Monday, January 25, 2016

REVIEW: 'Recovery Road' - Maddie is Forced to Check into a Treatment Center to Deal with Her Addiction in 'Blackout'

Freeform's Recovery Road - Episode 1.01 "Blackout"

When her high school guidance counselor confronts her about the severity of the situation, Maddie can't see the problem with her hard-partying ways. Forced to face facts, Maddie makes the difficult decision to live with other recovering addicts at a sober living facility at night. She's determined to keep it all a secret from her peers as she continues her regular high school routine by day.

Much of "Blackout" focuses on Maddie's journey as she is forced to face the reality and harshness of her current behavior. Maddie has become reliant on drugs and alcohol just in order to exist in this world. Her wild partying is only briefly glimpsed in this first episode. In a bunch of quick cuts, the audience gets to see how vast the consumption of these drugs is for Maddie. At times, the quickness of this reveal undercuts just how reliant Maddie actually is on them. The show is better off at times when it allows the moments time to breathe and to truly showcase how Maddie has been able to function while also having drugs and alcohol prominently in her life. The hour even starts with Maddie waking up in someone's yard due to the sprinklers coming on. That's a cliche moment but it does showcase that this has become a routine thing for her. She is able to sneak back into her house without a problem. More importantly, she is able to lie to her mother in a very believable way. This is something she has done many times before and will only continue unless someone puts a stop to it.

Maddie's trip to the guidance counselor is a really heavy-handed scene that basically just sets up the premise of the show. Vodka is found in her school locker which forces her mom and the counselor into action. So for the next 90 days, she is going to be living in an adult treatment center that should help her get back on track in life. All of this is very familiar territory for TV. The industry isn't short on shows that cover addiction and teen life. This show does blend the two together - not always well though. However, the show is also aware that the focus needs to be on Maddie and what this journey really means for her. Again, it's cliche for the show to mention the five stages of grief. But they largely happen in quick succession in order to actually get to the point of the story with Maddie.

Maddie doesn't believe that she has a problem. Over the course of this first episode, she has to realize that she belongs in this group home just as much as everyone else does. That's the reality that she has to accept right now. The show isn't all that interested in exploring why Maddie does this destructive behavior. That's a reveal for the future. It does set up that her father was killed in a drunk driving accident and that the two of them were really close. That probably would be a too on-the-nose explanation for her actions. That does seem like the direction the show is heading in though. But it's also such a small part of the narrative. This hour doesn't linger on the past. It's instead about the present and how Maddie is coping with this new reality being forced upon her. She's not grateful to the people who just want to help her. She believes she was doing fine on her own. But this hour calls that into question in a really emotional and rewarding way.

It's easy to see just how reckless Maddie really is throughout this episode. Not only does she compromise herself but she risks the sobriety of someone else as well. She doesn't believe that she belongs in this place. Everyone there has a tragic story about substance abuse. Her's is so innocent. She minimizes the details as a way to cope and avoid addressing that she has a problem. But the truth has to come out eventually. It does when she tries to have fun by buying some alcohol while out past curfew with another guy trying to get sober, Wes. It's apparent early on that there's a romantic spark between Maddie and Wes. That just felt like an inevitable part of this show because of the tone that it's going for. The obstacle that arises, however, that forces them apart is the need to maintain sobriety. It's a really struggle. But it's a problematic development in this first episode because Wes is such a one-note character. He's simply the cute guy who Maddie gets to flirt with - even though she already has a boyfriend who doesn't know that she's now living in a sober house. Wes does take sobriety more seriously than Maddie because he has accepted that he has a problem. And yet, the show is just really blunt and forced about putting temptation right in their faces - with Maddie seemingly having no problem with it. Fortunately, her bad behavior isn't rewarded at all.

Plus, when the journey becomes much more personal to Maddie, it's a much more enriching and rewarding experience. That's a sudden shift but it happens very effectively. Maddie lost her car. It was a very simply and light-hearted subplot. But it also came with one heavy realization - Maddie is no longer a virgin like she thought she was. She completely blacked out and doesn't remember a thing. That's the realization that forces her to come to accept this as a problem that needs to be addressed. Despite all of her bad behavior, she still held onto the value of being a virgin. That's how she maintained some semblance of control. Without it, she is completely a wreck. Fortunately, she is now in an environment with people who understand what she's going through and are willing to help her through. Trish comes across over-eager a lot of the time. But when she was comforting Maddie in the bathroom, it really worked well. The same can also be said of Vern teaching Maddie how to ride a bike. It establishes just how strong a family this needs to be in order to ensure that everyone stays sober. They are all looking out for Maddie. Her mother may be worried once the police are called to the house. This situation may be too real for Maddie to handle right now. But it's ultimately Maddie who decides that this is where she needs to be. The reality of the situation may actually be the one thing to help her take all of this seriously. That's a good first step for a show that is still figuring itself out a little bit.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Blackout" was written by Bert V. Royal & Karen DiConcetto and directed by Lawrence Trilling.
  • Maddie is also lying to her friends about where she is spending most of her time now. That's not really an interesting story. But it's also a small part of the premiere. She spends most of her time in the sober house or interacting with those people. It's unclear just how important her best friend from school and her boyfriend will play into things.
  • Maddie also thinks she can blackmail the guidance counselor simply because she's an addict too. But Cynthia's understanding of the subject is really the only thing that keeps Maddie from being expelled from school. Plus, that confrontation largely plays as Maddie letting her anger out at the one person who caused all of this to happen.
  • However, it was actually Maddie's mother, Charlotte, who called the school and asked them to search her locker. That was an intriguing reveal - even though Charlotte largely pops up to talk about how she and her daughter don't really connect with each other.
  • It's very weird that Maddie has a dream about her father still being alive. It can likely be written off as a hallucination from getting the drugs out of her system. But it's still weird and way too blunt with the themes of the hour.
  • There's some kind of history between Wes and the sober house counselor Craig. They have some chemistry as well - which could be a fun (if unlikely) twist.