I hate to admit it but sometimes I find it difficult to get into CBC television programming. I like Little Mosque on the Prairie and The Tudors, but if there is a large demand for what gets recorded with my PVR, CBC shows tend to get the short stick. Thank goodness for getting complete seasons on DVD and long summer days….
The premise of Being Erica has been vaguely familiar to me: by some mechanism, a grown woman gets to go back in time and re-do significant life events. Anyone who is plagued with “what if’s” and regrets in life can connect with this idea. But it took a “recommendation” from blogger Darren Barefoot who is consuming only Canadian products for one year to prompt me to actually watch the show. He characterized Being Erica as “Cathy meets Quantum Leap but, you know, not awful”.
The pilot’s opening narrative is already catchy for someone like me, delivered as we see a thirty-something woman navigate a few busy blocks in downtown Toronto: “You know that friend you have? The girl who seems to have it all figured out. She’s got the great job, the great guy, the great life…. Well, I’m not that girl. My name is Erica Strange. I’m 32, still working a dead-end job, still sleeping… with my cat. I know people wonder why the cute girl with the great education and the great friends can’t get it together. There’s a simple answer: bad decisions. I could teach a course on messing up your life, really I am that good at getting everything wrong. The worse part is it wasn’t always like this. I used to be a rising star, but these days I just feel like a flame-out.”
For some reason, I thought the episodes would be just 22 minutes long, but it’s an hour-long show (dramedy) and that’s going to be quite an investment of my time….! I’m starting from the very beginning and episode 6 was a “game-changer” in terms of getting me firmly hooked, with dealing with a questionable marriage and using historical events as a plot device. To try to fix her sister’s relationship, Erica goes back in time to possibly prevent the relationship from continuing. Instead of convincing the hot-headed boyfriend to reconcile after a fight, Erica lets them break up and they are in the boyfriend’s apartment elevator when the power goes out. It takes place on August 14, 2003, the day of the blackout that crippled Toronto, New York, and the eastern seaboard. As apartment dwellers poke their heads out of their doors to figure out what’s going on, the sisters meet a neighbour and are invited to a party going on. They step into the 22nd floor swanky condo with a giant balcony with a view of the CN Tower and downtown buildings. The sun was lighting everything up brilliantly and someone changed the song to Sean Paul’s party song, Shake that Thing.
The music is another thing. Sure, they need to set up a set fitting to the early 2000’s or back to the ’90s and get details like hair and fashion correct and reduce anachronisms. But music is also a powerful device to tap into your subconscious memories of being back in that time.
It might be a little bit of a spoiler but the show is already three seasons in with a fourth coming in the fall, but when Erica goes back, she usually doesn’t affect the timeline much. The fight between her sister and boyfriend lasts a little longer but they are still together in the present day. When Erica goes back to set right the incident that terminated her friendship with her lesbian friend, things go a little differently, they do not fight, but the friend is still largely out of the picture.
For people who, ahem, wonder a lot “what if”, it is reassuring so far in the first season, that even when she went back, she couldn’t change anything: she is reminded of and still has the convictions that made her act in the first place, and sometimes you didn’t actually have control over a situation. That is kind of assuming that the values you had fifteen years ago are ones you stuck with, that you were basically good in the past. I’m not sure that is true for everyone.
With a shot of Erica running across Dundas Square in the pilot episode and a glimpse of Canadian/Toronto shops like Second Cup, I feel like the show celebrates Toronto in a way that I read the movie, Chloe, was supposed to but I did not quite feel it did. Perhaps, for my standards, “celebrate” requires in-your-face presence. I just love seeing Canada as the backdrop in television.