I’ve been waiting for DM’s post, but figure I can jump in here and try my hand at explaining what I think are the problems with S7 that make us so unhappy with it.
Despite all the proclamations that they don’t want to repeat themselves, there are some definite rules they stick to when writing each series. I have already mentioned the formula used throughout the seven series of either bringing Martin and Louisa together by the last episode, OR of separating them by the last episode. The general rule is that if the series begins with Martin and Louisa together, they will end up apart by the conclusion of E8, and vice versa. S3 and S6 find them at odds by the final act, while S2, 4, 5, and 7 all reach their climax with Martin and Louisa together. Clearly, the tendency is to have most series end with them together.
We also know that Louisa always returns to Portwenn and that none of the primary characters ever leave for long, unless they leave for good. Due to this pattern, we are certain that Louisa will reappear in S7, and that the fact that Louisa and Martin are separated in the first episode of S7 will be likely to lead to them being back together by the end. (There are many other reasons to think that, including the likelihood that a dramedy wouldn’t end with a divorce or decision to separate, and because throughout S7 there are many hints that lead us to the conclusion that this couple will stay together. These hints include Louisa wanting Martin to help her look for a new place to live, her objecting to being called anything but Mrs. Ellingham, Louisa telling Martin the house where she and James live is his home and he should be able to come whenever he likes, that she puts the dish towel back on its hook even when Martin isn’t around, that she tells him it feels nice to hug him and spontaneously hugs him at the end of E4, and more.)
Another key element that has been the hallmark of the interaction between Martin and Louisa throughout the seven series is the constant interruptions of their conversations. In S7 this ingredient is taken to its limit and maybe to the point of absurdity. We start with Louisa in Spain and a 3 week span during which she hasn’t spoken to Martin, then he gets up the nerve to call her only to get her voicemail, she tries to call him back and never manages to connect. This string of lack of intercourse continues relatively unabated until the final episode. The rare occasions when they have a chance to talk without interruption (their dinner on Louisa’s first night back, her visit to his room on the first night, or the various times they are in the car together; the times when he’s leaving the house at the end of the day) never lead to any valuable discussions. (I get it, we viewers are supposed to be frustrated by the many missed opportunities, and it’s supposed to be funny. But there is a point when plausibility flies out the window!)
There is also regular use of the appearance of some outside figure coming to town that tends to unify Martin and Louisa. The figures of this type who matter the most are the ones who appear in many episodes or sometimes the entire series: Danny, Edith, Eleanor, Margaret, Michael, possibly Mrs. T and James Henry. Also, there can be tangential, or secondary characters, who unite them, e.g. Peter Cronk, Mr. Strain (the headmaster), Mr. Coley (the school janitor), the Oakwoods, Mrs. Wilson. In S7 we might consider Dr. Timoney as the outside force engaged to unite them, but her neutrality works against that, and they are too tentative around her to create any real conflict. Since we are aware that conflict is essential to plot, we expect each episode to have some conflict. However, it’s when the conflict seems manufactured and incomprehensible that we bristle. One example for me is the whole Danny situation. There’s absolutely no logic to the notion that Louisa would be interested in renewing a relationship with Danny, and it’s hard to imagine that her agreement to help him with his school group would have been designed to stir up jealousy in Martin.
In S7 they reversed much of the behavior typical of Martin and Louisa, and we could say that about Mrs. Tishell as well. Despite having had a conversation with Louisa in S6 in which she tells Louisa that she would like to start fresh and leave her past actions behind, no sooner is Louisa in Spain but Mrs. T starts meddling in Martin’s life. It’s déjà vu all over again! In terms of the series, now Louisa is the one with insurmountable barriers, Martin is the one who moves out, Louisa seems unemotional and unaware of Martin’s efforts to reconnect, Martin does his best to be conciliatory.
At the end of S6 we had certain expectations and were led to believe that several outcomes were likely. We saw Al hug Ruth when she demonstrated confidence in him and gave him her thumbs up on the B&B idea; we heard Ruth assume that Al and Morwenna were a couple; and we saw Margaret leave with the clock Martin got from Joan’s possessions. Most of all we heard Louisa defend Martin to Margaret, admit that she isn’t sure what she’s doing, and later thank Martin for coming after her and performing serious surgery on her. In addition we saw Martin shocked into action and remorse after Louisa is hit by a car while running after him, stunned by the realization that Louisa is planning to leave again, and ultimately motivated by Ruth to confront his mother, tell her to leave, apologize to a patient, and make plans to follow Louisa. In the final scenes we see Martin tell Louisa he needs her help to be a better husband, become emotional in the bathroom stall following surgery on her AVM, and agree that they can’t go back to the home life they had had prior to her departure.
