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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Retro Review: Caroline In The City (1995)

Duration: 1995 - 1999 (NBC/CBS)
No of seasons: 4
Release date: (US) 26 April 1995 
DVD release by Revelation 
Produced by Barron/Pennette Productions, CBS Entertainment Production, Three Sisters Entertainment 
Cast: Lea Thompson, Malcolm Gets, Eric Lutes, Amy Pietz, Andy Lutes, Tom La Grua

(last updated: 6 October, 2020)

Caroline in the City, whilst making a splash on one of the popular networks on NBC alongside Frasier, Friends, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, was one of those shows that attracted a mixed reception: some, who back in the mid-1990s, loved it like me; some thought it was good but nothing special whilst the rest just slated it harshly. This show has been a punching bag for critics & viewers, who saw it as nothing more than a chick-fest. It's interesting to note that the show is more popular outside the US, although I'm sure there are a few Yanks who are keen on CITC as well.

Rewatching and revisiting the episodes now, my view on the show has differed somewhat, I could see therein the show lies weaknesses in the writing that I hadn't come across before. 

I had originally shown interest in the series after seeing a scene from a Channel 4 trailer in 1996 featuring Richard (or be it Malcolm Gets as Richard) uttering a funny line. From that moment, I saw the full episode on a Friday night it aired on TV. I loved it and I instantly became a fan of Caroline In The City and followed the remaining seasons.  

The sitcom revolved around a Wisconsin native, Caroline who applies her trade as a cartoonist in Manhattan, New York. Her career and work life, couldn't be more perfect: her greeting cards and merchandise are selling, her comic strip is a hit in every major newspaper and she couldn't be any happier as she is. Except she is also on the lookout for love, and thus after several attempts, by the fourth season she finds solace and love in the form of Richard- her assistant and colourist. 

The casting of Lea Thompson, Malcolm Gets, Amy Pietz, Andy Lauer and Eric Lutes was spot-on and they all did a good job as their characters, Caroline Duffy, Richard Karinsky, Annie Spadaro, Charlie and Del Cassidy. Lea is just great as the sweet, caring Caroline, whilst Malcolm is brilliant as the often dour-faced, miserable geek/struggling artist, Richard. I could not have asked for more from them, performance-wise. Especially during the final season, where it went downhill from the mid-third of the show. Most of the show's funniest moments revolved around either Richard's sarcastic banter or Richard and Annie mocking and insulting one another.
The first season was an instant hit in 1995-96 but by the time when Friends, Frasier were hitting their stride in the late 1990s, by 1998 onwards CITC was suddenly losing ground and ultimately the changes had put the nail in the coffin.

The last 2 seasons, in seasons 3 & 4, were ones that got fans talking, but at the same time, it left them feeling dissatisfied and unhappy. As of today, my opinions have changed; though the casting is still good, Caroline In The City's episodes are ill-defined, characters are underdeveloped and the show doesn't have much variety. I once defended this series to death, but now, I see to it that it has gaping holes that haven't been properly filled & flaws it has never ironed out. That enigmatic lack of consistency in the writing plagued a lot in the third and final seasons. 

I, like many other fans, hated Julia (who didn't?) and hated the storyline where Richard marries Julia unaware of Caroline's feelings towards him. But as bad as this sounded, the idea was both awful and, from a show's point of view, good. Good, because at this point in the series, the show needed some drama & tension and it gave the show something to work with.

I felt the Julia/Caroline/Richard triangle arc gave it another dynamic and seeing Caroline's and Richard's reactions when their feelings for one another unravel and in coming to terms with it, was interesting. Of course, Richard marrying Julia was a terrible storyline: terrible because as well as being a complete and utter cow, Julia isn't normally the type of person Richard would set his eyes on, given his past love interests. All of whom are completely different, looks and personality-wise. I understand having a character get together with another character, of whom you dislike sounds terrible, and yes, it did lead to declining ratings. Not to mention it became less of a sitcom and more like a dramedy with laughs. Many CITC fans disliked the idea, yet I thought it was intriguing. From a show's standpoint, it made it watchable for me, somewhat and at the same time, I hated the Julia character. As a whole, I didn't have a problem with Season 3, as I thought it was very good. Even with the show being less amusing and funny, it was still enjoyable and entertaining to me, for the reasons I stated earlier. It was well done.

