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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Take a Trip With BACKPACKERS

Article originally written for Seat42F.



The CW will soon premiere BACKPACKERS, a sitcom, which is extremely rare on the network known for angsty teen dramas often spiced with superheroes and the supernatural. BACKPACKERS tells the story of a young couple who decide to hit pause on their engagement as they sow their wild oats all over Europe. Quite quickly into the trip, one of the pair regrets this arrangement and immediately sets out to find his sweetheart before she can tarnish their love with meaningless sex, or, even worse, fall in love with a suave foreigner.


BACKPACKERS was originally intended to be a web series, and that shows, at least in the pilot. The twenty-plus minutes of programming is segmented into short, choppy bits that do tell a larger story, but feel very stand-alone in the moment. This makes for an awkward transition from internet to broadcast. I wish the writers had taken more time to smooth the transition between scenes, adding in some additional material so that it seems more cohesive.


It also feels very predictable. There have been a million road trip comedies at this point where guys try to find a girl, getting into trouble along the way. BACKPACKERS is yet another in that genre, and doesn’t really have anything to distinguish it from, say, the movies EuroTrip and Road Trip. We know bad things will happen, often with what are intended to be hilarious results, but the characters will stay relatively safe and probably have relations with natives far more attractive than they are. A few years past the large slate of movies along this theme, BACKPACKERS is extra stale because the cinema has moved on and, likely, so have most of the fans of the genre.


The characters themselves are common, flat types. Ryan (Noah Reid, Strange Days at Blake Hosley High) is the ‘nice’ guy who loves his fiancĂ© with all his heart. He only goes along with the plan before he really considers the ramifications and regrets it as soon as she’s out of sight. He is accompanied by best friend Brandon (Dillon Casey, Nikita), a single man who is a horn dog because what male of his age group that isn’t tied down isn’t? He’s harmless enough, but would rather enjoy himself than go on a long search, so he encourages Ryan to stick to the deal. They frequently encounter (much more so than is believable) Mitchell (Nils Hognestad, Lake Placid 3), an obnoxious Australian who just wants to party.


Ryan’s girlfriend, Beth (Meghan Heffern, Blue Mountain State), is seen periodically, but at least in the first episode, has barely any personality of her own. It’s impossible to tell from here if she loves Ryan as much as he loves her, and thus won’t be able to go through with sleeping with anyone else, or may even be looking for him, too, or if she’s a slut who will break his heart. I guess that’s the question viewers will keep watching to have answered. If it’s the latter, she can be dispensed with in the near-ish future when the story needs a jolt. If it’s the former, which I find much more probably, they surely won’t find each other until the series finale, though it would be great if they meet up sooner because it would allow the story to break out of its current mold.


BACKPACKERS could be pretty good with a bit of tweaking. After all, some independent dramas have done a lot with complicated relationships, and this series could explore the mentality that lead Ryan and Beth to this place and where they go from here. But it’s far less sophisticated than that, pure slacker and sex comedy, rather than anything that requires thinking. Unfortunately, on broadcast TV, the content has to be a bit toned down and avoid nudity and other key elements the movie version would contain. It may hit a summer sweet spot for young viewers who don’t know that there’s better (meaning: edgier) out there, even within this genre, but it isn’t likely to spread beyond that.


BACKPACKERS premieres July 14th at 8:30 p.m. ET on the CW.

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