By Julie Hammerle and Emma Fraser
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Original airdate: Sept. 29, 1998
Julie: I’m so excited to talk about Felicity! Exclamation points!
You posed some questions earlier in the week about the American college experience vs. the British college experience. I hope all of your questions were answered, and I’m sure more will come up as we go along.
While I think Felicity’s first season is a pretty accurate representation of a typical freshman year, the show gets less and less realistic as it progresses. It gets a little like when the Beverly Hills, 90210 clan goes to college — people start sleeping with professors (I think. Maybe I’m making that up), and everyone lives in huge apartments in New York that no struggling students would ever be able to afford.
Now, one of the most amazing things about Felicity, to me at least, is that the show was created by two men, J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves. I love that Abrams’s first two television shows were female-centric dramas. I wish he’d remember that and go back to it at some point. You understand us women, J.J., you really do. And Jennifer Garner needs some good work to do.
This show first aired in 1998, back when I was a sophomore in college, and I didn’t watch it until after the show had ended in 2003. I was big into reading Kristin Dos Santos’s column on E! Online back then and I remember everyone talking about Felicity and asking questions about Felicity, and I was like, “What is the big deal?” So I burned through all four seasons that summer while I was on vacation from teaching. The show, especially the first and second seasons, made me feel all the feels.
The show follows a girl, Felicity Porter, who decides at the last minute to switch her college plans from pre-med at Stanford to undecided at the fictional University of New York. She chooses to head to New York after her unrequited crush, Ben (played by Scott Speedman), leaves her a personal note in her senior yearbook. Hijinks ensue.
Since you’re new to the Felicity world, I don’t want to sully your POV with my gushing, so…what did you think?
Emma: I’m so happy to talk about a show with you that I’ve only had the briefest introduction too. So the only episode of Felicity that I have seen is the pilot – I wrote my MA dissertation on auteur theory and whether it can apply to TV and JJ Abrams was my case study (this was 2008 and just prior to Fringe) and so I thought I should watch at least one episode of his first show. Alias is one of my favorite shows and I’d really like to see a JJ/Jennifer Garner pairing again and I’m really excited to watch a J.J. show that is dealing primarily with characters in regular scenarios. Also Amy Jo Johnson reminds me so much of Jennifer Garner, so when Garner eventually makes an appearance it might get confusing, haha.
I really liked the pilot first time around but writing the dissertation got in the way of watching any more and it’s always been on my “I should watch that” list. The two pop culture related things that I know about Felicity is that she cut her hair and the ratings went down and the love triangle gets referenced a lot.
While I have seen this episode before I’d forgotten quite a lot of it and the one thing that really struck me is that it captures how overwhelming it can be when you start college; moving away from the comfort of your home town and to a place where pretty much no one knows you is a huge step. There is some semblance of structure and a safety net with RAs (like the helpful Noel)l but even with all of these things starting college is a whirlwind of emotions. In Felicity’s case her emotions are heightened because of Ben’s presence and because this is the first time she has ever acted in this spontaneous fashion.
One thing I want to note is how similar our three protagonists have been in regards to the situations we meet them in, in the first episodes. Both Angela and Lindsay have switched friendship groups in My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks and are questioning their previous experience. We meet Felicity in a similar quandary, the main difference is that she’s no longer at high school and her friendships seem pretty limited. All three are rebelling against their parents in one way or another and while there is nothing innovative about this set up, particularly when it comes to stories about teenagers there is something about how lost all three of these young women seem that draws you into each of their stories.
I’m impressed with how much they fit into the pilot and how that it takes very little time to understand that Felicity is pretty much a wallflower – her graduation day and lack of signatures in her yearbook indicate that she had no friends and that she spends all of her time on the outside observing. This is reinforced later in one of her chats with Ben when she mentions that she never went to parties at high school. Ben did and unsurprisingly he was voted most popular. It’s the first episode so it’s necessary to drive home these ideas that she is a loner and he was the super popular guy. That doesn’t make Ben happy and he seems just as lost as Felicity in a way; from constructing a fake dead brother on his college application (do they not check these?) to the argument with his mother at his graduation day.
