My TV

07 June 2010

Diva Begins Again

By // TV

My favourite summer show returned tonight with a wonderful season 2 premiere. Kicking off with a song and dance number featuring Paula Abdul (reprising her fantasy judge role from season 1) and a handful of So You Think You Can Dance‘s best and brightest, the series continued what is developing into quite a tradition of fantasy musical sequences. This is where I choose to point out that Drop Dead Diva was already around and kicking (read: singing and dancing) well before Glee hit its stride in the fall. But since a little musical interlude has never done anything but make me smile, I welcome the increase in fantastical musical elements that this season is sure to bring (whether egged on by Glee‘s success or not). The fact that the cast has oodles of theatre professionals on staff certainly helps (seriously, Brooke Elliott’s voice is out of this world).

As if this episode was designed just for me, Diva finished with the SYTYCDancer musical number and drove right into Canada jokes then topped it all off with, the piece de resistance, Shakespeare. I’ve said time and again that my dream writing job would be on the staff for Diva and this only made it worse. There are very few things in this life I love more than television: one of them is musical theatre and the other is Shakespeare (I’m also beginning to think that another might be Tony, could he be dreamier?!). Now, that lame/inaccurate Canada joke reeked of being written by an American (seriously people, I don’t know where you’re getting this plaid assumption from!), but I can forgive that transgression and award points for the effort since I’m a sucker for any mention of my home country. But the Shakespeare, that was well executed. Henry VI and Richard III, topical and famous but not overexposed texts- perfect choices. Brooke Elliott delivered the opening of “the winter of our discontent” with the ease of a classically trained thespian perfectly at home amidst iambic pentameter (could that woman be any more impressive?) and his “kill all the lawyers” speech added detail to Grayson’s character while perfectly framing his role in the episode.

In fact, that was almost his entire role in the episode. The down-playing of Grayson in the premiere I thought served the series well. He played his part (reaffirming his connection with Jane, helping to keep her at the firm, proving once again that he’s wonderful, well-intentioned and smart with a couple beautifully written scenes) but was out of the way just enough to keep from undermining her relationship with Tony. If Grayson had been more present in the episode, it would have been much harder to see Tony slow things down with Jane (something I’m sad to see happen either way). The more time Jane spends with Grayson, the worse I feel for (the better match for her) Tony, who will never quite measure up in Deb’s eyes. Watching Jane navigate the tricky emotional waters of her surprise husband and the consequences that brought was made so much easier by having Grayson largely absent from the picture. Though he will always be there in the back of Deb’s mind, unintentionally undermining Jane’s relationships, the fact that Grayson wasn’t an active factor in their (sort of) breakup, or even in the surrounding episode, gives me hope for Jane’s romantic future.

On the topic of Jane’s future, after another big win in a pro bono case I’m really beginning to think that Jane needs to lose, for her own good. Sure she’s had a couple career ups and downs over the series so far, but she always comes out firmly on top both morally and legally. I think it’s time for Jane to fall. She’s not as insecure about her looks anymore, she’s far from a romantic failure (mmm, Tony), has good friends (4 amazing ones who’ve always got her back: Stacy, Fred, Grayson and Teri), and most recent landmines sorted out (she’s got her job back, her relationship with her mom is on track and the husband’s going away). Now I want to see her lose so she can start to question what she’s never had to question before: how good a lawyer she really is, if maybe a client would have been better off with just Jane, before Deb. Dr. Cox (Scrubs) was never so interesting as when he lost 3 patients and the guilt weighed on him. Jane’s intelligence and legal licence has, up to this point, been what Stacy calls a “super power”, but maybe a good haunting by helplessness would really move Jane forward.

It’s that very human quality that helplessness would bring Jane that shines in other characters. Tonight’s episode marked the (permanent!) return of fan-favourite Fred, Jane’s guardian angel who once gave up heaven to be in love with Stacy. Having Fred back made the series premiere all the more wonderful, especially when the consequences of his earlier decisions really hit home. Fred quit his job as gatekeeper to become human. That opened the doors to wonderful things like the freedom to love whomever he wants. It also brought all the icky realism that comes with humanity, but the audience never really got to see that. Fred quickly left to find himself, embarking on an adventure to “see the world”. But the payoff came tonight when he returned from his adventure and we learned that he’d been too scared to even start. It’s that icky real thing, the flaws that held him back; Jane called it “human”, I call it superb character writing.

It’s stuff like that that reminds me to show a little faith when I start to think that the Diva writers are falling into any typical TV trap that I so desperately want them to stay away from. When circumstantial antagonist Kim took on the villain role in tonight’s episode, I began to wonder if the previously deepening character had been reverted back to her original 2D bitch status. When Jane gets thrust into perpetually heroic roles and spouts lines like “I’m a really good person”; when fantastically sympathetic Stacy calls Canada “our neighbour to the south”; when Jane’s promising romantic interest falls by the wayside with the threat of bad-idea “soulmate” Grayson ever-looming, that’s when I begin to question. But showrunner Josh Berman has yet to steer his series wrong, so I pledge allegiance until the very end.

I trust that “I’m a really good person” is a self-perception line, not an absolute truth of the series; I know the writers believe that Kim is capable of being more than just a villain as much as I do; I won’t let myself believe that Stacy will continue to grow dumber (ala Joey from Friends) and I know that if the writers do go down the (ugh, terrible, implausible) road towards an inevitable Grayson-Jane romance, they’ll do it right. The responsibility of being my favourite summer series is great (I’m critical, I’ll admit it) but Diva is the most deserving candidate I’ve had in a very long while and I’m in it for the long haul with this fundamentally wonderful piece of work.

With a promising season 2 under way, all I can think to hope for is many many seasons of Diva to come. Not only is it perfect summer fare and a welcome dose of the right attitude for the television landscape, but I’m fairly certain I shall never tire of Brooke Elliott’s diva walk.

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