Reviews

The Class

Michael Abernethy

Because so much was going on, the pilot episode had the feeling of a 30-minute trailer: "Here are our characters, tune in next week to see what happens."

The Class

Airtime: Mondays, 8pm ET
Cast: Jason Ritter, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sean Maguire, Lizzy Caplan, Lucy Punch, Heather Goldenhersh
Network: CBS
US release date: 2006-09-18
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Many people wonder what became of classmates with whom they failed to stay in touch. Are they married? Wealthy? Or are they described by neighbors in the lead story on the nightly news as "Quiet... He kept to himself a lot"? Usually, a Google search for the lost acquaintances or a look through school alumni pages offers answers. But some searches require more effort.

The Class takes up such questions with TV-series-style energy. As the series began, Ethan Haas (Jason Ritter) called everyone from his third grade class and invited them to a party. He didn't just want to reunite the old gang, but to surprise his girlfriend Joanne (Kasey Wilson) on the 20th anniversary of the day they met, the first day of third grade. Theirs is a large old gang: the show features 11 regulars, with a focus on eight. The number is almost overwhelming for a half-hour, but the premiere episode, quite remarkably, established the backgrounds and personalities of all eight.

At the time of Ethan's call, Richie (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) had just finished his suicide note and was about to down a handful of pills. Lina (Heather Goldenhersh) had discovered her boyfriend in bed with another girl, while her acid-tongued sister Kat (Lizzy Caplan) was busy in her darkroom. Duncan (Jon Bernthal) was arguing, again, with his mother (Julie Halston), with whom he lives.

All this swirling misery set the tone for what was in store for Ethan. During the reunion, Joanne announced that Ethan was smothering her and walked out, inspiring Kat to console him by pointing out that his sudden ex was "just that hateful, hurtful whore." While the break-up was certainly the highlight of the party, it wasn't the only drama. Other attendees revealed troubled relationships. Successful anchorwoman Holly (Lucy Punch) used the party to confront Kyle (Sean Maquire) for making out with boy during their prom date, while refusing to recognize that Perry (Sam Harris), the man she married, is even gayer than Kyle. Duncan was still lusting for Nicole (Andrea Anders), who is married to former NFL star Yonk Allen (David Keith), who told Nicole she was the best thing to happen to him... after the Super Bowl, a million dollar endorsement deal, and dinner at the White House. Of all the gang, only Kyle appeared to have a healthy and happy relationship.

In order to jump start the series, the reunion allowed the characters to reestablish bonds. Richie and the heartbroken Lina hooked up (until he accidentally ran her over with his car), Nicole headed over to Duncan's house after dropping her husband off at the airport, and polar opposites Kat and Ethan seemed destined to become friends, if not more.

Because so much was going on, the pilot episode had the feeling of a 30-minute trailer: "Here are our characters, tune in next week to see what happens." Any one of the storylines introduced could have sustained the half-hour by itself. In an interview with USA Today, creator Jeffrey Klarik said he and David Crane agreed to not feature each story arc in every episode: "Let's do some where we have one story with more characters or just three stories and we don't see some characters" ( "Large Cast Moves Sitcom to a New 'Class,'" 14 September 2006). This could be both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing is that each story will presumably develop slowly. The curse is that viewers who become more attached to some characters than others will likely switch channels if their favorites are not the featured story for the night. I most liked Kat and was most intrigued by the impending relationship of Lina and sad-sack Richie, while the Duncan/Nicole/Yonk triangle already seemed too familiar. Those episodes focused on the triangle will be hard-pressed to hold my attention, aside from the amusing bickering between Duncan and his mother.

Indeed, the series' humor provides exposition. After listening to Joanne's rant about Ethan's excessive attentiveness, the desperate-for-love Lina confronted her: "If someone left notes in my diaphragm case, I'd just shut up!" And Kat, upon receiving Ethan's invitation, informed him, "It's funny. I have no recollection of either you or Joanne. But you really sound like people I would hate."

Unfortunately, it's hard to picture where the show will go from here without becoming an expanded version of Friends. Unlikely unions, break-ups, pregnancies, and career challenges all seem to be in the cards, and, of course, the eight will support and ridicule one another. Childhood relationships that ended decades ago seem unlikely grounds for everyone to care much about one another's fates. Only Duncan remembers Ethan when he calls, but we are supposed to buy that the others are so empathetic about Ethan's pain following his break-up that they stick around. It's a stretch, at the least.

To make up for this major hole in logic, The Class features winning characterizations and clever one-liners: when one character noted the group's old principal looked like a "giant penis," another responded, "Yeah, and the turtlenecks didn't help." Such high points are brief, however. Hopefully, the show will be more focused in coming episodes, as there is much to work with. Perhaps too much.

6
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