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Television Review: Reunion

I was intrigued by the new TV show on Fox, Reunion. The premise of the show is that a murder has been committed among a group of six friends, all of whom graduated from high school together in 1986. Now, in 2005, one of them has been killed, and the other five are apparently the suspects. But the show doesn't focus simply on the murder mystery set today. Instead, each week of the show is set in a different year, starting in 1986. The conceit is that the viewers will get to see the lives of these six friends unfold throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, until finally, in the episode set in 2005, the mystery will be solved.

I was predisposed to like this show for one main reason: I graduated from high school in 1987. Although that's a year off from the characters in the show, it's close enough that in some way, this show should be about my generation. I was hoping to see my cultural touchstones projected onto the screen. I was also hoping perhaps to see the lives of me and my friends projected onto the screen as well, even though I knew better.

Well, the show doesn't quite work.


Before I had a chance to watch the first episode, "1986 (Pilot)," I read Bob Greenberger's review. Bob's focus was mostly on the way the premise was "Hollywooded" up, with cliches, uninteresting characters, bad dialogue, and soap opera plot lines that just don't fit.

I also had difficulty with some of this. In particular, I found it unbelievable that Will would agree to take the fall for Craig on a drunk driving vehicular homicide charge. And then, after Will makes a plea bargain, the judge vacates the plea bargain and sentences Will to jail time based on his guilty plea. I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think a judge is allowed to do that. If she wishes to vacate the plea bargain, she has to give Will the right to change his plea to not guilty so he can go to trial. She can't just say that since he admitted his guilt, she can give him whatever sentence she wants.

My own problem with the show, however, has less to do with the hackneyed story and characters, and more to do with the lack of understanding of the culture of the times. Here's one example to illustrate what I mean.

One of the friends, Jenna, is an aspiring actress who is considered promiscuous by her friends. She invites a young English teacher to their post-graduation party, because she's obviously interested in him. When he arrives at the party, she quickly removes her jacket so she can approach him wearing an ensemble that consists of a transparent black shirt over a white bra.

Both of these things are unbelievable for a high school graduate in 1986. A senior getting involved with a teacher is much more something that would have happened in 1976, not 1986. And the outfit she wears is unbelievable, even for someone like her. I was friends with a few girls in high school who were considered promiscuous, and who attempted to present themselves that way by their choice of dress. In 1986 girls like that would wear things like skin-tight leopard print clothes, or low-cut blouses with high-cut skirts. The visible bra look, although a nod to Madonna's contemporary videos, didn't get adopted by high school students until closer to 1996 than 1986. (And I know this, from having taught high school students in the 1990s.) The senior girls from 1986 wouldn't have been caught dead in Jenna's ensemble. The ones from 1996 wouldn't have blinked twice.

In short, the scene felt to me almost as if the writers said, "Hey, we want this to look like 1986 high school culture. Let's mix 1976 with 1996; on average we'll be okay!"

There are other issues like this. For example, one of the friends, Samantha, has gotten pregnant, so sex is clearly a factor on the show, and yet not once is AIDS mentioned. When I was in high school, AIDS loomed on everyone's mind, and it was the beginning of frank talk about contraception and safe sex.

In conclusion, the writers seem to feel that the way to evoke the year 1986 is to play tunes from the 1980s in the background, and to avoid showing modern technology like cell phones and PDAs. If you're going to create a show where each episode is set in a different year, you'd better do a lot more research than that.

Comments

The girls I knew in high school were all preps, so no leopard-skin or leg warmers...just slacks (usually dark) and some sort of dress-shirt styled blouse (usually bright).

But there was lots of poofy hair.
Poofy hair, yes! There was no poofy hair in the show, either, and there should have been.
And then, after Will makes a plea bargain, the judge vacates the plea bargain and sentences Will to jail time based on his guilty plea. I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think a judge is allowed to do that. If she wishes to vacate the plea bargain, she has to give Will the right to change his plea to not guilty so he can go to trial. She can't just say that since he admitted his guilt, she can give him whatever sentence she wants.

In a plea bargain, the defendant pleads guilt in exchange for the prosecutor recommending a certain sentence to the judge. Of course the judge is not expected to sentence the defendant to anything harsher than the prosecutor's recommendation, but...

In The Best Defense, Alan Dershowitz describes a case he had where his client agreed to a plea bargain, there was a storm of negative publicity about the client, the prosecutor made his recommendation to the judge with a noteworthy lack of enthusiasm, and the judge imposed a harsher sentence. The defendant appealed the sentence and, if memory serves, lost.
So I was mistaken. Remind me never to take a plea bargain. :-)
Well, sometimes a plea bargain means you're pleading guilty to a lesser charge than what you were originally were arraigned for. In fact I believe that's the more common variety of plea.

I was predisposed to like this show for one main reason: I graduated from high school in 1987.

Having also graduated high school in 1987, this is one of the first things that put me off this show.

Well, that and the fact that it and Prison Break are just variations of the 24 gimmick, aren't they?
They're not quite the same gimmick. Anyway, I like gimmicks, and I like to see if they manage to make them work.

Plea bargains

Sentencing comes after determination of guilt. And once the defendant's guilt has been established, by his guilty plea, the judge is free to impose any sentence allowed by the relevant law. A plea bargain is between the defendant and the prosecutor; the prosecutor agrees to recommend a particular sentence, but the judge isn't a party to the bargain, and doesn't have to accept that recommendation.

That's why Jonathan Pollard is still in jail.
I wonder if this show is set in California.

Or as I respond to people who ask how I can watch such "unrealistic" shows like Battlestar Galactica, I tell them the ones I watch are a lot more realistic than most any program set in California.

--Danny, William Byrd High School Class of '88
The show appears to be set in upstate New York.
Could be nearly as bad, depending. :)
I was predisposed to like this show for one main reason: I graduated from high school in 1987.

I started watching That 70's Show for the same reason. I was probably about 2 to 3 years younger than most of the characters (I graduated high school in 1981) so they were the Juniors and Seniors when I started high school. It actually kept me watching for a few years - though for some reason I got out of the habit....
I was born in 1970, but remember enough so that the show was fun.

Oh, who am I kidding? I mainly watched it for Laura Prepon.
Had I known it was 1986 (my high school graduation year), I probably would have given it a shot, but from what I'm reading here, I'm glad I didn't.
I missed the first 20 minutes so I was a bit confused. It was a bit hackneyed, but I think it has the elements of a good show if it gets away from the cliches and as you rightly point out. The anachronisms didn't bother me that much. But I was too busy trying to figure out what the one fella was doing for the other fella and why. I'll give it another week or two.
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