At the beginning of the third episode of ABC’s new primetime soap “October Road,” Nick Garrett, a 30-year-old writer-teacher returning home after 10 years, makes a sappy, contrived confession to his mother’s gravestone. At that point, one can’t help but expect her corpse to suddenly pop up and inform the viewer that the joke is in fact on them, and this isn’t actually a show ABC is planning on running after “Grey’s Anatomy.” But, unfortunately, Nick’s dead mom stays buried, and the show goes on with a hip advertising campaign and a lush spot, premiering March 15 at 10:00 p.m. after the most-watched program in America.
“October Road” is about a place where men successfully pick up women they’ve never met by burning a CD unironically labeled “Mix Tape” in bubble letters, and where a group of five 30-year-old men play “The Boys Are Back In Town” on air guitar every Saturday afternoon at 3. The only authentic and accurate line of the first four hours of “October” is when Aubrey (Odette Yustman), the promiscuous student wooed by her teacher Nick, whinily proclaims, “I’m 23 and I’m stupid” — although nobody really buys the 23.
The show centers around Nick, admirably played by “Proof”’s Bryan Greenberg, who leaves a girlfriend, best buddy and group of friends behind in a small Massachusetts town. He’s supposed to be gone only for a summer, but he ends up not returning until 10 years later after writing a best-selling novel — bizarrely titled, “Turtle on a Snare Drum” — that trashes his hometown. Rather than using his return to explore his character, the writers of “October Road” employ a random Hispanic stranger to deliver fortune-cookie lines such as: “It is the fool who does not return to the place of his last happiness.” Nick suddenly realizes he must go home to find himself and confront the people he left behind.
The most frustrating thing about “October Road” is how unabashedly every character is inserted into a concise, self-consciously clever situation where the emotional ramifications are obvious.
Eddie (Geoff Stults) is the best friend who feels betrayed that Nick left him and is having trouble forgiving him.
Hannah (Laura Prepon, who played Donna in “That 70’s Show”) is the girlfriend still peeved that Nick never came home and who is now dating Nick’s childhood nemesis, named “Big Cat.” But Nick still loves her! Conflicting emotions ensue.
And get this! Hannah has a son who is … 10 years old! Somehow, nobody but Nick has ever thought of the possibility this is his child. Of course, the child is so annoying that the real mystery is why anyone would even want to consider claiming paternity.
Goofy Sam (Slade Pearce) is funny and endearing, but he hasn’t left his house since 9/11. Even when he watches smiling, bundt-cake-toting granny Ms. Tessler fall and die across the street, he can’t leave his house to help her.
Owen (Brad William Henke) thinks he has the perfect life, but secretly his best friend Ronny is sleeping with his wife. And Ronny feels bad!
Maybe some of these storylines could succeed, if only they were handled with any tact or writing skill.
In a climatic scene, Hannah compares her life to an apple cart, saying, “It’s an apple cart. And it’s delicate,” before yelling, “Don’t disrupt the apple cart!”
The plot often centers around clunky emotional revelations, usually occurring through characters saying something unintentionally profound and then realizing the wider implication with glazed looks on their faces.
A fan asks Nick, “Did you intend a deeper allegorical nihilism when you set the last chapter at Ground Zero?” To which Nick answers, “I just thought it was the manifestation of the larger issue of, how do you reconcile the past with the present when you don’t really feel comfortable with either one?”
Suddenly, a pensive expression crosses Nick’s face as he stares into the distance — Eddie walks in angry.
Not all is lost, however. “October Road” marks the long-awaited television return of First Lady Sherry Palmer herself (Penny Johnson) as the tough-nosed dean of the college Nick works at. And when they flash the title at the beginning of the episode, they put a period at the end, which is original and looks cool.
In fact, much of “October Road” is original and looks cool. Unfortunately, paralleling Aubrey’s earlier proclamation, it’s also pretending to be something it’s not — in this case, a hip, character-driven drama. Most damning, it’s just plain-old stupid.