Saturday, January 15, 2011

FIFTEEN: The Most Amazing Show Ever Episode I - The Phantom Menace

(Did I Just Miss Something Here?)

Once upon a time, 20 years ago or so, there was a show in Canada called Hillside, that moved to American TV on Nickelodeon and was renamed Fifteen. It was an ongoing teen saga about kids in High School dealing with BIG problems: Divorce, Drinking, Nasty Rumors, Schemes, Lies, Unrequited Love, Break-Ups, Double Crosses, Impossible Homework Assignments, Inconsistent Canadian Accents and Tragic Wardrobe Choices. Nickelodeon aired the show on Sundays at 1pm and 5pm, because it just couldn't pass up such numerical synergy. The show was so bad it was amazing. As a child I watched it religiously and as an adult often included its release on DVD in my nightly prayers.

Well, several months ago the first season was released on itunes for download. There were four seasons (the first 3 had 13 episodes, the final season had 26) but the 1st season is really the most classic, so if I only ever get that one I'll have to be happy with it and check it off the list as Prayer Answered.

What people my age who watched the show usually remember about it was the blonde girl Ashley who always spoke in a whispery voice, her basketball playing boyfriend with a DRINKING PROBLEM or perhaps the rebel who was named Dylan (but his last name wasn't McKay.) The cast changed a lot over the 4 seasons and plot lines were dropped and never addressed with head-spinning regularity. But it also featured some actors who continued to work through to adulthood including Laura Harris (who played soft-spoken Ashley), Enuka Okuma (the true MVP of Season as Kelly) and an actor who you may or may not have seen in some obscure art house films, Ryan Reynolds (as little kid, Billy).

Since I'm not recapping any current TV shows right now, I figured I'd pay tribute over the next month or two to this classic kids soap opera. It deserves such attention. Stand by to be stunned. Here comes Fifteen.

Episode One: Checking It Out

We open on the awesome theme song and a painting of Hillside school that morphs into stock footage of the exterior of some school. Though it's supposed to be Hillside, flat land stretches for as far as the eye can see. We are introduced by name cards to Ashley, Matt and Jake as they pass a basketball around the school's main hallway. It would seem more appropriate if they were in a gymnasium, but if I start to nitpick now, we'll never get through this. The intro continues and we meet Theresa, Kelly and Brooke as they hang out in Brooke's bedroom, presumably not during school hours. Then we see Billy, Dylan and Courtney hanging out in Dylan's garage working on some cool tunes. Ryan Reynolds was a cute little kid. Still, who would have thought the littlest kid from this show would grown up to be People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive? Too funny. Anyway, there are other characters on the show, but apparently the intro can't be bothered in introducing them to us. Have I mentioned this is the best theme music ever? It is.

We start the episode proper with a different establishing exterior shot of the school that may or may not be the same school shown in the opening credits. The ground here is much more hilly, which makes more sense with a school called "Hillside." Brooke walks through the halls of school like she's Queen of the castle, when her frenemy Kelly runs up behind her. Brooke and Kelly are total bitches. They are mean filling the void between Heathers and Mean Girls. Plus, since this takes place in 1990, they cannot rely on cell phones, texts, or the internet to spread their ill will. All their gossip has to be spread by pounding the pavement. Seriously, they are true artisans and love what they do.

(Brooke & Kelly: Taking down Hillside, one ruined relationship at a time.)

Kelly tells Brooke she likes her outfit. She tells her like a million times, gushing over it so much so we know she really doesn't like the outfit at all. In terms of early 90's fashion, I've seen worse. Kelly tells Brooke she has a huge zit on her chin. Brooke momentarily freaks out, but upon looking in her compact mirror, she realizes Kelly is just lying to torment her. Brooke laughs it off, not realizing how much Kelly actually hates her. This is a good example of how their relationship will work for the next 13 episodes.