If the past is prologue, as it has been in previous series, our expectations would be that Louisa might not leave at all following the surgery, and they might go back to Portwenn with a plan to seek marriage counseling and try something akin to communicating. We also would not be surprised if Louisa asked Martin about Margaret (and the clock), and we might have heard Martin tell Louisa a bit more about his childhood and his relationship with his parents. Furthermore, we would see Al develop the B&B, with some major hiccups along the way, and his friendship with Morwenna would evolve into something more substantial.
Instead, we begin S7 with Louisa in Spain despite all signs pointing away from that (including her need to recuperate), Martin left alone and not even in communication with Louisa, and Mrs. Tishell back to interfering in his life. Al and Morwenna are not dating, and his B&B is not ready for occupancy. None of our expectations have been met, although we can still be fairly sure that Louisa will return. Furthermore, Martin’s first session with Dr. Timoney includes a sort of laundry list of behaviors he has identified in himself, i.e. he has trouble with intimacy because he was an unwanted child, he’s not good at expressing himself, he has unrealistic expectations of others, and he has a blood phobia. Once again, this recitation of difficulties leads us to believe that Dr. T will address these. But she moves on to couples therapy without any sign that she has made the slightest effort to discuss any of these issues. Once couples therapy begins, Dr. T’s method is to employ weekly assignments rather then probe their backgrounds at all. Insofar as intimacy problems are concerned, Dr. T suggests a hugging exercise that includes saying something positive to each other every day because she notices that they are too self-contained, but this assignment seems to come from an effort to have them be more demonstrative and complimentary with each other and is only a first step towards breaking down any emotional obstacles. Since the therapy always involves moving on from one assignment to another with no follow through, none of the assignments build on the others. (E4 is a particular tease because it ends with Martin and Louisa hugging after agreeing on a course of action about Peter. But what happens is Louisa tells Dr. T that Martin has trouble with spontaneity and they proceed to the next assignment. Surely there were some residual good feelings after those events!)
The episodes have very little connection to each other. Even the possible appeal of Al and Morwenna is downplayed and only comes up in 3 episodes. Al’s B&B was a storyline that I awaited with great anticipation because he had been so thrilled to have Ruth support his idea. But the best they could do with it was give Al one couple and one fishing trip. The entire situation was one fiasco after another with Al doing his best to be the gracious host. The only other time Al has anyone stay at the B&B is when the children from London camp on his property. His services are barely needed. Besides, he never planned to use the grounds for camping. When Ruth finally decides to invite Bert to build a whiskey still in the shed, Al is stunned and not very pleased. He’s been trying to get away from working with his father and now has to accept being forced to share the success of this venture with his father. If we stick with the premise that none of the primary cast ever leaves Portwenn, then we would not expect Bert to leave. Nevertheless, I had hoped he wouldn’t be working in conjunction with Al again. I felt both letdown for Al and as though they had betrayed a trust. As in most of Al’s jobs, we could not suppose that this one would go smoothly, but he worked hard to come up with a business plan and I thought we’d see him make a pretty good stab at it.
Most of the new characters added little to the storyline and seemed extraneous. Because the main reason people are watching is to see Martin and Louisa get back together, all the other storylines became unimportant. A holistic vet who is taking the meds she gives her dogs never develops into anything worthwhile, even when she tries to convince Martin that the dog is a good judge of character. If they had wanted to freshen things up, they should have resolved the Martin and Louisa issue earlier in the series and followed that with further therapy and conflicts. Alternatively, they could have made better use of the therapy sessions and done something worthwhile with the information we’ve been given about the difficult childhoods these two have weathered. It makes little sense to me to have introduced us to all four parents, made much of how Martin’s traits and phobia stem from his childhood, and strongly hinted about how much Louisa’s childhood caused her to become the independent woman she is, and yet barely touch on that in S7.
When I reviewed the conventions of Dramedy that I posted in June 2014, a few things jumped out at me as important to remember:
- Some of the cinematic elements of Moonlighting, one of the first TV shows to be considered a dramedy, were borrowed from Warner Bros. cartoons—clearly comedies. As you know, I consider E8 filled with cartoonish elements and there are other episodes that contain cartoonish features as well.
