Emmy winning soap veteran Crystal Chappell has made yet another splash into the world of television production with her production company (Open Book Productions) newest venture The Grove. Released exclusively online as an hour and nine minute long pilot the film hopes to be the launching point for a much longer series, but how exactly does the film stand up on its own?
The Grove tells the love story of Nico Moynahan (Crystal Chappell) and Ivy Rodriquez (Jessica Leccia). The couple was able to get legally married in California before prop 8 made same sex marriages illegal, but now they want to have their turn to have the big celebratory event with all of their family and friends.
Being a pilot the film had a lot of groundwork to establish and not a ton of time to do it in. We basically had one “A” story (Nico /Ivy’s romance), a” B” story (Doyle’s gambling), and a “C” story (Max vs. Sean), with a whole lot of exposition somewhat filling us in on everything that we missed. While this is fine, the majority of the films air time was completely devoted towards the Nico/Ivy love story, Doyle making a life altering bet, and we see something is brewing between Max and Sean, but we don’t really get to play the beats of that story but simply know it exist and will be focused upon at a later date – aka doing what a good pilot does and setting things up.
The town is filled with exciting people, and potential love stories and pairings from Johnny (Peter Reckell) and a potential triangle with Katherine (Bobby Eakes) and Lauren (Michelle Stafford), to finding out what Poppy (Linsey Godfrey) is going to do without any boys in town (something tells us someone will be cast for her), to will Prissy (Judi Evans) ever be truly satisfied. The problem is that a lot of this set up doesn’t really play a huge role if you were to examine the film on its own.
For example we meet Sean (Mark Hapka) whom has found himself to be in a world of trouble as Max (Christian LeBlanc), the resident drug dealer, is requiring him to cough up 500 grand, or else. But because this is, what at least I deemed to be, the “C” story we have a little bit of establishing of the groundwork, but realistically not a whole lot for Hapka and LeBlanc to do other then set the wheels of their story in motion and hope to see the things fleshed out in future episodes of the series.
The film had a TON of great establishing, character driven moments. From the family dinner in which Nico/Ivy announced to their family that they had gotten married, to Marigold (Nadia Bjorlin) and Gloria (Beth Maitland) watching telenovela’s, the series GOT the heart of what has been missing from daytime television for so long. That it is about the JOURNEY and showing us those little ‘filler’ moments that do nothing to advance the plot that truly allow us to develop feelings for these characters.
The characters of the Grove felt like real people. You have Doyle who isn’t quite sure how he felt about his daughter embarking on a relationship and getting married to another woman, but because of Wood’s portrayal, we instantly saw that he truly loved his daughter and was willing to accept anything if it meant making her happy. The people of this town just felt like people you would find I any other small town, there were the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the bullies and the bullied, and none of it felt truly forced, which was greatly appreciated.
Musically there really isn’t a lot to talk about, the film was mostly filled with natural sound providing the soundtrack, with the series opening theme song providing a good bookend at the end of the film, and the wedding march being a fun song as well, but there wasn’t anything that really stood out to me and made me say “HEY I HAVE TO HAVE THAT SONG!” But at the same point there wasn’t anything that I felt was horribly out of place or distracting me from the scene at hand.
The audio quality of The Grove was truly on-point. There was nothing to distinguish this video from any primetime or ‘professional’ level film or television work from an audio point of view, and this is an important distinction, because often time when work is created for the internet you have sub-par audio levels that require me to cringe and at times turn off the show completely, but with the experiences they had working on Venice I feel like they got everything they needed to under control and were able to put out a very professional sounding product.
The lighting for a majority of the scenes was on point, it fit the setting that the director was trying to establish and everything simply worked. But there were a few times where the continuity between the lighting of shots simply pulled me out of the experience. For example: At the 20 minute mark we see Marigold and Gloria watching their telenovela, a scene which I already expressed I really enjoyed. When the camera is establishing the shot of both actresses, we see a brightly lit background with a lot of light hitting Marigold but some shadows on Gloria. However when we go in for the close up of Gloria we get a much, much darker screen tone, and with the camera cutting between the bright and the dark, it was distracting. Another instance of this came later on in the film in which we see the wedding actually arrive. In the two shot, and Ivy’s close up we see a bright color pallet, with all of nature’s beauty appearing as it should, but when we cut back to Nico, we see blue, things look a little darker, and things just look off in the shot. I know it may seem like I’m being picky, but it stood out to me. When anything takes you out of the ‘moment’ then that’s something I feel should be discussed.
That brings me to the flashback transitions – those abominations to television. I am not a huge fan of flashbacks, I just don’t like them, but when you do a flashback with this odd wavy wipe, I just found myself being more distracted then in the actual moment. I don’t know that there was really a ‘better’ way to convey that you were going to be telling the next portion from a previous time, but it felt very amateur-esque and this is coming from an amateur that would do something like this and rake himself over the coals for it later. I just really found those to provide nothing but a distraction to remind myself “yea I’m watching something” and be taken out of the experience for long enough until I would finally find myself getting back into the story only to be taken out again by another distracting transition.
With that said, I was really impressed with The Grove. Yes, I did judge the film critically. It is my understanding that Chappell wants this series to succeed and become far more than a simple web pilot. If we do not hold the series to the same accountability and compare it to that of a Dallas or Brothers and Sisters, then we are doing a disservice. The film was phenomenal and an awesome way to start off the New Year. I, for one, cannot wait until my next visit down to The Grove.
Check out the full pilot for yourself by heading on over to The Grove’s official website, and leave us your thoughts on my review and on The Grove itself in the comments below.