Now onto season 4; again, fans were disappointed with how the events happened and the writers' treatment of the Caroline and Richard relationship. There is no doubt the first two seasons of CITC, at the time, were just downright funny and brilliant. Just brilliant. But with the fourth season, whilst there were some wonderful moments involving the pair, I just felt that there was too much pain towards the end, which, from a show's perspective was totally unnecessary (although in honesty given how worse it became towards the end, as surprising as it was, it wasn't a huge surprise also). I was bemused as to why Caroline and Richard argued as much as they did in the fourth season when they were a couple, which I thought was pretty stupid. Particularly as after the 'Big Night' episode where they finally consummated their 4- year relationship, the episodes which had followed afterwards had them arguing, such as the arrival of Caroline's former high school 'friend' Randy and thus, the cracks in their relationship had appeared. What didn't make sense was how could Caroline have feelings for Randy, whilst she was with Richard at the same time and the guy she had always wanted to be with? 

Despite her hidden attraction & feelings towards Richard at the end of season 2 and throughout season 3, was Caroline ever really in touch with her feelings towards him? 

I was watching episodes of 'The Jamie Foxx Show' and the latter 2 seasons of the series, involving Fancy and Jamie. Jamie's relationship with Fancy was unrequited during seasons 1-3, up until the end of season 3 when the two finally got together. Richard and Caroline's relationship was unrequited up until the end of season 3, although unlike in The Jamie Foxx Show, during the middle of season 3, they become aware of each other's feelings in spite of being in relationships with other people. Towards the end of season 4, there was a subplot involving Jamie, Fancy and Nicole. During the Jamie Foxx Show, Jamie wanted to pursue a lifelong music career; in Caroline In The City, Richard wanted to fulfil his ambition as an artist. Similarly, like with The Jamie Foxx Show, in season 4, there was a potential love triangle involving Caroline, Richard and Randy in 'Caroline in the City'. However, in stark contrast with the other show, the Jamie and Fancy relationship was as far as I was concerned, handled much better by the writers than Caroline and Richard's.

Sure it had its up and downs, highs and lows: they argued, fell out, split up - just like what happened to Caroline and Richard. But they kissed and made up. No matter what happened, they still ended up together.....& that was what should have happened to Caroline and Richard, right towards and during the series finale. Jamie and Fancy got married in the end and so should've that pairing as well.

At the time, it was painful to see Caroline and Richard splitting up at the airport. As a shipper' of that couple, it was terrible but I was more upset over the timing of this announcement just as much as the split. Why did the writers feel the need to drop this bomb right towards the end of the final episode? Had the split taken place in the middle of season 4, along with Richard's revelation in knowing he is Stefano's father, as well as Richard telling Caroline he doesn't want any more children, rather than have all this taking place over the last 2 episodes, then the show would've had more episodes for these issues and for them to be resolved one way or another. As well as it would have ended much better than expected. Though I would have toyed with a fifth and final season - and one that was more refined, one was less soap opera-ish and focused on being a funny comedy, but also one that tried to dig deeper in the characters and a show that was better written. I was annoyed with the writers; if they had known the show was going to be cancelled (quite frankly, they ought to have seen the rating figures drop during each episode), then they would've pulled out all the stops & tie up all loose ends with the characters, cut a few corners and still manage to give fans a plausible ending that did justice to the show and to Caroline and Richard's future as a married couple. 

The way the writers had handled the writing was rather shameful: different writers for different seasons? Now that I don't get. I think Frank Barron's absence for season 4, especially was telling. As well as being the main creator of the series, he also wrote and produced some great episodes during the first 2 seasons. And so to know, he wasn't involved in the last season in any shape or form, it was disappointing but also it was no surprise that season 4 was lacking in many places. The writing waned towards the end and with that, the series never fully recovered (the last 6 episodes, especially, just flat-lined completely & were far from upbeat and almost laugh-free). There was no continuity, no consistency in the show's output, and no genuine ending. The magic of season 1 had gone.