- Human dramedies usually have a subplot, the only type of situation comedy that does. The subplot is often comic, underscoring the main, more serious plot. In all cases, the subplots underscore comically and thus intensify the main plot. As expected, there is a theme in virtually every episode of S7 as there should be in a dramedy, but most of the subplots do not intensify. The exception is Clive and Sally. Clive’s desire to resume his marriage with Sally is a subplot that intensifies the primary plot, and is very much on the comedic side. But for the most part in S7, even the themes are often perfunctory and smack of being placeholders. It’s too obvious that we are going to have to wait until E8 for Louisa to reunite with Martin.
- There are several segments to each dramedy: complications, crises, climax, and denouement.
“The complications are based on the theme but involve character or action. They are new developments in the problem that require the characters to examine their own thinking or take an action that opposes or supports their point of view on the theme.” One significant feature missing from S7 is the complication segment. Therapy should have led to Martin and Louisa going through the act of examining their own thinking. If therapy didn’t accomplish this, then we ought to have seen it through conversations between these characters and others. The one time we may have an inkling that something like reconsidering a position takes place is when Ruth tells Louisa that by going to therapy sessions she can make her views known. As a result Louisa drops her resistance to therapy; however, nothing that happens in the sessions appears to get her to reexamine her views about Martin. It’s only after some possible self-reflection and being put on the spot by his ultimatum that she has the startling revelation that she’s been obsessed with everyone needing to be normal.
- The transients in a human dramedy have two purposes: 1) they are the source of most of the primary problems, either as the creator or the bearer of the problem; and/or 2) aid in finding and/or applying solutions to the problem. The former is most common. Here S7 disappoints again because the so-called transients in this series create very few problems that need solving. Angela Sim, Steve Baker, Sigourney Weaver’s American tourist, and even Rachel Timoney are sideshows. They flit in and out with barely any significance to the overall story arc. You may think it’s wrong to put Rachel Timony on this list, but she’s neither the source of their problems nor aids in finding a solution to them. She is merely a plot device. The two transients that have some import are Erica Holbrook and Danny. Erica Holbrook contributes the idea that “We Are What We Are,” and tells her daughter she will love her without trying to change her. These notions reinforce what turn out to be the main themes of the series. Danny makes comments to Martin and Louisa that cause them to reexamine their commitment to each other and rediscover their sense of loyalty to each other.
- Finally, “although the dramedy is often very funny, it is not because of a deliberate striving for laughs no matter how they are gotten.“ In S7 I had the distinct impression that there were many instances of striving for laughs, especially the pratfalls. Both the time when Martin falls down the stairs while brushing his teeth so that he can answer the phone, and the time when he slips in the mud of the pig pen while trying to help Dermot stand up struck me as deliberately striving for laughs. MC may like to punish ME, but Ellingham’s clumsiness used to be an integral part of his behavior and not so conspicuously added on.
By the end of S7, we might conclude that the theme for this series is acceptance. Forgiveness plays a role, but acceptance fits more comfortably. Therefore, we should be looking for examples of scenarios that fit that theme, and we find some. We can identify several episodes that follow this convention, but some that do not. I would place E3 in this category because its theme appears to be something to do with communication, but the secondary story is more about the series’ theme of acceptance than about the importance of talking. I also find E4 lacking in thematic congruity because its theme appears to be emotional responses and concern yet the Peter Cronk story has more to do with superciliousness. E5 is all over the place and its theme could perhaps be listed as control; however, we have to stretch to associate the holistic vet with control unless her inability to stop Buddy from escaping would qualify as loss of control. I acknowledge that her self-medication causes her to be out of control, but this episode is one that has a cartoonish aura about it. Anyway, the antics of Angela Sim are rather distracting as are several editing faults that have Angela and Penhale looking quite dry after having tangled in the surf. With all these mixed messages the coherence of each episode is just not nearly as strong as in previous series to me.
In my opinion, we have reached a point in the show when the drama portion has overshadowed much of the comedy. I wanted the comedy to be reinstated in S7, but not as overt physical humor. Until they resolved the Martin and Louisa question, no silly Penhale nonsense or artificial accidents created by Al was going to get a laugh from me. I am surprised they thought we would be amused by puerility, and that we would happily accept tortuous action along with inconsistent episodes. I won’t deny that I enjoyed watching despite all of the above problems. On the other hand, I am deeply disappointed in the deterioration of the caliber of the storylines, the lack of novelty, and the writing and, as a fan, feel obliged to point them out.
Originally posted 2016-01-20 21:41:41.