The interactions between Ben and Felicity are probably the most unpredictable thing in the pilot and you totally feel Felicity’s dismay when he acts like he can’t remember her name in front of the girl he is smooching – he’s just being a jerk right? Other awkward moments include Felicity telling Ben why she came to NYU and when she confronts him at her apartment. The latter does make Felicity seem on the crazy side but it also feels like the first time Felicity has actually expressed how she really feels to anyone. What I take way from the pilot is that she’s a people pleaser who hasn’t interacted with enough people to please. I’m impressed that she revealed her reasons to Ben because otherwise this could be a potential secret to drag out for the first 6 episodes and this is nice and matter of fact.
The scene on the roof is the nuts and bolts of the episode and explains in a way why he wrote something so personal in her yearbook (I bet she was expecting a “have a great summer” or something similar sentiment). Ben says that she provokes him into thinking about things and while this could just be a line I have a feelings this is something he will repeat time and time again when he’s slept with someone else and is trying to win back her heart.
We’re presented with the bad boy vs good boy and before I write an essay on Noel I’d like to hear what you think about Ben; with this rewatch and from when you first watched it. Do you buy that Felicity didn’t have any friends at school?
Julie: I am very glad that Felicity got the whole “I came here for you” conversation out of the way in the pilot. It was so awkward and, yes, crazy, but I give her major points for actually clearing the air with Ben. I would’ve said that it seemed out of character for a wall flower like her to be so forthcoming, but maybe that’s exactly why it works. She’s had so few interpersonal relationships that she just assumes that honesty is how you deal with your problems. What a naive sweetheart.
Ben, to me, comes off as kind of a jerk in this episode. I mean, as you pointed out, he seems to be dealing with his own issues, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he pretended not to know Felicity’s name AND he went after the one friend (Julie) she had managed to make since coming to school. But maybe his asking Felicity if she’d be OK with him asking Julie out was just a test to see if Felicity were, in fact, over him. But then it was a total dick move to actually hook up with Julie and drive a weird wedge between the two girls. I don’t care how cute your upper lip is, you don’t treat people like that.
Noel, on the other end of the spectrum, is a little TOO too with Felicity. He obviously likes her right away and he tries to talk her into staying in New York instead of going home to California with her parents for his own sexy reasons, but he’s still pretty sweet. He’s the Brian Krakow, with maybe a little more sex appeal. Scott Foley will do that to a character.
So, how did this match up with your own college experience? I, for one, have never seen a dorm room that humungous, and our dorm rooms at Butler were considered pretty darn big. My roommate was (unfortunately) in the room waaay more than Meghan is in Felicity’s room. And my freshman year RA was a girl named Tina, not a strapping young gentleman named Noel.
Emma: Noel does seen super eager, the scene where he keeps coming back in is super cringe but it did make me laugh. His attempts to make her stay do come across as a tad desperate but he also has a point with how this will probably end up repeating itself at some point in Felicity’s future. Noel needs to dial it back if he’s to have a chance and he’s definitely got the Brian Krakow about him.
The start of the Julie/Felicity friendship comes after Julie reaches out to Felicity when she has a super vulnerable moment in class and you’re right that it’s a dick move by Ben to sleep with her. I’m getting the impression that Ben plays the oblivious card but is way smarter than that.
I spied J.J. Abrams regular Amanda Foreman as her roommate Meghan and considering how much she’s decorated her side of the room you’d think she’d spend time there. My dorm room was definitely not that big and there were rumors that the building was based on a Swedish prison. This turned out to be false but it was easy to see why it was so believable as it was a concrete palace (sadly they knocked it down a few years ago). Luckily it was all single rooms though we had the fun of sharing 1 shower between 14, the shower was also in the same room as the three toilets which was less than ideal. I had the most fun year in that dorm and there was definitely a camaraderie because of the faculties. This was also when they used to ask if you wanted smoking or non smoking and there was a lot of bonding over cigarettes and copious amounts of tea and coffee (and beer of course). This struck me as a huge difference with Felicity as my first week involved a lot drinking because of our age limit being 18 – though I’m guessing this didn’t stop you guys.
