The Nightmare Commences


Season 1, Episode 1

A school bell rings as an illustrated high school morphs into a real high school while the greatest theme music ever composed on a toy Casio keyboard assaults your ears.  A wide shot of the school hallway where Matt (credited in the opening as “Matt”), Ashley (“Ashley”) and Jake (“Jake”) pass a basketball around.  Then we find ourselves in Brooke’s bedroom where Theresa (“Theresa”) picks up the phone, then hands it to Kelly (“Kelly”) who proceeds to hand it off to Brooke (“Brooke”).  Finally, we’re in Dylan’s garage, introduced by turn to Billy (“Billy”), Dylan (“Dylan”), and Courtney (“Courtney”).  An interior shot of the Avalon and we’re off to the races.  As you can see, aside from the exclusion of Cindy and Olaf from the opening montage, it basically accomplishes in aboot 20 seconds what it took me 28 paragraphs to do in my last post.

These episodes all had titles, incidentally, but aside from the previously mentioned “The Dislocated Swede”, I’m not going to bother finding oot what they all were.  And no, they are not indicated anywhere on the DVR set that I recently scored which is of slightly higher quality than a collection of cell phone videos of a TV screen.

First we meet Brooke and Kelly who enter through the perplexing door that may or may not be the main entrance of the school.  On the one hand, there is an exit sign above the door, visible from the inside, but if you look through the narrow window panes, you can see that there’s something else going on back there and it can’t be the direct access to the school from ootside.  If my first day of school at this den of torture had been over a decade ago, I’d probably still be standing ootside trying to figure oot how the fuck to get in.  Anyway, Brooke and Kelly waste no time launching into their mean girl schtick and Kelly tells Brooke that she saw Courtney sitting ootside on the steps “looking totally tragic”.  Of course, they must find oot why ASAP.  Then they continue to fill in some backstory by mercilessly trashing Ashley for being, well, Ashley, and debating Matt’s hotness.  This is the cue for Matt to appear from the mysterious stairwell (which is across from the soda machine, not next to it as I indicated previously…this is important!).  In the early episodes, Matt is almost always wearing his Hillside letterman jacket, which is a small mercy as it temporarily shields us from his abominable wardrobe composed entirely of clashing-colored polo shirts.  Matt asks them if they’ve seen Ashley, then beats a hasty retreat, leaving Kelly to gush aboot how hot he is through her cumbersome but somehow aesthetically appealing braces.  A few pointed eye rolls later and we see Matt approaching a table in the student lounge (?) occupied by a couple of jocks and Jake.  Jake is no jock.  I think the writers hadn’t figured oot what to do with him yet because his attitude is relaxed and even slightly antagonistic as he gushes on and on aboot what a fabulous basketball player his shitty best friend is.  Jake is so obviously warm for Matt’s form, but in a show that tackled issues like alcoholism, divorce and terminal disease, homosexuality was still a bridge too far.  So let’s assume it was intentionally implied.  One of the unnamed jocks hails Matt for scoring “27 points…in the last 5 minutes” in Friday’s game.  I have to assume that the opposing team must all have come down with explosive diarrhea at the 5 minute warning, since it would be literally impossible to score 27 points in 5 minutes even if you were playing against a squad of paraplegics.  This scene is so painful to watch and it’s also the only time that Ashley’s entrance elicits a sigh of relief.  Ashley even somehow manages to walk in a whisper.  She whisper-walks to Matt’s side and whispers “hi, matt”, and Matt gives her a tiny peck on the cheek.  Got that?  A tiny, completely platonic peck on the cheek.  Jake reacts: “WOAH-HO!  STAND BACK!!  WE’LL GET BLINDED BY THE SPARKS OF PASSION!”  I shit you not.  Ashley and Matt mutter a few platitudes to each other that make it seem as if they’re meeting for the first time while Brooke and Kelly, obscured behind a fake potted bush of some kind, sneer at the nauseating spectacle (“If those two don’t cut it oot, I’m gonna gag!”)

As Ashley walks away from the table of jocks, Brooke and Kelly call her over to mock-praise her ootfit.  Ashley is wearing a pink denim jacket over a purple shirt and pink denim jeans.  I won’t have to describe what she’s wearing for the rest of this season, since it’s always a pink denim jacket over a purple shirt and pink denim jeans.  The only variation to her look is that the tougher life gets for poor Ashley, the more her pink denim jacket slides precipitously off her shoulders.

