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Wine, Women, and Once and Again

I have a terrible thing to admit. I'm so ashamed of it, I almost wrote this piece under a ridiculous pseudonym -- "James Collier" or something. But I'm making myself be courageous about this.

I really like Once and Again. In fact, I record the damned show every week. And every week, my roommate mocks me: "Aren't you going to put on a dress to watch that show? Are you going to cry like you always do? My God, man, are you opening another bottle of wine?"

OK, that last criticism is unrelated to the show, and probably justified. But the rest is a little unfair. I mean, this isn't completely a chick show, and I'm just crying because I do that when I'm really drunk.

Last night, his ex-girlfriend was over while I was watching the show, and when he started picking on me, she leapt to my defense: "It's a great show!" Frankly, that just made it worse, since her favorite shows are Felicity, Dawson's Creek and Jack and Jill. Not at all the company I wish to keep.

The ABC web site has this blurb about the show: "Rick and Lily are in love. Their children and former spouses aren't always supportive, and often have dramas of their own."

I'm even more ashamed after typing that, but I'm going to summon some more courage and say that while this may be a chick show, it's a well-made one. The cast is outstanding, for one thing, and I'm happy to admit (in a confident, manly way) that I started watching this show because that Sela Ward is a hottie. She's also 12 years older than me, so I don't have that horrible old-man feeling like when I realized Ed's Julie Bowen was younger than me.

I suspect a lot of people -- mostly those hateful baby boomers -- watch this show because they relate to it in the same way they related to thirtysomething a decade ago. And, yes, this show is fortysomething. And, yes, Edward Zwick produced both shows, and there are other overlaps.

But I watch it in the same way most people watch NYPD Blue or CSI: for a view into an alien world. I haven't been married, have no kids, and of course, don't have to deal with ex-wives or even ex-girlfriends (at least until the restraining orders expire). The logistics of remembering to change the kitty litter when my roommate is out of town kind of overwhelm me, so watching these people deal with the hassles of kids who live in two places, and ex-spouses who have different parenting ideas, and, OK, "dramas of their own," is kind of fascinating, just like a police procedural. How do the millions of people in America deal with all of that?

The show is not only well-acted, but the shows are well-paced, and the potentially very silly technique of cutting to the black and white shot of the actors alone in a bare room to share their innermost feelings is only slightly silly, and sometimes very funny and effective.

But the thing I like most about this show, and the thing that keeps me coming back to it (other than Sela Ward's beautiful eyes. Ahh, those eyes...) is that this show belongs to the very small minority of television that doesn't paint every issue in black and white. It's not always clear what a character should do. Stop and think about that for a moment: the vast majority of television relies on the viewer feeling a sense of superiority to the characters on the screen. We can't figure out our own life, but we know for certain that Ally McBeal should dump that jerk, or the defendant on The Practice is a racist pig, or homophobe, or whatever other self-righteous crap David Kelley is spewing that week. We're better than those people, and it makes us feel good.

But the really great shows, like West Wing or Law and Order or ER (in its heyday, anyway) don't feed that feeling (or, at least, do so with more restraint). The right course isn't always clear, and most of the time there isn't a right option, just a lot of choices that represent different sets of trade-offs. Once and Again isn't a great show, but it's good, and its missteps are not as irritating as the average TV show's best moments.

When Lily deals with her sister, or mentally ill brother (in a particularly deft episode), or kids, it's not always obvious who's right, or what's ethical. Rick is a little more one-dimensional, and less attractive (at least to me, what with that manly confident thing), and his storylines are a little thinner. His client is obviously a jerk, and we're obviously supposed to be uncomfortable with the big development he's working on and the old neighborhood that is being torn down because of it. But even there, that's what architects do and we understand that work is about compromises.

Or take Lily's problems with a co-worker who sexually harasses her, a situation most shows would turn into a silly morality play about evil men and helpless women. But Once and Again is far more nuanced, and Lily ends up admitting to the co-worker that she over-reacted because of what happened to her first marriage, and that the co-worker reminds her of her ex-husband. Did he really sexually harass her, or was it just the kind of pass that happens at workplaces every day? The show doesn't tell us, and that's a rare thing on TV.

So I'm going to keep enduring the comments about wearing panties to watch the show, and needing a hanky, and all of it, and I won't care a bit. You know why?

Because I'm drunk.


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