Kelly shifts gears from tormenting Brooke to gossiping about sad sack Courtney. It seems that Courtney was looking all "tragic" outside on the school steps earlier that day, so they NEED to figure out what's going on to upset her so much and possibly O.D. on schadenfreude before the lunch bell rings. Kelly thinks Courtney looks like she lost her best friend. Brooke gives us some exposition about it not being that great a loss since Courtney's BFF is Ashley Fraser. Brooke and Kelly hate Ashley. No sooner do they start talking shit about her than Ashley's tool of a boyfriend Matt shows up. He asks them if they've seen Ashley. They Mean Girl to him that they haven't seen her. Their tone is lost on him and he keeps on walking. Kelly mentions how she hates to see him go, but she loves to watch him leave. Brooke acts like that's ridiculous and that he's not hot, but secretly she wants to bone him.

Matt goes and sits in what I guess is some sort of student lounge set up right in the middle of the hallway. Two of his basketball buddies are there (they all wear Letterman jackets) and Jake is there too, but he's no jock. He just falls all over himself to praise Matt. Matt's the star of the basketball team and they go on and on about it for like 5 minutes. Then Ashley comes by and whispers "hello" to Matt and cuddles with him.

(Ashely & Matt, living an early 90's teen version of Blue Valentine for our viewing pleasure.)

From a distance, Brooke and Kelly watch and bitch about Ashley. They hate that everyone thinks she's Little Miss Perfect. They vow to destroy her. Then they brightly call her over to talk so Brooke can insult Ashley's outfit, like Kelly insulted Brooke's. Ashley politely leaves as soon as possible. Kelly tells Brooke she's a "witch" because she can't get the "b-word" past Standards and Practices.

Next, Courtney is wandering around the hall looking very unhappy. Maybe she's upset because she's wearing the ugliest floor-length skirt ever? That would make sense.

(It was hard to get a screen capture that really showed how bad the skirt was. Just trust me.)

Ashely comes in behind her, all happy to see her. Courtney couldn't give two shits about talking to Ashley. She wants to know if Ashley's seen Ryan Reynolds - er, Billy. "Your brother?" Ashley asks. "Uh, derrr!" Courtney basically responds. Courtney continues with 5 or 6 more rude comments before Ashley asks her if anything is wrong. There is something wrong, but the delay in Ashley asking leads me to believe Courtney would be acting like this anyway. Courtney wanders away without an explanation. Remember these two are theoretically best friends.

Later, Matt is at the table in the lounge. Brooke saunters over to him and trills, "Hey, Hunk!" Matt and I both say "WHAT?" Brooke tells him that Kelly thinks he's hot and then she runs away. Planting the seeds of a scheme, that one is. Jake comes by and asks "Did I just miss something here?" which is a line that pretty much becomes the most commonly used phrase on this show. Matt doesn't know WTF Brooke is up to, and wisely notes that nobody ever really does. Jake isn't gonna waste another second thinking about it, and invites Matt to play some one on one in the gym. Matt sees this as the perfect opportunity to display his superiority over Jake and agrees. As they walk toward the gym an amazing altercation happens. Dylan comes in all leather jacket rebel and starts yelling at Matt. Except he's yelling about how great he is, like he's going for sarcastic but it doesn't really get there. So he sounds kind of like a disgruntled fan. Then he tries to run his hand down Matt's shirt calling it a "raiment." I swear this happens! Finally Dylan leaves and everybody is all WTF?

Dylan goes and sits at the table in the lounge and Billy comes over to provide him some idol worship and to talk about skateboarding. Ryan Reynolds isn't a bad kid actor. Dylan appears not to mind having Billy around.

(Future Sexiest Man Alive, Ryan Reynolds.)

Brooke comes over to say hi to Dylan for absolutely no reason. He asks her about her love life and she pretends to be offended like it's none of his business, but she's totally turned on by his inquiry. She leaves, and Dylan tells Billy to avoid women like Brooke because they are nothing but trouble. This may be true, but even Billy has enough awareness about him to know that Dylan is into Brooke.

