Because I think he’s a fine actor, I was thrilled when he was cast in the ABC series October Road, which debuted last spring and began its second season last Thanksgiving. While the show may not be a classic like Friday Night Lights, it is definitely not as horrid as critics would have you believe. Although the show got off to a painful start, I forewent my three strike rule because I wanted my friend to have success. And you know what? I’m glad I stuck with it. By the end of Season One, October Road had become a heartwarming, sometimes funny show. Syrupy and contrived, but still a guilty pleasure.
October Road follows the lives of a group of childhood friends, now adults, quietly living their lives working and drinking in the New England suburb of Knight’s Ridge. Ten years ago, one of the clique, Nick (Bryan Greenburg) left town to travel the world, thus fulfilling his mother’s dying wish. However, Nick never made it past New York, and he wound up writing a bestselling, brutally honest roman Ã clef about his about his hometown and the people who were his friends.
When he’s asked to return home for a lecturing gig, folks aren’t too thrilled to see him. Deciding he needs to patch up the ties he may have severed, Nick opts to stay in the Ridge. He takes up residence in his old bedroom, under the same roof with his younger brother Ronnie and his father Bob, aka “The Commander” (Tom Berenger). In time, he meets an attractive co-ed named Aubrey (Odette Yustman), repairs the wounds of his past with his best friend Eddie (the aforementioned Mr. Stults), and learns to cope with the fact that he totally fucked up whatever chances he had with the love of his life, Hannah (Laura Prepon, from That ’70s Show). Obviously, this being a weekly nighttime drama, there are numerous subplots that would take several entries to cover (not to mention possibly boring you to tears).
In the show’s second season, Nick and Eddie are once again close friends, and have fulfilled Eddie’s childhood dream of opening a window installation business (something all kids dream of doing). The agoraphobic Phil (Jay Paulson) finally ventures out of his house, thanks to his main squeeze, the perky and cute Pizza Girl (Lindy Booth), and we witness the bitter fallout between big oaf Owen (Brad William Henke) and Ikey (Evan Jones), after the latter is discovered banging Owen’s wife.
The truth is, October Road isn’t covering much new ground here. We’ve seen the “small town full of eccentrics” before, in shows like Northern Exposure, Everwood and ABC’s own Men in Trees. I do like that the characters are all blue-collar types instead of rich people who seem to have money to burn as they try to figure out life. Why is it that sitcoms can deal with the problems of the common man, but almost all prime-time dramas are about wealthy people’s problems? Cry me a river. So why watch October Road, you ask? Simple: to witness the continuing storyline of Eddie and Janet.
As you may have surmised, Eddie is the town stud: he sleeps around and has never had a lasting relationship. Last season, the writers had Eddie start slowly falling for Janet (wonderfully portrayed by Rebecca Field). Janet is an “average” girl, unlike any other woman Eddie has ever dated. For several episodes near the end of Season One, Eddie — worried about superficial appearances — struggled with his feelings for Janet, and almost ruined their relationship. The moment where Eddie finally confessed his affections for Janet became one of the nicest moments in network television last season.
While a show like Ugly Betty may also address women’s body concerns and the definition of beauty, they play many of these issues for laughs, whereas October Road has opted to take a dramatic stance. Similarly, everything about the relationship between Janet and Eddie has been handled tenderly and with care. In last week’s episode, as Janet attempted to convince Eddie to go to bed with her, he approached with trepidation: he knows that each time he’s slept with a woman, it’s spelled doom for the relationship. I was glad to see that ABC’s lame promotion of the episodes, in which Eddie claims “I can’t do this,” had nothing to do with Janet, but rather the Bay City Rollers song she had playing on the stereo. Eddie skips through the CD until he hears “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT!” and comments, “That’s much better.” Cue Geoff Stults removing his shirt, a million girls panting, and a touching, moving, realistic scene in which these two made their way into bed for the first time. On the whole, Stults and Fields are giving brave performances that everyone should be checking out, even if you have to sit through some less-than-stellar moments.
Look, there is worse crap you could be watching, like The Biggest Loser. I know this show isn’t high art. But this is Popdose, people! We cover everything here. And this is a strike-shortened season, so there isn’t much on TV right now. If it sounds like I’m making excuses, I’m really not. Like any guilty pleasure, I have begun to look forward to seeing October Road, and with the wonders of modern technology, I can speed through the really corny parts. Some of you, I’m sure, will have something snarky to say about the show, and that’s fine. In truth, by writing about a show like October Road, I’m hoping to get a taste of the readers’ likes and dislikes. Who knows, maybe I’ve struck gold with this article and you’re all huge October Road fanatics. Like I said, I know I may catch flak for this review, but I stick by the things I like — whether they’re Journey, Joe vs. the Volcano, or October Road.