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Felicity - Pilot - Throwback Thursday

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Dear Felicity,
Here it goes. I’ve watched you for four years. Always wondered what you were like…what was going in on your mind all the time that you were so quiet, just thinking, drawing in your notebook. I should’ve just asked you, but I never asked you. So, now, four years later, I don’t even know you, but I admire you. Well, this makes me sound crazy, but I’m okay with that. So take care of yourself.
Love, Ben.
P.S. I would’ve said ‘keep in touch,’ but unfortunately we never were in touch.

In the fall of 1998 Matt Reeves and JJ Abrams would debut their first television series on the now non existent "WB" (Warner Bros) about a girl, played by non other than Keri Russell, who followed a boy she didn't really know from high school to collage after he leaves an endearing message in her yearbook! For me, a high school student, who honestly didn't watch a lot of tv series at the time, remembers this Pilot fondly and had no idea how much this series and particularly JJ Abrams and the future Bad Robot, would come to be a beloved staple in the next couple decades

From the get go Felicity was different than just about anything else that was on. Sure it had love triangles and a 90's wardrobe that even I had a couple pieces of (and we won't even get into how the series effected my hair), but it wasn't over the top melodramatic all the time (but lets be clear, it was still a saga!) and the love triangle between Felicity, Ben, and Noel represented Felicity's coming of age story, as she had to find herself when her parents' divorce and the later reveal of her parents' marriage hinging on her mother being pregnant with Felicity during collage, takes Felicity aback and begins to unravel whom she has ever thought, she has ever been. Noel even mentions in the Pilot, that staying in New York for collage was like a test of fate: "Stay in New York or perish", he says in his first big little speech, and in some ways, he couldn't of been more right.

In addition the show had a light metaphysical component that beautifully plays into a exceedingly strong ending to the series, which also definitely marks the way JJ Abrams' Bad Robot would explore the "other identity" in future works, playing into the notion of 'the mystery box' by ultimately discovering whom we really are!

But what else the Pilot had (and went on for the the first two seasons) was narration through Felicity's (Keri Russell's) voice over. The writers cleverly came up with this device with Felicity using a tape recorder and sends tapes to her former tutor, now friend, Sally, who also sends tapes back. The two discuss their lives. This lets the viewers get a little bit inside Felicity's head, but the Sally part also allows for both a deeper reflection for Felicity to think about her life and at times is also a haunting metaphor for the experiences we all begin to struggle with as we get older, as Sally is someone who is a bit older than Felicity and she starts the series after she has moved to new place to start her life over, because she recently lost her husband, John.

The series then starts on the day of Felicity's (Keri Russel) and Ben's (Scott Speedman) high school graduation where Felicity comments in voice over that all she could feel was dread, as we watch Felicity cross the stage to get her diploma with her parents seemingly over enthusiastic all leading to scene outside in the football field where Ben comes over and writes a sort of bittersweet, but ultimately charming letter to Felicity in her year book. Felicity lights up immediately after reading; she is quick to ask Ben where he going to collage. He says, New York State University. He asks where she is going. She responds, "That's pretty unclear." Ben walks away leaving Felicity super excited, gloating at her newfound prospect.

At home she rummages through a pile of collage acceptance letters, looking for the NYU one. Her father in the meantime has become a bit irate, as he is perplexed that she isn't going to Stanford, as originally intended.

Before we know it, Felicity steps out of a cab in NYC just right outside her freshman dormitory at Kelvin Hall.  From here we begin to meet many of the other cast members and Felicity's soon to be collage friends.

First there is her roommate Megan Rotundi (Amanda Foreman), a super Goth with a mysterious box whose contents are never revealed. For LOST fans, she's basically the female Gothic equivalent of "Saywer", constantly giving the best snarky one liners in the most delightfully negative way! As a Wicca practitioner, she also may possess some super powers and while their friendship grows deeper over the long haul, it's not too surprising that Megan thinks very little of Felicity and Felicity is often weirded out by Megan through the course of the first season.

