Dear Diary My Teen Angst Was Shitcanned After Eight Episodes: The Bedford Diaries
(Taking a breather from H:LOTS recaps – so Reader Ash can catch up – Here’s a piece I originally wrote for IFMiB about Julie Martin and Tom Fontana’s short lived teen dramedy “The Bedford Diaries” We’ll finish up H:LOTS season four this week – HUGE SEASON FINALE you can’t miss. If you can find it to watch, it’s called “Work Related”. The recap post is going up on Saturday)
In the Spring of 2006 an ambitious show from producers Julie Martin & Tom Fontana – yes, that Tom Fontana. Mr. Fontanaverse, himself – The Bedford Diaries caused quite a stir. Not for pedigreed creators or cast members, but for its provocative content. Folks were whipped into a frenzy the likes of which we hadn’t seen since Dennis Franz showed the world he didn’t wear underalls. For all the hand wringing over what amounted to a couple of minutes of implied though not explicit sexual content, The Bedford Diaries itself was rather unremarkable. When the smoke cleared there was no fire; the show was given – how do you say – Le boot two months later.
The Bedford Diaries was an uninspired college soap and worked about as well as other failed entries of the genre: Fox’s short lived and truly awful Class of ’96 (Please stop casting Jason Gedrick in your shows!) and Saved by the Bell: The College Years. Generally speaking, having your young adults running around speaking and acting like 30 and 40somethings has the tendency to make your legitimate 30 and 40something on the show seem extraneous. Moreover, these geezerly extraneous folks also essentially sound as though they’re speaking Charlie Brown trumpet whenever they are shown interacting with their youthful cast members.
Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket) is woefully miscast as a sexually progressive Sociology prof who teaches a fatuous plot construct – disguised as a legitimate college course – called, “Sexual Behavior and the Human Condition”. He talks trumpet to the assembled group of requisite teen casting tropes and then hands out some camcorders. Go forth and film the catastrophe! Meanwhile, to demonstrate to the audience he’s “with it” and “hip” he’s later shown being called out for sneaking some strippers onto campus in order to make some inane point about their singing voices.
Note to producers: Black turtlenecks are not a substitution for characterization.
The cast of teen tropes includes a veritable who’s who of don’t mind me; just doing my time actors including: Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley, Heroes’ star Milo Ventimiglia and a couple of chicks I’m sure are making the teen dramedy circuit. Rounding out the grown folks are Private Practice’s Audra McDonald and Fontanaverse vet Peter Gerety and both look really embarrassed to be there.
Each of the eight episodes focuses on happenings in the romantic lives of the characters, with the lecture of the day and the filmed diaries serving to underscore the theme – since a tree, a screed, a hammer and a nail would have been far too subtle.
The Bedford Diaries was plagued with the same crisis of conscience as Melrose Place early in its first season – it initially dreamed of greatness and profound cultural impact. Unlike Melrose Place, The Bedford Diaries did not realize quickly enough that well crafted camp was the way to go. Earnest explorations of teen trauma had run their course on previous WB shows such as Dawson’s Creek and Felicity. And even those shows eventually jettison all that earnest angst in favor of good old fashion regular angst. If there was importance to being earnest, nobody told the audience; they opted to back away slowly from this steaming pile of verbose teens, their pervy prof and their camcorders.
That said, I really wanted to see this thing find its audience and its voice. I wanted it to be engaging soap camp, a well written distraction from concerns plaguing real people. I hoped for a cross between Degrassi – in all its incarnations and St. Elsewhere, but fresher take on all the issues those shows effectively tackled. I wanted characters that reflected the Fontanaverse’s brand of casting and not the kind of casting choices easily available on any number of teen vectored shows already in existence. Instead I got the kind of show WB did well – five years prior to Bedford – devoid of the kind of storytelling, characterizations and story arcs I had come to expect from a show from the Fontana brand.