The scene changes and we see Courtney for the first time, wandering around the school wearing what I can only assume is her dead grandmother’s sofa.  Ashley enters from behind and says hi.  Courtney doesn’t return the pleasantry and asks if Ashley’s seen Billy.  Ashley sheepishly asks, “Your brother?” to which Courtney replies, “No, Billy Idol.  Who’d you think?”  BFFs warm the heart, don’t they?  Courtney’s facial features ooze disdain for her bestie – and this is the first time we’re ever shown an interaction between these two.  Courtney says a few more unnecessarily sarcastic things and bolts, setting up the first of countless close-up shots of Ashley’s face trying to process the fact that life just once again took a jackhammer to her fragile little soul.  These poignant and wonderful moments are the reason film was invented.

A completely superfluous dialogue between Brooke and Matt follows.  This whole scene is irrelevant, but there are a few key things to point oot.  Matt is eating a bag of microwave popcorn at one of the lounge tables.  Brooke is carrying what looks like a cafeteria tray with an apple on it.  Brooke flirts for a bit, then walks away.  Jake appears, seemingly from thin air, and asks for the first time the question that is pretty much the backbone of the show: “Did I just miss something here?”  No, Jake.  No, you didn’t, because you were fucking eavesdropping the whole time, just like everyone who inhabits the Ninth Circle of Hell, a/k/a Hillside.  But the important thing here is Brooke’s cafeteria tray.  Never again do we see any sign of an actual cafeteria or lunchroom because everyone brings a bag lunch and eats in the lounge, even though the lounge is never occupied by more than 4 people at a time.

Matt and Jake exchange a few sweet nothings and on their way to the gym, they run into Dylan swaggering through the halls, all leather jacket and ripped jeans.  He greets Matt with a sarcastic (I think), “Hey, Stud”, then launches into what is either an insulting diatribe or a sincere tribute to “THE Matt Walker”, replete with words like “spectacular”.  Then he leans in and pinches Matt’s polo shirt and says, “May I touch your raiment?”  Think aboot that.  Somebody actually sat down and wrote that shit into a television script.  They nearly come to blows, some ominous music plays and we have now established that Matt and Dylan are sworn enemies whose only means of expressing such animosity is through effusive and sometimes Shakespearian praise.  As Dylan exits, Matt sarcastically asks Jake if he should be shaking in his boots and Jake, of course, doubts that “a macho guy like you” needs to be worried.  Jake is mucho attuned to Matt’s macho appeal.

The next scene is supposed to be some time later, I guess, because now Dylan is at one of the lounge tables studying or pretending to study or looking at porn that he has discretely hidden in his open textbook.  Enter Deadpool carrying a skateboard.  It seems that at this stage in his career, Ryan Reynolds hadn’t yet mastered the art of dialogue withoot getting uncomfortably winded.  They talk aboot skateboardy things for a few seconds until Brooke inserts herself into the scene and – just in case we hadn’t yet gotten a handle on what Dylan’s all aboot – says, “Well, look at this!  If it isn’t Hillside’s professional rebel, looking like he just fell off the back of a motorcycle”.   A swing and a miss, Brooke.  Brooke says a few more things and saunters off, leaving Dylan to warn young Billy to “be careful” of women like Brooke because “they’re trouble”.  This is to establish at the onset the sort of hip-paternal attitude Dylan takes towards his little protégé.  But this is Deadpool – no slouch even at 13 years of age – and he’s wise to the fact that Dylan secretly has the hots for Brooke.

Now comes Courtney and Ashley’s second attempt to convince us that they’re actually friends who don’t secretly desire to disembowel each other.  It’s slightly more successful than the first attempt.  As Courtney’s funeral home drapes swish around her lower half, she tenders an apology for having been “a real cow” earlier that morning.  They establish that they’re still friends and then keep acting as if they’re painfully uncomfortable in each other’s company.  Finally, Courtney sits down and fills Ashley in on what’s been up her ass all day, while Billy and Dylan look on, oot of earshot.  Billy is eagerly waiting for his sister to open her brown-bagged lunch because he shook up her can of soda earlier and thinks it will be a hoot when she opens it.  Courtney tells Ashley that last night, “after supper”, her mom wanted to have a talk.  Two or three eons pass as Courtney hems and haws and basically says nothing at all, leaving Ashley to whisper-guess what might have happened.  Before Courtney finds her words (a process that always takes longer than most trips to the DMV), she opens the can of Sprite and gets sprayed all over her atrocious old lady dress.  In her frustration, Courtney decides this is a good time to inform her little brother that their parents are breaking up.  We get a dramatic close-up of Courtney’s tortured face as Ashley whispers, “courtney” over dramatic scene-change music.  I don’t think Jean Paul Sartre could have conceived of a more horrifying version of Hell than this fucking school.

