There shouldn't be a show more perfect for me than "October Road." It's written by Scott Rosenberg, who also wrote one the screenplay for the music nerdfest High Fidelity as well as one of my all-time favorite movies, Beautiful Girls. It's based on Rosenberg's own experiences after writing Beautiful Girls, and it's even set in the movie's hometown of Knights Ridge.
So it was painful for me to pop in the first of four episodes I screened of "October Road," which premieres tonight after "Grey's Anatomy" on ABC, and find it nearly unwatchable. The pilot packs in every coming-home cliche ever written, awkward references to Sept. 11, a stereotypical college girl love interest, a freakishly well-spoken child who may or may not be the main character's son, and a bar fight. The weird thing was that I couldn't stop watching — but then, I had four episodes at my fingertips. If I'd been a regular viewer, I don't think I would have even finished off the pilot.
In the show's first scenes, set in 1997, Nick Garrett (Byan Greenberg of "One Tree Hill") leaves his hometown girlfriend and high school buddies behind for a six-week trip to Europe. He returns 10 years later as the author of the bestselling book Turtle on a Snare Drum (seriously), a thinly veiled autobiographical novel that savaged many of his former friends. Let's get this straight: Rosenberg wrote Beautiful Girls based on his hometown, and people got angry, so he wrote a TV show about their reactions? They're really gonna love him now. It gets worse, so read more
A big part of the problem with "October Road" is the script, which includes the following clunkers:
- "The only way you could hurt me, buddy boy, is by taking the cheese out of my doodles."
- "Whatever you two have going on with each other, why don't I delicately extract myself and order us some dagwoods?"
- "Once I stayed away, staying away became the way."
- "You seem to have forgotten which side of October Road you belong on."
I'm willing to forgive a little stilted speech on TV, but this is ridiculous — and the delivery makes it worse. If Rosenberg's dialogue is going to work, it needs to be studded with "um"s and awkward pauses, as though the characters realize halfway through a supposedly deep point that what they're saying is dumb. But Greenberg and the others deliver their lines straight, and the result is a show that sounds completely overacted and overwrought. "October Road" also feels oddly dated; it's set in 2007, but it seems more like 1997, if not older. I know Knights Ridge is supposed to be the town that time forgot, but I really don't think they're still listening to the Gin Blossoms and Collective Soul.
There is at least one good thing about "October Road": Laura Prepon. She delivers Rosenberg's better lines the way I imagine they were meant to be said, and she makes the worst of them tolerable. I think part of why I kept popping episodes in was to see what happened to her character.
But Prepon alone can't make the show worth watching. As much as it hurts me to say it, this is one to skip — unless you really like rolling your eyes.
Photos copyright 2007 ABC, Inc.