The Great GREEK Rewatch: Welcome to College

When I first discussed my excitement about Freeform’s upcoming Cloak & Dagger show, the network was met with a lot of skepticism. ABC doesn’t have the best reputation among the major networks, and most people dismissed ABC Family as a less accomplished Disney Channel. But  ABC Family, now called Freeform, produced a number of shows ranging from surprisingly good (Switched At Birth) to outright great (Huge, BunheadsThe Middleman, and Greek). Bunheads had a lot of residual love from Gilmore Girls fans, but many people dismissed Huge and Greek when I brought them up. I think that’s a mistake

So, with all that said… welcome to the first ever Cinema Romantique TV rewatch project, where we’ll be diving into one of my favorite shows from the 2000s: Greek! While the series is sadly no longer streaming on Netflix or Hulu, it does look like Freeform has made it possible for new viewers to follow along by streaming it on their website – a good idea, given the recent announcement of a Greek reunion film. The idea of more Greek has us crazy excited, and I hope you’ll share in some of that as you follow along with our reviews of the show’s first season!

Episode 1×01 – “Pilot”

College. Pretty exciting, huh?

GREEK Season 1 Episode 1 -- Boring Road
No.

College is a weird time. It is a time during which you can freely reinvent yourself, when you are no longer tied to the person you were as a child but aren’t yet expected to have fully formed the person you will be as an adult. You have almost endless amounts of free time, but feel constantly busy. It’s a time when seemingly everything is happening, while simultaneously feeling like none of it really matters all that much.

Because college is a less universal experience than high school, there are far fewer films and TV shows set there. Many of those that are, however, play with that idea of reinvention and discovery. Greek is not one to mess with formula. If anything, Greek‘s innovation is in the diversity of ways it explores those basic college tropes, giving, for instance, a gay black man, a white conservative Southern Christian guy, and a privileged, wealthy woman of color all essentially similar thematic arcs and character weight. They are all, among the show’s many characters, exploring the line between who they were when they arrived and who they want to be.

One thing that impresses me so much when I rewatch the pilot of Greek is just how fully-formed it was from the get-go. In the first scene, we meet Rusty, one of our core point-of-view characters, and are immediately shown with just a couple lines of dialogue and a physical performance that he’s a dorky optimistic freshman ready to dive into college headfirst. Then, Casey and Ashley, his sister and her best friend, two sorority mavens who know all the ins and outs and take Greek life seriously.  From there, we meet shallow villain Frannie, uptight roommate Dale, carefree frat clown Cappie, and campus prince Evan, and the basics of the fairly complex relationships that will dominate the series… all in the first 8 minutes or so. By about 15 minutes in, we’ve met the final two pieces of the show’s large ensemble cast, backstabbing political scion Rebecca Logan and cool, confident, closeted Calvin. By the end of the episode, we’ve met a dozen more minor recurring characters, and the show has set up the core relationships and conflict that will define the show.

But I don’t want to make Greek seem like nothing but a procession of character introductions. The Game of Thrones pilot could have learned a lot from this. The pilot episode of Greek is surprisingly fleet, built entirely around a single basic event: Rush. The established Greek characters are thrown up against a handful of incoming freshmen vying to get in to the fraternity or sorority of their choice, but everything comes back to the two leads. Rusty, who had bombed at every previous house, makes an enormously positive impression with Evan Chambers at the elite Omega Chi house. Casey, who wants to lead her sorority next year, is tasked with recruiting Rebecca Logan, the rich, powerful daughter of a senator, and fails to entice her, breaking recruiting rules and putting her position on the line. Casey and Rusty’s stories collide, finally, when Rusty walks in on Evan having sex with Rebecca.

Don't do that.
Don’t do that.

Now, we get into a thematic conflict the series is going to revisit time and time again: Does compromising your ideals destroy them? That sounds weighty for an ABC Family comedy, but I promise you, it’s something the series is fascinated in. We get to college, or to our workplace, with one set of ideals. But we may find that those ideals clash with the culture, or with our friends, or with the day-to-day demands. How much can you bend them? When should they stay rigid?

It is worth noting, again, that this is a fairly lighthearted campus comedy. There are a dozen shows like that and twice as many  But part of the strength of the show is that Greek knew, from minute one, exactly what it wanted to be.

Greek is a classic teen soap opera, and that’s a genre that’s incredibly easy to dismiss, but it’s pitched so down-to-earth it is easy to mistake it for something else. It borrows heavily from classic slobs-vs-snobs comedies like Animal House, particularly in any Kappa Tau-centric plot, but Greek is far more generous, particularly with the women, people of color, and… well, snobs. There are very few out-and-out bad people in the world of Greek, which acknowledges that someone can be selfish and self-serving and manipulative but still motivated by a desire to be loved or respected as much as anyone else.

So, yeah, Evan messed up. The show acknowledges that, but it also acknowledges that his point-of-view isn’t much different than that of Casey or Rusty. And, hell, Casey messes up too, just as badly if not more so, first breaking Greek rules to recruit Rebecca and later hooking up with Cappie to get ‘revenge’ on a guy she didn’t intend to dump. Cappie doesn’t hesitate to leap at the opportunity to help her cheat and is only interested in Rusty as a means of getting back at Evan. Of everyone here, only Calvin really comes through as a person who is both confident and fundamentally moral, but even he has a hard time facing certain truths about himself.

By the episode’s end, Calvin has hooked up with a guy from his rival frat, Evan has cheated on Casey with a freshman, Casey has cheated on Evan with an ex, Rusty has spat tequila in the faces of two different people and been arrested, and Dale thought a confederate flag would make acceptable dorm room decoration.

It was an eventful first semes– oh, wait, classes haven’t even started yet? This all happened during orientation?

GREEK Season 1 Episode 1 -- Calvin 2

Holy crap, I forgot how weirdly paced this show could be. I hope you’ll join us again next week for the second episode of Greek – “Hazed and Confused.” I think the show makes it through three whole days of classes there.

 

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