Our first exterior shot of The Avalon, arguably the most consistently confusing thing on this show.  It’s on a city street with an el-train above and behind the street, and an ominous building that looks like the Texas Book Depository flanking the strip of businesses.  The only storefront sign that can be made oot says “Chinese Foods”, though we’re never given reason to believe that The Avalon traffics in egg foo young.  Even the traffic patterns on the street ootside the buildings make no sense.

Inside, a chubby kid is serving milkshakes to Brooke and Kelly’s table.  His apron is filthy and stained, as is the disgusting rag slung over his shoulder.  He never speaks.  You will see this guy several more times and he’s always just as unappetizingly filthy.

The seeds of a plot to destroy Ashley are germinating here, but nothing really gets off the ground.  So I’d advise instead that you pay attention to the extras in the background, at the counter, etc.  There’s a cake stand on the counter that is always empty but I guess that’s just as well because everyone at the Avalon who isn’t part of the main cast appears to be mute, so they might not even have mouths.  Often they just sit perfectly still, staring ahead.

Cut to the boys’ locker room and our first unobscured glance at one of Matt’s unholy polo shirts.  Jake is whining to Matt aboot having to do gymnastics until Matt tells him that he likes gymnastics which, of course, shuts Jake right the fuck up.  Then Jake gets to what’s really on his mind – the fact that he saw Brooke talking to Matt earlier.  Jake’s possessive jealousy is so transparent that I’m surprised Matt doesn’t constantly pirouette to ensure he’s not staring at his ass.  Jake is fully dressed but for some reason has a towel draped over his shoulder for this entire scene.  Matt mockingly advises Jake to watch oot for the pummel horse which is “trying to kill him” while grasping his shoulder in a way that must send Jake’s libido into overdrive.  Matt closes his locker, which doesn’t close.  None of the lockers in this school close, but just bounce back open according to the amount of force applied in the attempt to close them.  In other words, the budget didn’t allow for operable cheap metal lockers.  But it allowed for fucking Ryan Reynolds, didn’t it?

Courtney and Deadpool are in the hallway talking aboot their parents.  Courtney tells him that last night, after supper, Mom filled her in on the fact that she and Dad weren’t getting along so well.  We kind of know all this shit already, so the rehashing is superfluous, but there’s one thing to keep in mind for future reference.  More than once, Courtney describes this little talk with Mom as a “family meeting”, even though it involved only her and Mom (“…because I’m older, I guess” – wrong, Courtney).  But of course (and there’s no such thing as a spoiler alert for this show), not getting along eventually progresses to Dad moving oot which finally ends in divorce.  For each of these developments, a family meeting is called.  However, the divorce news was broken only to Billy in an “after supper family meeting”.  So sometimes, these psychopathic parents tell one child major bad news and sometimes they tell the other, but never both.  I guess they think breaking “tragic” news to a sibling puts hair on yer chest.  We never meet their parents (or ANY adults, for that matter, for the entire 65 episode run) but one thing is for certain: Canada’s version of DYFS needs to pay a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Simpson, stat.

Holy Mother of God, there are still over 9 minutes left in this episode.  What the hell did I get myself into?

As Courtney walks away from Billy, she is blitzkrieged by Brooke and Kelly who are coming down the stairs, ostensibly sympathizing but clearly delighted aboot her family troubles.  No matter how shitty Brooke is to her, Courtney clearly admires her and wishes that she was Brooke instead of Courtney, which I guess is understandable, but no less pathetic to watch.

Back at The Avalon, the disgusting chubby pig of a waiter is delivering a round of sodas to Ashley, Matt and Jake.  These three are seriously sitting at a booth, idly swirling their sodas with a straw, discussing the possible divorce of Courtney’s parents.  The melodrama is so thick you could cut it with a hockey stick, especially that which silently tiptoes its way oot of Ashley’s mouth.  Courtney enters and approaches the table and everyone, of course, falls silent.  The rest of this scene makes me want to pluck oot both of my eyes with a salad fork.  The gang extends condolences to a surprisingly upbeat Courtney and when she informs them that she’s doing okay, they refuse to accept that, especially Ashley, who clearly hates it when people are doing okay.  She even whispers, no shit, “it’s a long way from being okay”.