It's lunchtime. Maybe Canadian schools have no lunchrooms, because everyone on this show bags their lunch and Ashley eats on a bench outside her locker. Anyway, it's time for another talk between non-BFFs Courtney and Ashley. Courtney comes over and Ashley notes that Billy is across the lounge since she was looking for him earlier. Courtney can't be bothered with that now even though it was so important earlier. She apologizes to Ashley for her stank attitude earlier. In her words, she was "a real cow." I wish people would still use that expression to denote bad behavior and not just fattiness. Ashley forgives her friend in the softest of tones. Courtney sits down to tell Ashley what's wrong. At the same moment, Billy sees his sister and gets really excited because he's about to play a joke on her. Dylan thinks this scene has gone on for way too long and gets bored and leaves. So eventually Courtney's about to say what the problem is when she opens her soda and it explodes all over her very ugly skirt. Billy comes over and laughs and laughs because he broke into her locker and shook up the can right before lunch. Courtney shuts him up by telling him his parents are splitting up. Laugh it up, Billy! Damn. Courtney is a real cow.

We cut to the Avalon! The AVALON!!! The Canadian lovechild of 90210's Peach Pit and SBTB's The Max! Kelly and Brooke sit drinking milkshakes. OMG those shakes look SO GOOD. Kelly says she likes Dylan, even though a couple scenes ago, said she liked Matt. I think she's just trying to get Brooke to admit who SHE likes. Kelly is all about mind games. Brooke doesn't really take the bait because all of her focus is on destroying Ashley. As long as someone is being destroyed, it sounds like a great idea to Kelly. We don't learn what the plan is gonna be, but we do pick up a little piece of backstory about how Brooke and Matt used to date before he hooked up with Ashley. Brooke claims she broke up with Matt, but I don't know y'all.

Boys Locker Room of Awkward Conversation. Jake doesn't like gymnastics, but maybe he sorta likes Matt? Their conversation makes no sense. Jake wants to know if Matt noticed how Brooke was flirting with him. Matt says that Brooke flirts with everyone because she wants guys to come on to her just so she can reject them. He doesn't pay her no mind. But Jake seems to feel threatened by her. I don't know why. It's 1990, so there's no way they're gonna have Jake be gay. This show ain't that progressive.

Hillside Stairway of Sadness. Courtney and Billy talk particulars about their parents' crappy marriage. Courtney apologizes for being a real cow to her brother. Billy wants to hold out hope that Dad won't move out, but Courtney thinks their parents heading down a long dark road towards DIVORCE! This is too heavy for Billy and he bails. Eavesdropping Kelly and Brooke rush over to Courtney and offer their totally fake support, while twisting the knife into her about how horrible DIVORCE is. Courtney flees from them as politely as possible and Courtney and Brooke cackle about the DIVORCE. These are excellent bitches.

Avalon - Exposition Round Table. Courtney's friends discuss her parents DIVORCE. It rocks them all really hard. Nobody is drinking milkshakes. This scene sucks. Courtney comes in and they talk about the DIVORCE. Courtney insists she is fine. Matt, Ashley and Jake insist she is not. It goes on an on and on. No progress is made.

Hillside Stairway of Sadness. Dylan finds Billy and tells him school's over and he should go home. Billy is avoiding home now because of the DIVORCE. Dylan invites him to go skateboarding. Billy is super happy about this and they run off together.

Avalon - Pinball Wizard Room. Matt plays pinball, but seems completely disinterested in the game. Then Ashely comes over and they talk about how she's scheduled her life down to the last second. She asks if he minds dating someone who needs a 47 hour day. Matt says no, and gives a peck on the lips. These two are in for a rough ride, y'all.

Matt and Ashley leave, and we cut to Brooke and Kelly who were sitting at the back table in Avalon's Conspirators Corner. Brooke vows to steal Matt from Ashley in two weeks time. Kelly is so smooth as she goads her into it. I love Kelly. She controls everything but she lets Brooke think she's the one with power. Kelly is the Iago of Hillside.

Avalon - Loser's Table. Jake and Courtney talk about how they have no lives and nothing to do this weekend. Jake suggests they do something together. He means it as a date. Courtney has no interest in him and can't fathom he'd even suggest such a thing, so she suggests getting even more friends to do something. Jake forces a grin on his face and says he thinks that's just swell.

