From: New Yorker Magazine, Fall, 1998
by: Nancy Franklin
DID the WB Network spend so much money making sure that “Felicity” would be the most talked-about show of the new TV season that it didn’t have enough left over to pay for lighting equipment? Though “Felicity” is set in New York, the city that never sleeps, it seems to take place in a kind of drowsy, Sweden-in-December twilight. As in a Bergman film, the psychic-misery index here is high, though that’s no surprise in a show that (a) is about a teen-ager and (b) is about a teen-ager named (God help her) Felicity I don’t at all mean to condescend to adolescence, but it is a sickroom that any survivor would reenter only with the greatest reluctance.
A show about a girl who breaks away impulsively from the plan her parents have for her—to follow in her father’s footsteps at Stanford and become a doctor—and goes to a college in New York instead, without their moral or financial support: what I ask of such a show is not only that it make me a little bit sick with remembered feelings (that’s easy) but that it make me want to live through those feelings again. In a voice-over at the beginning of the first episode, during Felicity’s high-school graduation ceremony, Felicity worries that high school will stay with her like the phantom pain left behind when a limb is amputated: “What if high school went away but the feeling of it didn’t?” So far, so good.
Of course, “Felicity” isn’t aimed at me—it’s aimed at the young women less than half my age who watch the show that precedes it on Tuesday nights, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” In a way, the juxtaposition of these two shows illustrates the classic developmental pattern in girls as they hit puberty: one minute riding high on all that grrrl power, the next minute stuck in the mud of low self-esteem. But “Felicity” isn’t that simple. It’s not exactly retrograde, and it’s not exactly modern. Keri Russell, the heroine, has Pre-Raphaelite blue eyes and long, wavy hair, but she also has a firm chin and a direct gaze. If for a moment she thinks of herself as a lemon, it’s only another few moments until it occurs to her that she can make lemonade. She goes to see her freshman adviser at the slightest sign of upset, and she’s efficiently in touch with her feelings. (To update the game in which participants downed a shot of booze every time someone said, “Hi, Bob!” on “The Bob Newhart Show,” I suggest that viewers have a belt every time Felicity says, “I’m O.K. with that.”)
“Felicity” has been touted as this year’s “Dawson’s Creek.” In addition to featuring sweet-faced young men who have thoughtful hair, the shows share a muffled, draggy dramatic quality. The kids in these teen-noir series all have a slightly swollen look, as if they’d had an allergic reaction to life, and they are all in dead earnest—you search their faces in vain for a sign of an interestingly wicked, inappropriate, funny thought. Even the resident adviser in Felicity’s dorm, a Robby Bensonish sensitive with big wet eyes and bee-stung lips, tests negative for cynicism. Being young may not be all that funny, but when the R.A. says to Felicity, who by the end of the first episode is thinking about going home, “Stay in New York or perish,” you can’t help wishing that some sophomoric smart-aleck would bop into the room and say, “Can’t I do both?”