Back at Hillside, Billy’s sitting on the steps when Dylan descends and tenders a heartfelt “bummer” aboot the situation with his parents.  They decide to go skateboarding.  They could have just as easily inserted a commercial break right here and no one would have been the wiser.

Now we’re in the back pinball room of The Avalon and Matt is holding court at the Atila The Hun machine.  The flippers are moving and a ball is actually in play.  We will see Matt, among others, “playing” pinball at this machine many more times, but this is the first and last time that it actually seems to be operational.  Ashley’s pink denim whispers ‘round the corner like an autumn breeze in Ottawa and she asks Matt how he’s doing.  This scene takes far too long just to essentially establish that Ashley is a fucking dork that belongs to every school club there is and because of this, she and Matt don’t see each other as much as they’d like.  Matt asks her to the mall.  Ashley demurs and says she has to go home and study.  Of course.  Fucking pink denim dork.  They kiss lightly and I throw up in my mouth a little, as does Brooke who is eavesdropping with Kelly at a booth just ootside the pinball room.  Brooke sets a timeline for the destruction of their relationship: next Friday.

Next scene, we’re still at The Avalon, but it must be again as opposed to still because Jake is retrieving two sodas from the chubby pig behind the counter and bringing them to the table where he’s sitting with Courtney.  Remember when I told you to pay attention to the people at the counter in the background?  Right now, it’s the same two people wearing the same ootfits sitting on the same stools as THREE AVALON SCENES AGO.  I don’t understand the way the space-time continuum plays oot in Vancouver, I guess.  Jake and Courtney are discussing weekend plans.  Jake hasn’t heard of any “wild parties” going on, so he predicts that he’ll stay at home “watching reruns on TV”.  Notice how the writers couldn’t even think of an easy pop-culture reference to shoehorn into this chat: the best they could come up with was “reruns on TV”. This is the first time we are made aware of Jake’s fatal Courtney crush, but I think it comes too quickly on the heels of his barely concealed advances toward Matt.  Jake asks Courtney oot – to a movie or something – or at least thinks he does.  Miraculously, she seems to accept until she follows with “we’ll get a whole group of people together and have a really good time”.  DENIED, JAKE!!  This clearly isn’t what Jake had in mind and his awkwardness upon hearing it is Oscar-worthy, but short-lived.  Courtney must hear the scene-change music starting up because she suddenly looks Jake in the eye and says, “Oh, Jake.  They’re my parents.  My mom and dad.  If they break up…what am I gonna do?”  They stare at each other for a painfully long moment as the scene stubbornly refuses to end no matter what the background music indicates.

But this time, it’s not a scene change, but clips from next week’s episode, and now I understand why they dragged oot that interminable staring moment for as long as they did.  Dramatic effect, pure and simple.  The first rule of an effective teen soap, of course, is this: Always leave ‘em wanting to hang themselves from the shower rod with a towel.

9 thoughts on “The Nightmare Commences

  1. Jesusfuckingchrist dude. I swear you have this show committed to memory. I can still taste the initial rush of dread as you slid disc 1 into the dvd player. I recall Kelly’s apparently chrome plated braces blinding me, seeing Ashley for the first time and immediately knowing she had been dipping into her invisible mothers xanax, Courtney’s Amish garb. Trust me, dear viewer, YOU WILL MISS KELLY! THEY JUST GET MORE AWFUL FROM HERE! RUN!!! RUN BEFORE THE “ARSEMAN” ARRIVES!!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. One down!

    Honestly, it sounds pretty good. Maybe corny, but not as corny as, say, Babylon 5. How much did you pay for the DVD collection? Is it on Amazon Prime? Can you add a table of contents so I can scroll back easier? If I start at the top and read backwards does Jake say “Here’s to you, Sweet Satan”?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Damn, you solved the backwards masking Satan mystery in your first post! I found the dvds on some ebay knock-off site called iOffer, and there are officially none left on the planet. Someone recorded it on VHS all those years ago, because at the end of the episodes, a Nick announcer comes on to say that Clarissa Explains It All is up next, etc., and recently transferred from vhs to dvd. I think it’s on Amazon Prime, definitely Vimeo and the entire first season is on YouTube. Welcome to the nightmare, Tom!

      Liked by 1 person

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