Oh and I went to UEA (University of East Anglia) which is pretty new in relation to other British Universities. It’s the 50th anniversary this year so design wise it’s very 60s, it’s a pretty liberal school and excels at environmental science, film, drama and creative writing. Matt Smith went there and I think I overlapped with him by a year – here is a recent ad for UEA using this in a rather brilliant way.
The use of voiceover is something we have discussed before with My So-Called Life but the difference is that Felicity is sending letters to her old French tutor but on tape. This might be a way to make Felicity appear to be a little quirky but I think it makes sense that she can only really divulge how she’s really feeling in this way. I’m intrigued to see how they develop this relationship – one reason is that Janeane Garofalo is the voice we hear and I think she’s really great.
The discussion with her advisor (I think he’s her advisor) were used to dispatch a lot of information about Felicity, namely that she can paint/draw and that she has this super complicated relationship with her parents. I’m wondering if these sessions will become a regular thing and I’m guessing that Felicity will continue to explore her artistic side.
Parental legacy and influence seems to be a common storyline in US dramas that deal with college. I’m sure there is a bit of that over here, particularly with our prestigious universities but it’s feels less common as a dramatic device. Is Felicity’s situation a common one?
Julie: We had common bathroom facilities back in college as well. During my freshman year, I lived in a co-ed dorm that used to be for men only, so we had urinals in all the girls’ bathrooms. At least we had curtained, dual shower head facilities, though. I remember being horrified that the guys down on the first floor had to shower in one big communal room, no privacy. They all came out alive, though, so I guess there’s that.
One thing that hit home with me about Felicity was that she went to school in a big city rather than out in some corn fields somewhere. I went to college in Indianapolis (the nation’s 13th largest city, not to brag or anything). I think there are some big differences between going to school in a city and going to school in the middle of nowhere. There’s more to do, for one thing. We used to go to the movies and museums and dine at all the fine chain restaurants in the greater Indianapolis area. Our entire existence didn’t center around fraternities and sororities and football games and getting drunk all the time (though there was certainly enough of that).
I was wondering if you’d notice Amanda Foreman was Meghan. She definitely plays a bigger role as the series continues. Did you recognize Greg Grunberg’s voice on the door buzzer at Ben’s apartment?
You mentioned parental influence. I think there is a lot of that here, probably because college costs so much and parents often shoulder a lot of the burden (or they recognize that their children may be stymied by huge student loans for the rest of their lives and would prefer that the kids didn’t move back home after graduation). There’s a lot of focus here (too much focus, in my opinion) on which majors will make you the most money right out the gate. But not everyone can be (or wants to be) an engineer or a pharmacist. I wish people didn’t boil the college experience down to a question of monetary value. There’s so much more to it than what job it gets you when you graduate (especially because, when you graduate, there won’t be any jobs to get).
Anyway, that’s my screed about college. Study what makes you happy. Meet people. Have fun. Don’t talk to me about your college football team.
Emma: The shower area was co-ed in my halls but at least the shower had a lock and a curtain (I know other halls didn’t have the curtain part and if you stood on the bathtub you could see over which is as disturbing as it sounds). And you could hear people going to the toilet, which is also as gross as it sounds. Forever unclean.
My university was a campus one it had a rural feeling, the cities not huge either but we mostly found stuff to do. Living on campus means that it’s quite insular and I’d say we weren’t always the most adventurous at leaving but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The whole fraternity and sororities thing isn’t something that really exists over here, the nearest thing is the sports teams which definitely wasn’t my thing – this is also nowhere near as big a deal as it is in the US.
I’m looking forward to seeing what role New York plays in the show and I can see why a move THIS huge would be incredibly overwhelming. Also when Felicity mentions that she’s from Palo Alto all I can think about is James Franco, so there’s that.I totally didn’t get the Greg Grunberg thing, thinking about it now that totally makes sense.
Ah yes the getting a job after you’ve graduated thing, both of my degrees are in subjects that aren’t very vocational, I wasn’t really thinking about the after when I chose them.
One other thing I briefly want to touch on and it should come as no surprise is the clothes. Everything in the 90s is so baggy! Also considering this decade is so in maybe we can pick up some tips! Her style is very homely and I’ll be interested to see how much this location will influence her style. Also her leather backpack is the most adorable and I kind of want one.
I’m already itching to watch more.