Summer 2014 Review: Finding Carter

20 Aug

Finding Carter

(I’ve fallen way behind on both my TV viewing and writing, but not to worry – dear reader – I don’t give up that easy – I’ve rapidly been viewing the first episode of every new television show of 2014, with the intent of seeing them all by the end of August. To facilitate a respective blog catchup, I’ll be posting lots of much shorter entries on each show)

Holy smokes! Finding Carter, an MTV show, is pretty freaking good! I used my brief entry on Faking It, the other new MTV entry (which really wasn’t bad itself) to talk about the MTV model, and Finding Carter certainly fits it to  a t. It’s about a fast talking teen who discovers after getting arrested for some minor mischief that her mother is not actually her mother, and is instead her kidnapper, snatching her from her real family when she was a mere three year old and raising her as her own. This is a life-changing revelation, as she adores who she thinks of as her mother, and wants nothing less than to have to move in with a totally unfamiliar family while her mother is subject to arrest. Her original family had been shattered by her kidnapping; the mother was never the same as her pre-kidnapping self, traumatized, and the father made his career on a book written about the family’s experiences.

Here’s the really stand out aspect of Finding Carter, though. One of the hardest things to create in TV is situations in which among a whole bunch of characters, everybody is really both a good guy and a bad guy, someone you root for at times, and someone you root against at other times. Every character has motivations that individually make sense, but cause conflict when played up against the other characters. You can see where each character is coming from, even when you don’t necessarily agree with his or her actions. This may seem like the most basic building block for good characters, but it’s strikingly hard to achieve; often either conflict feels forced, or one of the characters is simply more of an asshole than the others.

Take the family at the center of Finding Carter. Carter acts out because she still considers her real mom to be the one who raised her and told her that she loved her every day, rather than these strange people, one of whom wants nothing more than to put in jail the person she considers her mother. Mother Elizabeth is frustrated with Carter, because she wants nothing more than to arrest and punish the person who took her baby away, and broke her emotionally. Sister Taylor is jealous of Carter, who gets to drink, and smoke, while everyone goes out of their way to be there for her; she’s been the good girl her whole life, and all she gets its to be ignored. Brother Grant simply feels ignored; he feels like the make up child who was merely a placeholder for the lost Carter.

As you watch, you alternately feel for each of the characters, and then want to yell at them, and think the other characters need to put themselves in their shoes. Friday Night Lights is the gold standard for character-driven warm, family drama, and Finding Carter feels like it hits all the right notes in the first episode to be on that path.

Will I watch it again? Yes, I think I’m going to. I’m as surprised as you are. Shows like Finding Carter, even if it’s terrible from here on out, but just the excitement at finding a promising television show where you never expected, are the times I’m glad I underwent this exercise to watch every show.

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