Greek - "Legacy"

I don’t know much about the Greek system. Despite attending a university with one of the largest Greek presences in the South, the extent of my knowledge of fraternities and sororities comes from one “Around the World” fraternity party I attended as a freshman, where the country of Thailand was represented by Flaming Dr. Pepper shots. (We were not a cosmopolitan university.) Between that experience and some of the other inanity randomly witnessed from other fraternity shenanigans during my time as an undergrad, I admit to having a bit of a preconceived, negative notion of what a member of the Greek system was like. These prejudices make a show like Greek, which revels in the minutiae of Greek life, the exact opposite of a slam dunk for me, no matter how much I normally enjoy a teen drama series.

Greek
is a deceptive little show, though. It reels you in with fun and breezy stories about petty fraternity and sorority rivalries, college parties and young romance, with a healthy dose of fun pop culture references woven through the series’ core, all craftily designed to help the show feel fun and light and go down easy. Then, sneaky as a Kappa Tau brother pulling off the deftest of pranks, the series uses those basic constructs to create complex, fully three-dimensional characters who feel completely authentic and makes you care about every single one of them in the process. No one character is completely saintly or completely evil; even the obvious “villains” are allowed their moments to show a softer side, in a way that feels germane to their not-so-sweet side. Before you even realize what the show is doing, you’re hooked on the characters and fully involved in whatever story it wants to tell, from silly things like competing for which sorority house is “best” on campus to more serious tales, such as thoughtful explorations on embracing your identity as a gay man within a culture that traditionally isn’t kind to such differences.

The reason the characters worked so well here is that, despite almost always featuring no less than three main romantic relationships among the lead characters at any one time, the most important relationships Greek fostered throughout the series were friendships. College is where you figure out who you want to be and who you want to be that person with, and the show never lost sight of the fact that the relationships formed there are some of the more substantial ones a person will ever form in their life. Your college friends know the real, independent you, the struggling you, the crazy you. They pretty much know where the bodies are buried, and the ones that survive your four-year journey intact form a bond that just cannot be replicated in a different environment. Greek would have been nothing without Casey and Ashleigh or Rusty and Cappie and the different ways they challenged and changed each other, and to the very end of the finale, it honored those friendships.

One of the most impressive things about the series as a whole is how it managed to allow these friendships and characters to evolve while still staying true to the center of each of them throughout the journey. The Casey, Evan, Cappie, and Rusty we met in the pilot are not wholly different people from the ones we say goodbye to in the finale. Although Rusty has come a long way from the awkward nerd of the pilot, he never completely lost the enthusiasm and innocence that made him unique in the fraternity world. The same could be said about Casey’s ambitions or Cappie’s fear of the future. All were front and center from episode one, and all got satisfactory conclusions in the finale. It’s perhaps one of the better examples I can recall of telling a multi-season character story successfully.

Greek didn’t do everything perfectly, however. The female characters rarely got independent stories that didn’t revolve around romantic entanglements in some fashion, sorority life was presented in a much more two-dimensional manner than fraternity life was, and the final season had a bit too much of a “Hey, everyone’s going to California University!” feel, but what the show lacked in those areas it always made up by getting the emotions of the college experience exactly right. Though not as universal of an experience as high school (which is likely one reason why high school stories on television abound but college ones always have a harder time gaining traction), college comes with its own very specific feelings of angst and confusion, and all were rendered well by the show. Nothing is scarier than asking yourself, "What do you want to do with the rest of your life?" and that question was embraced by the characters in a way no other show has managed quite so successfully.

Admittedly, some things in the finale itself were silly. Lasker and his crony law professor Simon are a bit of a cheat with their stories ultimately only existing throughout the season to facilitate Rusty’s evolution into clear Kappa Tau leader, which in turn allowed Cappie the ability to finally let go of university life and move on to a grown-up life away from Cyprus-Rhodes with Casey. Casey’s reason for quitting the law program and taking a more carefree, Cappie-like route to adulthood were less clear. Why would not speaking up at the KT demonstration cause her to be kicked out of the law program? I was under the impression the project she and Evan were working on was a bit of extracurricular work they requested from the professor, not a mandatory assignment. I suppose it could be assumed she realized being a lawyer and arguing for things she doesn’t believe in isn’t her style, but once she got out of law school, couldn’t she decide only to work at firms that held the same beliefs? I understand the purpose was to bring her and Cappie to more of a middle ground to start their lives together, but it still felt a bit sloppy and rushed.

Still, this is a finale, and as its goal is to be a crowd-pleasing episode, everyone gets their own little happy ending: Dale finds love with former fling Laura; Rusty takes his place as worthy Cappie successor (and gets Ashleigh as a girlfriend to boot); Ashleigh is settled in her new career and new apartment; Calvin and Heath are going to “help people” in India, whatever that means; Evan is reconciled with Casey and Cappie and seems to have a potential second chance with Rebecca; and Casey and Cappie are off to start their new life together in Washington. Some of these things could be viewed as fan service, but they're fan service that is completely in line with the characters and their place in life, so it works. I can’t lie, when the characters were saying goodbye to each other (and hence to us) things got a little silly in the Raisler living room. I am not made of stone.

So goodbye, sweet Greek. You might not have been the shiniest show on the block or the most complicated, but you were one of the most pleasant ways to spend an hour each week that I can think of, and you made us care about your characters like no other. And in the end, isn’t that one of the most important legacies a show can leave?

Stray observations:

  • Inflatable (girls) women.
  • Wade! Jen K! (Wait… Jen K? Um, OK.)
  • So, did Jake McDorman break his hand, and they just decided to write the wall punching into the script? Or did they use that as a contrivance to show he missed Rebecca, when all indications from the week before were that he wasn’t even thinking of her at all?
  • Cappie’s real name? Captain John Paul Jones. I’m assuming he’s named after the Led Zeppelin bassist and not the American Revolutionary fighter, but you never know with his crazy parents. (Yes, I Googled.)
  •  “Kids! This is why Daddy drinks.”
  • “You can’t blame Luke Skywalker for being Darth Vader’s son.” “Spoiler alert!”
  • “Crappy.” “The name’s Cappie.” Nice pilot callback.

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