Sunday, January 29, 2006

Fave TV Shows of All Time, Vol 2

Strange Days at Blake Holsey High

Status among my favorite shows of all time: Strange Days at Blake Holsey High is for sure one of my top 10 shows of all time. The only shows I can definitively say rank above it are: Boy Meet World, Pete and Pete, Joan of Arcadia, Sports Night, Freaks and Geeks. Therefore it ranks somewhere between 6 and 10.

First time I saw an episode: Winter/Spring 2004, two years ago
Last time I saw an episode: The series finale, last night.
Show airs on: Discovery kids afternoons and nights. Saturday morning on Discovery Kids NBC.

Favorite episode of all time: Probably "Strange Days Conclusions" which just aired last night, a 3 part episode tying up the loose ends of the series. Others: "Pheremones" - In which Josie runs for class president; "Echolocation" - Wherein Josie's hearing becomes super sensitive; "Nutrition" - Wherein Vaughn takes energy bars to lose weight for wrestling.

General Plot Description: There is something weird going on at Blake Holsey High something paranormal. When Josie Trent is sent to a private prep school she must come face to face with things that cannot be explained easily but with the help of friends and one science teacher maybe surviving school won't be that hard.

A kid's show which only started airing after I started at college in my top 10? Well, here's the explanation below:


I have written some about Strange Days in an earlier post, entitled "The Case for Underappreciated TV". However, I feel like a lot of what I wrote was somewhat inaccurate and I wanted to rectify that now, with this post; especially with the recent ending of the series.

My history with this show has been tumultuous. I first started watching it on Saturday Mornings on NBC. I watched it without thinking much of it. Then when I was home over the summer following graduation I started watching it in the afternoon when I would get bored. After that I tipped it off to my brother Andrew and we would both watch it. Still though, I really just thought it was a fun little show, with a big mystery plot that slowed the show down, and that it wasn't too much special. In fact, I wrote as much in my previous post. It was only after they started showing all the episodes in marathons, and I started to get into it regarding the final episode that I have really grown to understand why it is really a great show. All this has happened within the past half-year or so. The point of the post below will be to explain why I was wrong before, what changed my mind, in seven compact points.

POINT ONE: The show is downright fun. All of the show is very fun. The general in-episode mysteries and strange happenings are all taken in a very tongue-in-cheek way. The fake science explanations are all handled in a not-too-serious way, and some of them are legitimately educational. Overall, the show never gets bogged down in relationship issues, or big mysteries, and always explores the central concepts of each episode in fun and interesting ways, and always comes up with a pseudo-scientific way to solve the problems.

POINT TWO: All of the characters on the show are likeable, have depth, and are written consistently. The primary cast of this show consists of five kids, one teacher, and one mysterious man who may or may not be evil. Josie Trent - The main character, a young girl with a troubled past and troubled relationship with her parents comes in and joins the Science Club and is really the emotional core of the show. Very independent. Lucas Randall - The smartest of the characters on the show, the one who always figures out the mysteries. He has an unrequited crush on Josie. Very tragic. Similarly on for all of the other characters. The impressive thing about the show is that they manage to develop the characters in believable ways, without ever seeming like they are pandering to the audience.

POINT THREE: The acting on the show is uniformly excellent. Every actor on the show is cast exceptionally well. In particular, Emma Taylor Isherwood who plays Josie Trent and Jeff Douglas who plays Professor Z are very good actors. They play a scene together in "Strange Days Conclusions" that just resonates really well emotionally. All of the actors really know how to balance the emotional requirements of the show with the fun silly tone that the majority of the episodes seem to take on. They all seem to get together really well, and they mesh very well in terms of acting in scenes together. Virtually all of the actors have had significant scenes together, and they all seem to be very compatible. This is one of the very few shows I watch with no real weak links at all in terms of characters or actors.

POINT FOUR: Professor Z is one of the greatest characters in television history. The teacher of the science classes, head of the science club, working together with the five main children to figure out what is going on at the school. The way he always maintains a cool head around the strange happenings is impressive. Sample phrases: "There has to be a scientific explanation for this." "Does anybody have a hypothesis about what is causing ____?" He is the real leader of the gang and he seems to legitimately command respect among his students, and to be a good friend. Plus, he wears awesome sweaters.

POINT FIVE: The Big Mystery. I said earlier that this bogged down the show. But I was wrong. The precision with which this mystery is handled, and the interest it generates, are what lifts this show from a competent kids show to one of the greatest of all time. The central mystery of the show is thus, summarized as compactly as possible. What is going on to cause all the weird things in the show? What is Victor Pearson's role in all this? Is he evil or is he good? These mysteries permeate the entire show, information is slowly revealed throughout. What separates this from, say Lost, is that the mystery progresses in a clear direction. It's obvious the creators know what's going on in the show, and they slowly reveal just enough to fuel more speculation, without going in circles or blatantly confusing the audience. Ultimately it was able to be wrapped up in a very tidy and sensible way in the "Strange Days Conclusions" finale. I really love the precision with which the mystery is handled, and the flawless pace with which everything is revealed, slowly leading viewers down various wrong paths, ultimately to the correct one. In fact, I will say it outright -- This show is much better than the much more praised and hyped "Lost", and the consistent handling and pacing to the central mystery is the major reason (in addition to the superior acting and more likeable characters...sorry, not to pile on).

POINT SIX: Professor Z. So nice, you gotta list him twice.

POINT SEVEN: The show has an amazing website. Strange Days at Blake Holsey High. The webisodes and video clues are both amazing.

Overall, Discovery Kids gets a raw deal. In addition to Strange Days, they also have Flight 29 Down and Endurance, which are kids versions of Lost and Survivor, respectively, and which I will strenuously argue are better than the original adult versions, to anybody who would listen.

I hope this post gives some clarity as to why I think Strange Days at Blake Holsey High is one of the all-time great TV shows. Which, believe me, I say completely unironically. I highly recommend that anybody who gets Discovery Kids on their cable package check it out. If you are a fan of fun shows, with good characters, and excellent acting, you will not be disappointed. Now that this show has ended, I hope that the actors and writers/creators find quick work somewhere else (with better exposure), because they really are very talented, and deserve lasting success. Cheers!