In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, VH1
There is a stereotype that Canadians are basically the same as Americans – except smarter. Unfair? Untrue? Maybe. Yet, if we were to judge how Americans and Canadians approached almost exactly the same idea, it would be hard not to think that perhaps there’s truth to the stereotype.
A few years ago, Canada’s CBC gave us the mind-bending Being Erica, in which over-achieving Erica Strange MA is stuck in a dead end job, her personal life a mess, when a mysterious proverb-quoting stranger gives her the opportunity to do over key moments in her life with the benefit of hindsight, so she can fix her problems and grow as a person.
It was a lovely, jaunty, smart little show with a lot to say for itself and quite rightly, countries all over the world acquired it. Even the US. Many countries even tried to make their own versions of it, few actually getting anywhere with it. Even the US.
But now we have VH1 – yes, the TV music channel for oldies – entirely by coincidence and in no way doing anything that would require it to pay a licence fee to anyone, giving us what is essentially a remake of Being Erica called Hindsight. Except it’s a lot stupider.
Becca (Laura Ramsey) is a 40-something secretary about to embark on her second marriage to Andy (Nick Clifford), a nice but definitely dull guy she doesn’t really love, when she bumps into a Buddhist-proverb quoting stranger. Wouldn’t you know it, she’s waking up the next day back in 1995, on the eve of her first wedding to the hot but bad Australian Sean (Craig Horner from Legend of the Seeker). How did she get there? Who was the proverb-quoting stranger? Should she tell best friend Lolly what’s happened and why they’re no longer talking in the future? Should she still marry Sean or should she go off with Andy? Will the benefit of hindsight help?
These are the questions that Hindsight poses. You’ll notice that questions about the existential nature of reality, the self and one’s career do not feature in that list.
Here’s a trailer.
Is it any good?
The questions I posed earlier are pretty much the extent of Hindsight’s intellectual ambitions and the show pretty much answers them all within the first episode, because this isn’t really a show that has any answers at all to life’s big questions. It’s a VH1 show. It wants a series of scenes in which people dress in cool 90s fashions and which have a different cool 90s tune as a soundtrack. The most towering intellectual revelation the show gets Becca to divulge to Lolly is that in the future, AOL won’t be as popular as it was in 1995.
In this first episode, the writers don’t even aim at plausibility. Sure, we’re talking time travel, but imagine you woke up and found yourself back in 1995 with no explanation. If you were about to marry someone and you thought you were in the past, wouldn’t you at least go looking for him, rather than the ex-husband you fell out with? Hindsight says not. You’re going to forget the man you’re about to marry, who definitely isn’t the epic cock-up that was your first husband, and instead you’re going to go find the 20-year old ex-husband and shag him, despite the fact you still believe you’re 40.
And how long would it be before you stopped assuming you’re crazy? If you told someone else, how long would it be before they stopped assuming you were crazy? In the case of Hindsight, it’s 10 minutes and Lolly believes Becca because there’s no way she could know about that guy she slept with or that she’s just got over the clap. Only knowledge from the future itself could explain those things. Not that you’re going to use that knowledge to stop 9/11 or anything, obviously.
Even if we excuse all this criticism as unfair, that it’s supposed to be a breezy comedy for people with nostalgia for the 90s, we have to ask ourselves if it’s good even at that level. Unfortunately, no. There are no funny moments, nothing romantic, not even any well drawn characters. It’s a show that coasts by on looking at old phones, VHS tapes and references to 16 Candles and thinking they’re sufficient to pull a female buddy-buddy time-travel show together.
This is the kind of show that feels it’s necessary for its heroine to narrate everything, not because we want to hear her inner monologue and insights into the human/female condition in a Sex and the City stylee but because we’re too stupid to process even the very basics of narrative television.
“Ah, here comes Phoebe, my bitchy friend,” thinks Becca. Cue for Phoebe to say something bitchy. “Ah, here’s my friend Lolly. We have a mutual vocabulary based on movie references.” Cue for Lolly to make various movie references.
Phoebe arrives again. Ooh, says audience, I remember her. She’s Phoebe. She’s the one who says bitchy things. Cue for Phoebe to say something bitchy.
Lolly again. Ooh, says audience… blah, blah, blah… Lolly makes various movie references.
That is literally the extent of the characterisation in Hindsight. This is literally as much intellectual capacity as VH1 thinks Americans have. Not only are you all too stupid to process more than one character trait per person, you actually need someone to tell you what that character trait is first. Still, at least VH1 credits you all with some degree of object permanence and doesn’t remind you of the trait each time.
Looking for some positives, Ramsey is an appealing, if shallow and somewhat dim and definitely MA-less heroine. Clichéd as hell it might be, but at least Becca and Lolly have something approaching a plausible friendship. Unlike Being Erica, which got its cast to wear wigs when they needed to pretend to be younger versions of themselves, Hindsight’s cast are all in their late 20s and early 30s – true, that means that you’ll spend the first 15 minutes or so thinking “Like f*ck you’re 40” as every foetus-like new cast member shows up, something not helped by the fact that no one thought to try to age them in any way whatsoever, but once it’s 1995, at least they look the part.
And with no serial quality to the show, no obvious hints at some Doctor Tom in the background being evil, no return to 2015 planned, the show can pretty much go anywhere, Becca simply not doing anything she did the first time round. Will she get back with Sean? Or Andy? Or someone else? You won’t care, but at least the producers aren’t committed to any one particular story and can morph the show into something completely different next week. And the next. And the next. Just so long as it can wear knee-length socks while listening to Ace of Base.
But that’s quite cool. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t have every song in the show’s soundtrack in my iTunes collection or anything, is it?