"Birthdays" is one of the better episodes Huge has turned out so far, and a big reason for that is the way that the show has built very carefully a network of information. On Huge, none of the plot twists are terribly surprising, but the way the show builds who knows what and when they know it and whom they reveal it to is handled almost expertly. By the time the final scene of this episode rolls around, there's a definite balance of information, to the point where holding information becomes almost like holding power. George and Amber disguise the fact that they're talking about their relationship from Poppy by pretending to talk about boating and how it was too dangerous to go boating because of storm warnings. Poppy, oblivious as always, ran after Amber after she stormed off, wanting to make sure that she was OK, but the scene very wisely used our own knowledge against us. It's the most interested I've been in the George and Amber relationship in the entire run of this show.
But the best scenes in "Birthdays" focus on the increasingly complicated relationship between Chloe and Alistair, the two twins who have hovered around the periphery of the show without ever quite coming to its center. Since Huge has been good about slowly working its way through its character roster, it was obvious that something like this would happen eventually, and, indeed, the bulk of the episode focuses on how the two are sharing a birthday, but no one at the camp seems smart enough to put together that they're related. The episode figures out a fairly smart way to draw that connection even more poignantly as it goes on, but it also grounds all of this in its more generic camp setting.
At its best, watching Huge really does feel like going to summer camp, like finding a respite away from the rest of the world that doesn't judge you for who you are or what you look like. Already, the show is creating a sense of this camp as a kind of oasis away from the rest of the world or even the rest of television. I like the leisurely rhythms of episodes like this, again capturing some of that feel of a lazy summer spent away from home. Even when the kids are going through full-bore exercise routines, it feels like they're on a vacation. I also like the way that the show sets so many of its pivotal scenes at nighttime, though it's careful to make it a kind of perfect night, where people are able to spend seemingly days playing board games.
It's these lazy rhythms that elevate Huge above some of its other teen show companions, the shows that take the stuff of adolescence and turn it into cheap melodrama. Most of the elements of melodrama are present in Huge, but the show somehow miraculously avoids that fate. I think it's because the series takes its time with each and every scene, feeling free to lose itself in the idea of these kids bonding and hanging out. That scene where the kids play "Never Have I Ever," which gradually shifts (as it always does) into Truth or Dare is just a genius piece of writing and acting, never pushing the limit, yet giving us plenty of character development - Amber has shoplifted! - and setting the stage for what's to come - as Piznarski is dared to kiss a guy and the others in the circle choose the unsuspecting Alistair.
Alistair's portrayal as someone of fairly ambiguous sexuality who, nonetheless, commands the respect and friendship of the other guys in his cabin has been one of the best things about Huge. He's probably gay, sure (well, this episode all but confirms that), but that doesn't stand in the way of the genuine friendship he's grown with Trent or the way the other guys in the cabin include him in their ribbing and friendly games. Other shows would likely have made a big deal out of this, had whole subplots about one of the guys confronting his homophobia or something, but Huge is perhaps more audacious because it simply treats Alistair's sexuality as a fact of life, a thing that the other guys see as just one part of him. When he starts ranting about how he never got the dolls he wanted for his birthday and always got G.I. Joes, it's easy to see where a lesser show would take this and make it the focal point of the episode. But the other guys all laugh, compare those gifts to times they've gotten crappy gifts from parents who treat gift-giving as a form of self-improvement.
Really, the Trent and Alistair relationship has turned into one of the show's most compelling ones. It helps that the actors have such good chemistry, but the show is also exploring the kind of relationship you don't see on TV all that often, where the "popular" kid hangs out with one of the unpopular ones because they have common ground. But this episode also plays out Alistair's relationships with Ian and Piznarski and his sister as well, as the dare to kiss him turns into a moment where he's genuinely shamed and embarrassed, and the other guys try to back away from it as quickly as possible. It might have been even more impressive had Ian been involved (since the guy sometimes seems too good to be true), but it was still a quietly devastating sequence.
Huge works because of how well it depicts these quiet, smaller moments, like Ian looking over as Alistair talks about why he forgave Trent and realizing that he's head over heels for the guy, or Becca and Alistair doing rune prophecies at the very end. Even a story like Dr. Rand going to her support group was mostly played out through smaller, less dynamic scenes. It's an interesting decision to do this in a genre that tends to reward whichever show goes the most over the top, but Huge is reaping dividends from this approach. It's become less a show about how these kids are losing weight and more about how they're learning to become better people, to stop sabotaging themselves.
- Let us now sing the praises of Poppy, who has quickly turned into one of my favorite minor characters on television. Her introduction to game night? Priceless. Her decision that maybe Amber just needed a hug? Perfect. Her solemn intonation on the occasion of Chloe's birthday? Amazing. I kind of want to marry Poppy.
- After this aired, I watched an episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and I was pleased to find it as batshit crazy as it was the last time I saw it. I've always maintained a weird affection for the series, which seems like a teen drama performed by aliens who are summarizing their findings after spending a year among the Earthlings, and the sheer strangeness of the show, which seems to take place in a weird blend of Archie comics and 90210, always makes me chuckle. It's not GOOD, but it's so bizarre that I'm surprised watching it ironically hasn't become more popular.
- I liked the recurring theme of self-sabotage that ran throughout the episode. I love how the central idea of the series is change and transformation - not necessarily going from a fat person to a thin one but going from a person who shuts the world out to one who lets it in.
- Will was barely in this episode, but I liked the scene where she talked with a drunk Amber about her relationship with George. You can really see how she's softening some.
- Next week is parents week, which means we'll finally get to meet Will's parents, I imagine, and the secret of Chloe and Alistair being twins will come out. Which, of course, means that we're closing in on the midseason finale, which will be in two weeks' time.