(Jake can't get no play.)

Courtney makes to leave so she can be home in case Billy wants to talk. Jake asks again if she is okay with the DIVORCE. She tries to pretend like she is, but then can't continue with the charade any longer. These are her parents. Her mom and dad. If they break up, what is she going to do??? If Jake has an answer we won't hear it til next time, because that's it for now! Wait we didn't even meet Theresa! Well, maybe next time.

Next time on Fifteen:
The amazing exchange happens between Matt and Ashley at the lockers.
Ashley: Hi!
Matt: YEAH??
Ashley: ... Jake said you had a meeting with your basketball coach. So how'd it go?
Matt: (stares at her and then throws a binder in his locker, slams it shut and walks away. Ashley looks so startled that she might just DIE.)

This is the best show ever.


Anonymous said...

This is the best blog post ever. I just cried laughing... i loved this show when I was young!

Dina Gideon said...

God bless you for this. I cannot find anyone who shares my "unique" obsession with this show.

Todd Talbot is now on Love it or List it, Too (called Love it or List it Vancouver in Canada). Matt, all grown up, and a TV realtor in beautiful British Columbia. Love it!

Anonymous said...

Dying right now! Fantastic recap. Love that I stumbled upon this.

Diana Lockaby-Cotter said...

You can see ALL the episodes here on YouTube... And see just how ugly Courtney's skirt just really was! lol

Anonymous said...

I have to echo everyone else's sentiment. I love that you posted this. I heard that part of this was released on DVD but could never find it. I never thought of looking on iTunes. Thank You.

Anonymous said...

Oh god, just finished all the episodes in less than a week... Of course I fast forward half of season 4, cause that girl Brittany was getting on my nerves. LOL! And a lot of the characters started getting pretty dull! This show was hilarious!! I mean I know it was a soap opera for teens, but watching it now I crack up about it.. And those horrible skirts! I still cannot believe Ashley flat out asked Courtney why does she dress like that?! Ahaha! Nonetheless, love the post!

Unknown said...

Hey, it's Robyn. I played the character Brooke on 15. Was just compiling a time capsule of all things way past and came across this. I laughed so much! You are a really great writer. Just wanted to give you a shout out and say thank you to everyone that tuned in. We had so much fun making it. And even though Kelly and Brooke had a tumultuous relationship, Anouka and I are still friends all these years later... :)

SuperOTM said...

Thanks so much for your comment! I recapped the whole second season over at last year and I'll being doing the third season starting later this month there as well. I must complete the Brooke Trilogy! The show was always such a delight to me growing up and holds such a special place in my heart. Best always to you!

stacia rockwell said...

I need to know the rest of the lyrics "do you know, can you show, show me where we can have a conversation....."

stacia rockwell said...

I need to know the rest of the lyrics "do you know, can you show, show me where we can have a conversation....."

DJ Da BomB said...

I was obsessed with the show as a preteen back early 90's

Keo Oudomvilay said...

I LOVE this show, and was watching with my daughter on YouTube but then they deleted the account due to copyright infringement....Stinks really want to finish the episode with my daughter plus relive my teen year again....why did YouTube and to do this ...oh just WHY....

Anonymous said...

Just finished watching the 1st episode for the 2nd time ever since it appeared on my beloved old-time Nickelodeon. What a great throw-back to that particular period in our lives; when we, who were teenagers watching with bated breath the twists and turns of these characters, found ease in relating to their plights while still longing for more from this humble show. Although most of us recognize just one star having emerged from this pleasant program, ALL those who performed had & I'm sure still have great capacity, perhaps though for greater things than this show, which succeeded at breaking unexpected ground during its time. Canada has a secret special place in my heart due to FIFTEEN!

Anonymous said...

This show popped up in my Amazon app and I used to watch this back when I was 14! I only remember season 1 though. And man these poor kids had no budget for clothes. Brooke had the best clothes on the show.
What I don't get is the random amount of time the kids eat at the Avalon. They must have a ton of money to spend on snacks and very loose school hours.