Then there's Noel Crane (Scott Foley). Noel starts the series out as Felicity's "geeky R.A.", but immediately one can see how easily Noel and Felicity get along when he introduces himself, even though Felicity initially jumps not expecting Noel to appear in the doorway of her room! Noel becomes a sort of confidant, but as the audience quickly learns by the end of the season, Noel has tendency to sabotage his relationships, despite how well he gives other people advice and/or understands social dynamics. What Noel lacks is the ability to really have an imagination or an emotional depth that goes beyond surface appearances.

Next there's Julie Emrick (Amy Jo Johnson). It might be hard to call Julie a friend, especially given the not-so-pretense of a certain "subway" episode, but even here in the Pilot, it's debatable if Julie was ever Felicity's friend, given she's already at Ben's place just when Felicity is professing her feelings after feeling so rejected, but even so, the two have a relationship-bond that relied on desperation and feels so true to some the relationships people might form at this time in their lives. We learn later that Julie too suffers from her own version of identity crises, but her reactions to things tend to be way more destructive.

Oh my god, you go here? I completely forgot you were going here!

Speaking of Ben Covington, of course when Felicity arrives in New York she immediately runs into him when getting ready to take a photo for her student I.D., but the blow comes so fast when she sees another young women hanging off of Ben's arm. The scene is one of the best in Pilot with Felicity looking so bewildered, as the flash of the camera goes off, while Felicity sort of awkwardly is clutching her books. How could of she made such a bad decision?

The rest of the episode plays out in a way where Felicity bounces back and forth in deciding if she staying or leaving New York, believing at times it was, as her father would say, "a colossal mistake". She learns the women on Ben's arm was just a friend (but who knows with Ben's track record) and after getting a job in the admissions office, she reads Ben's collage essay, where he lied about having a brother who died! The two begin to get a little closer until Ben learns that he is the reason Felicity came to New York and that she read his essay...

When Felicity goes to Ben's to confront him and confesses, "You made me fall in love with you!", Ben not only barks back at what he feels is an over emotional reaction, especially given the lengths she went to read his essay, but moreover it's the fact that Julie comes to the door and leaves that really pushes Felicity to leave again and makes the audience question Julie's motives early on.

Ok, Ok, Ok. Here's--here's my speech. This is the big speech from Noel. mustn't leave this school. Why? Here's why.Because this is--this is a life struggle. This is fate, this is a challenge. I--if you turn away from this now, you will -- and I promise you this -- be confronted by the same issue five years from now. Or ten. All Right? You'll be--you'll be the fancy doctor with--with the fancy practice. You'll--you'll be married...and you'll have like four phone lines in your home. And the, boom, it''ll hit you like a blast of cold air. You know, "what--what the hell is my life?" And you'll be able to trace it back to this instant. This--this very moment, when that geek R.A. gave you these four words, "stay in New York, or parish." Five...six words.

It's Noel's convincing speech and Felicity's counselor that put it all back into perspective (although Noel freely admits to Felicity he has feelings for her), reminding her that this about her, despite whatever her original reason was for coming to New York, and eventually Felicty and Ben reconcile through an iconic roof-top scene, as Ben mentions he wants to stay in New York to watch it snow! This line is later uttered when Felicity's parents show up, trying to persuade her to leave and go Stanford again!

There are a few other great characters that Pilot misses out on like Elaina, Sean, and Javier, but that gives the audience something to look forward too and kept the Pilot from being over crowded and made the way the characters are introduces feel a bit more organic to real life.

It's not that Felicity's Pilot is the best episode of the series, but there is something about the way it characterizes going to collage that is comical, charming, but also heartfelt (and chuck-full of Felicity sweaters), or the way that it's characters are not the norm by being uniquely and deeply flawed. It's a pilot that is well-executed, well-rounded, and almost seems timeless! It's beginning of a story of finding our identities at a time where people typically do, which to this day, makes it so relatable.

It's funny. Sometimes it's the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.

If you have never seen the series and are looking for something light, charming, funny, romantic, and a little bit ahead of it's time, or something that might take you back to your collage-age days (especially if that was the late 90's into the new millennium), I recommend giving Felicity a chance to grow on you.

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