Though I somewhat liked season 4, CITC became a silly soap opera towards the end of the final season that the impression that I and many other fans got, based on the changes they made, was that none of the writers cared about the show, any more. They didn't know whether they wanted CITC to be a workplace sitcom or a romantic sitcom, although I'd go for the latter. Although it seems to me that they had numerous ideas up their sleeves, in an attempt to keep Caroline and Richard apart for as long as possible and preventing them from getting married to one another.

What they mistakenly didn't realise is that as soon as fans sense a sitcom is no longer a sitcom and the ideas become so OTT, then there will be signs indicating that the show is no longer what it stands for- and there were signs throughout that final season, which denoted that CITC no longer stood for what it originally was in the beginning.

For instance, getting rid of Remo and moving Caroline's work environment from the loft was a massive gamble, which was a terrible error and a decision that backfired completely. In its place, we got a dull office, characters like Plum, Dave and Reg-, who, with the latter, I liked; hence, silly twists in the shape of Richard discovering he has a child by his horrible ex Julia, of him telling Caroline he doesn't want any more children and Randy's appearance also emerged. 

Eventually, CITC lost its sense of direction and it got canned, which led us fans to ponder how on earth the show started out so brilliantly and perfectly at the beginning… only to falter and go downhill, in the end, all in the short space of 4 seasons. As the series moved forward, there were many inconsistencies & issues within the storylines, and how those storylines during the first 2 seasons, were heavily discarded and left unresolved later on. Leaving many fans baffled and asking questions. Questions such as: 'why did the characters mannerisms & characterisations change completely over the last 2 seasons from the first 2 seasons?', 'why was Richard's love letter never mentioned later on?', 'why didn't Annie confront Richard over the love letter he wrote for Caroline 2 years ago during his marriage with Julia? or during season 4 when he was with Caroline', 'how could Caroline have feelings for Randy whilst she was with Richard?' & 'why did Caroline 'walk away from Richard' so easily at the airport, instead of confronting him over his decision not to have any more children by helping him change his mind and support him by helping him raise Stefano, Richard's son?'. 

But alas, the writers chose not to address these issues and thus, it partly explains why the viewing figures deteriorated, as the series went on.  

Initially, I was disappointed and angry when I first read that the show had been cancelled- as much as the fourth season was bad, it was still okay. I still felt that CITC had some life in the series yet to be able to prolong its existence until the very end, as well as there would have been plenty of material for a fifth season. And even though, ratings were falling, I still felt they should have just gone ahead and produced it, rather than to just have an unresolved ending. I will never forgive the writers for concluding it on a cliffhanger. It wasn't the actors, of who was accountable for the show's demise, but the writers of the last season. Because of those errors, which weren't addressed throughout the series, Caroline In The City failed to fulfil its full potential as a show- so, therefore, despite the early promise, the constant chopping and changing, as well as the absurd ideas, later on, had killed it completely.

Seasons 3 and 4 get a lot of hate; a lot of fans gave up on the series at some point in those seasons. 

In all honesty, the extent to how much you identify, connect with and appreciated Caroline (as a character) and all of her efforts, the same can be said for Richard: both in terms of the character, personality and what he goes through himself & should you choose to overlook his flaws: uptight, miserable, pessimistic and knowing he has a soft underbelly. And though whilst Caroline and Richard are two very different people, add to the fact that a relationship similar to theirs, might not have worked in real life with a different couple, the mutual respect Caroline and Richard have for one another, not to mention their similarities in being warm, soft, kind as individuals, is one of the reasons why for many Caroline In The City fans they adored them together. It is a pity though how the writers (mis)treated and (mis)handled their relationship, and with that, it left a sour taste in their mouths, as well as the lack of character development showed throughout when it came to the handling of the main characters on the show. 

Nowadays and over the years as an adult, I don't care as much for CITC as I did as a teenager when it first came out, & I have to admit that it doesn't have much of a rewatchability factor, but it's still an interesting, yet flawed series.

Shame that because of its poor execution and inconsistent level of quality writing, Caroline In The City never lived up to its aspirations and full potential. 


Season ratings:

Season 1 (out of 10) : 10 
Season 2: 8 
Season 3: 7
Season 4: 4

Final score (out of 10):  6
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