heroines herself, and you get that sense of awareness from her, thanks in great part to Grammer, who truly has grown as a performer throughout the show’s run.
The season opens on graduation and after her spring break-up with her ambition-less boyfriend Cappie (Scott Michael Foster), Casey is looking to law school with anticipation and anxiety. Her best friend and confidant Ashleigh (Amber Stevens) has moved to New York, enemy turned friend Rebecca (Dilshad Vadsaria) has taken over as her sorority’s president, and her brother Rusty (Jacob Zachar) is starting to make a name for himself at his struggling frat. The premiere seems to have been made in a vacuum: void of all the charms that make the show a pleasant trifle. I’d tell you to wait until the following week’s stronger episode, but like the series as a whole, it has a few moments of greatness that shouldn’t be missed, namely more scenes of one the greatest TV brother-sister relationships (Rusty and Casey’s sibling-hood – loving, caring, funny – should be a standardized practice), and Casey giving another one of her levelheaded, cool older sister-esque speeches that skirts the line of grandstanding but comes across almost James L. Brooksian.
Whether Casey and Cappie end up together at the end of the series is unclear, though I don’t plan on being surprised (and I don’t mind). What’s more promising is what the season proposes to tackle thematically: the pangs of fleeting youth, the fear in becoming an adult, and the internal conflict in deciding who you want to be. GREEK may not always handle its plotting too well (it seems to have plans to thrust a woefully misguided last-minute relationship on us that I’m already dreading), but it remains dedicated to its characters’ believable personal growth, and for that it gets my warmest Grade: B I’ve ever given.
The final season of GREEK premieres Monday January 3 at 9PM EST on ABC Family
Aleks Chan is a contributing writer to The TV Addict. He has seen every episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER four times, has once referred to his DVR as his “best friend,” and has only seen the pilot episode of THE SOPRANOS — and has no intention to apologize for it. He lives in Austin, Texas. His name is pronounced like Alex. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter (@alekstvaddict), or his own blog, Screen Reader.