Great Scott” centers around 15-year-old Scott Melrod (Tobey Maguire), whose Walter Mitty-esque fantasies turn his gentle suburban life–where lawns are emerald and wide, parents are modern versions of Ozzie and Harriet, and the interracial community is friendly–into a benignly humorous minefield of imagination. Although the show often stretches into the ludicrous, its heart is in the right spot. It’s “The Wonder Years” with the emphasis on “wonder.”
The series hinges on keeping up with what is real and what is imagined. The pilot episode sets the rules quickly.
When Scott answers the door, he’s confronted by the girl of his dreams, classmate Caroline (Vinessa Shaw), who is delivering his freshly laundered gym suit by wearing it.
In a flash, the person is a dry cleaner’s delivery man with the suit on a hanger.
Nothing ever works out as in Scott’s imagination–but it works out. When he misses the bus home, so does Caroline. As he tries to charm her, she finds him a bit nerdy–but she later accepts his invitation to a movie.
Despite its recycled elements, the series has much going for it, particularly with its warm cast. As Scott, Maguire has a face that speaks volumes about teenage angst. He brings the exaggerations of teenhood alive.
Shaw’s lithe and beautiful Caroline works as Scott’s dream girl because she, like viewers, seems to be won by Scott’s struggles.
As his parents, Nancy Lenehan and Ray Baker come across as well-meaning but overly concerned. (In future episodes, he’ll have a sister, played by Sarah Koskoff.)
Like most mothers, Lenehan manages to do everything wrong, according to Scott’s sensibilities, and in the great tradition of ’60s sitcoms, Baker’s dad has no clearly defined role other than just being there. The show’s creators, Tom Gammill and Max Pross, who are also the writers of the pilot, clearly play with the cultural touchstones of their youth, but at the same time they offer a certain honesty.
For instance, when Scott’s mom claims she won’t embarrass him, he responds that she will: “You’re a big, stupid embarrassment,” he vehemently shoots in a way that teenagers know how to do well.
In this idyllic Midwestern town–“Blue Velvet” without the undertow–there may not be enough reality to convince today’s youth of its charm. For their parents, however, the scenes play out as remembered traumas through the kindly filter of nostalgia.