In the US: Fridays, ABC, 10/9c
In the UK: Living TV from 2007
Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m probably not the best person to review this show. By no means whatsoever am I the target demographic for a show about a relationship counsellor (played by Anne Heche) who gets cheated on by her fiancé and who decides to “find herself”.
It’s like there’s a protective oestrogen aura, just around the concept alone, that’s designed to fend off male viewers.
But if I can get through every episode of Sex and the City, I can get through Men in Trees, particularly since its creator, Jenny Bicks, was one of the headwriters and exec producers of that hallowed show.
Plot (copied and pasted from the ABC web site, so don’t shoot me)
“Finding a good man in today’s world isn’t as difficult as some women think. You just have to watch out for the signs. You wouldn’t drive with a blindfold on, but for some reason, women continue to date with one…”
So native New Yorker Marin advises a crowd of her devoted fans. Marin thinks she has found her good man, fiancé Graham, but discovers, bound for a speaking engagement in Elmo, Alaska, that he’s been cheating on her. Plans for the wedding come to a screeching halt. Concluding that she really doesn’t know anything about men, Marin resolves to temporarily stay in Elmo, where the ratio of men to women is ten to one, and get started on her new book – about men.
Marin’s subjects are quite a lively bunch. Adorably affable Patrick, an avid fan of Marin’s books, runs the town’s only inn and radio station. Man’s man Buzz owns and flies the only plane in and out of Elmo. Sophisticated Ben runs the town’s only bar and has an unusual past. Last but definitely not least, strong and silent Jack protects the environment and comes to protect Marin from a possibly rabid racoon and, occasionally, herself.
There are women in Elmo too. Both Theresa, Ben’s estranged wife and former rock musician, and Sara, the town’s “working girl,” introduce Marin to a whole new way of thinking about men. And of course there’s Annie, Marin’s biggest fan, who moves to Elmo after hearing about Marin’s break-up to reassure her — mostly by quoting the relationship advice she has learned from Marin’s books. Back in NYC, Marin’s tough-girl editor, Jane, lends her long distance support, and even braves the ice and bad cell phone reception for the occasional visit.
Marin learns that she has been living with her eyes closed for too long. Now that they’re finally open, she sees the amazingly beautiful world around her, and for the first time she’ll have the chance to stop and breathe. Now if she could just get the racoon out of her hotel room, this place might be perfect.
But is it, as they say, “good”?
Anyone hearing about Men in Trees for the first time will no doubt have two thoughts
- Anne Heche? But she’s very, very irritating in everything she does
- This sounds a lot like Northern Exposure.
However, while there are various charges that can be levelled at Men in Trees, those aren’t in them.
Although there are obvious parallels with that designed-from-the-beginning-to-be-a-cult show, Northern Exposure, with the “big city” professional coming to the small town and having her way of thinking changed, these are minor at best and there aren’t really so many outright quirky characters in the line up.
Also, Anne Heche is actually quite a pleasing lead. While her character is essentially Bridget Jones, complete with prat-falls, crossed with Ashley Judd in Someone Like You… (aka Animal Attraction in the UK), there’s never really that moment common to her other work where you wish nothing but harm and misery to happen to her character. Although it’s almost obligatory in FOT (female-oriented TV) that the super-woman who has it all is going to get cheated on and be humbled, Heche does at least make you feel a little sorry for “Marin Frist” (is that a name or an anagram?) when it happens.
Importantly for men potentially repelled by the oestrogen aura, the male characters aren’t just a bunch of two-dimensional stereotypes: there’s a whole spectrum of different character types and emotions available for the discerning viewer, making the show a whole lot more than the familiar diatribe against men it could have been. However, Graham, as with all cheating boyfriends in FOT, is a bit of a twat, and although John Amos (best known in the UK as Admiral Fitzwallace from The West Wing) can be relied upon for manly masculinity that all true men can admire, James Tupper as “Jack”, the potential new love interest for Marin, is the standard “tough, silent male who has deep feelings that only the love of a good woman can expose”, beloved by FOT since the days of Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman.
Other things in the show’s favour: a good cast, including Abraham Benrubi from E.R.; a continually growing list of reasons to hate the countryside; dialogue and characterisation that’s a whole lot smarter than we’re used to in shows like this (eg Three Moons Over Milford); and a cute racoon.
On the downside, though, Men in Trees is pretty predictable in plotting; there are a few vestigial traces of Sex and the City, the most obvious being the show’s writer-heroine providing the end moral in voiceover; and the typical synchronisation of universe and plot – when Marin messes up with her life-choices, the universe throws up accidents and obstacles until she makes the right decisions again, whereupon everything starts going right again.
All the same, surprisingly good, and, dare I say, not just for women. You can go to the official site here, where you can also see a promo.
Anne Heche (Marin Frist)
James Tupper (Jack)
Derek Richardson (Patrick Bachelor)
Abraham Benrubi (Ben)
Emily Bergl (Annie)
Sarah Strange (Theresa)
John Amos (Buzz)
Seana Kofoed (Jane)
Sue Mathew (Sara)
Jenny Bicks (creator, exec producer)