2/28/08

Ode to South of Nowhere

Since I don't write poetry, I guess this isn't really an ode. It's more like an essay, or just me rambling. But ode sounded better.

South of Nowhere returns April 11! I know that's still a month and a half away, but The N is already marathoning the first two seasons and first half of the third season, and I'm already giddy with excitement.



Wait, you've never heard of South of Nowhere? That's probably because it airs on a teeny-tiny digital cable network called The N - an offshoot of Nickelodeon aimed at teenagers. If you have a cable box, you probably get this channel - now is the time to check it out! (Psst - they also have Saved by the Bell reruns. Not that I watch those or anything.)

South of Nowhere tells the story of the Carlin family - a beautiful, blond, Christian Midwestern family who moves to Los Angeles in search of a better career for Paula, the matriarch. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, they find all kinds of things they were never exposed to in the third world country of Ohio: gay people, black people, drugs, sex, West Hollywood, rich kids, children of celebrities, racism, gang violence, and diners owned by guys named Nat. OK, that last part isn't true, but you see where I'm going with this.

The premise was never original in any sense of the word. The brilliance of the show came when the writers took the time honored formula invented by Aaron Spelling and turned it around a bit, by making daughter Spencer's homosexuality the most shocking thing to happen to this family. In the pilot, amidst all of the chaos of her new surroundings, Spencer met Ashley, the school wild child and resident bisexual. It wasn't long before Spencer and Ashley were playing hooky at the beach, debating about the virtues of dating girls instead of boys.

During the first two seasons, when ex-sitcom writer Nancylee Myatt ran the show, South of Nowhere was an honest-to-goodness teen soap opera which, despite it's hyperbolic TV tendencies, dealt with what it's like to be a gay teenager. It was refreshing to watch, if only to marvel at the fact that a show about teenagers exists where the central on again, off again love story revolves around a lesbian relationship. Granted, the other characters were ordinary teen soap archetypes - Glenn, the drug addicted older brother; Clay, the adopted kid searching for his birth mom; Aiden, the confused ex boyfriend. Even so, the show was hugely addictive, and teen soap opera lovers such as myself could revel in all of the debauchery, while still shaking our heads in amazement when Spencer chose Ashley over Aiden.

However, in season three, once Ms. Myatt exited the scene, it seems as though the powers that be over at The N hired some ex-90210 writers to take over and turn the show into... 90210. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, it's just... ordinary. When watching the current third season compared with the first two, the behind the scenes writing coup is obvious. Gone are Myatt's subtle commentaries on teenage culture, not to mention three dimensional characters and teenagers who actually act like teenagers. The beginning of the third season saw changes that make it look more and more like it's predecessor: Clay is gone (he died in a gang shooting), but his ex girlfriend is now pregnant with his baby while lusting after Glenn. Ashley and her long lost half sister Kyla now have 25 million dollars of inheritance money, and no longer attend school. Aiden has now slept with every single girl on the show, and is in therapy for PTSD following the gang shooting. Madison is a cheerleader and annoys everybody with her scenery chewing.

But surprisingly, despite the insipidities of the rest of the characters, and despite television's usual tendency to only turn characters gay for one episode, the new regime has managed to keep one thing intact: Spencer is, in fact, still gay, and despite her sometimes bad judgment when it comes to dating, she remains a watchable and relatable teenager struggling with her sexuality. A particularly moving and insightful moment came right before the season 3 hiatus, when Spencer, with the help of then ex-girlfriend Ashley, took both of her parents with her to Pride. Including her homophobic mother. Moments and storyline like that are what keep me watching this show.


The first half of season 3 aired during the summer of 2007, and I have no idea what's in store for the second half. Will Ashley finally settle down and stay true to Spencer, despite her lingering feelings for Aidan? Will Spencer finally come to her senses and find a girlfriend who's actually gay? Will Madison get killed in some kind of freak accident (hopefully)? Will Spencer and Ashley actually get to kiss for more than a split second before the scene fades out? I can't wait to find out!

My new strategy for watching South of Nowhere involves Tivo-ing the episode, and then fast forwarding through anything that doesn't involve Spencer or her parents. This usually reduces the episodes to about 10 minutes... but that's OK. It gives me more time to watch The L Word, or Coyote Ugly for the 417th time on basic cable.

3 comments:

Lesberita said...

I've never seen this show before but it sounds good. I don't have the extended cable package, but I'm sure the DVD's are on netflix. I'll definitely have to check it out... You are a very talented writer, I love your synopsis's!

chickflick said...

Unfortunately, there are no DVDs. But I think you can watch full episodes on the website - www.the-n.com.

Dykes And The City said...

Because we're always a little bit behind in Europe I only just discovered South Of Nowhere. Last Sunday I thought I'd watch one or two episodes just to see what it was like and then all of a sudden it was evening and I had watched the entire 1st season, pretty addictive. Of course I only watched it for the gay story line (of course) and I have to say that I was surprised (in a positive way) to see how it was/is handled on the show. Desperate to get my hands on season 2 now to see how it all evolves...

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