Therapy seems necessary more than ever lately. But if I had to choose a doctor, it would be Dr. Tom.
Maybe you don’t know this debonair TV doc, but on “Being Erica,” he dangles a brilliant technique to new client Erica Strange: literal time travel — just how remains a mystery — as a means to revisit past events in her life. Erica, a 30-something who suffers from failure to launch, is dubious at first. But she has a long list of regrets, so why not give this a try?
That’s the premise of this four-season Canadian genre mash-up, which debuted in 2009 and at one point was BBC Worldwide’s most-distributed scripted drama (Dr. Tom beat even Doctor Who!). It’s easy to see the appeal. This show is pure wish fulfillment, proposing a tantalizing chance to correct mistakes and fix the past, along with some ’90s nostalgia. Why did no one think of this before?
Leaping around in past eras gives “Being Erica” a “Quantum Leap” quality. But Erica Strange (played by Erin Karpluk, a charmer) doesn’t share Sam Beckett’s swiss-cheese memory: The more she leaps, the more she grows. Eventually, she even outgrows the show’s therapy conceit, and the series begins to evolve with her. “Being Erica” is not without its faults. But when you look past the “Younger”-style fizz and froth (especially when it comes to Erica’s publishing career), it’s a genuinely moving show full of subtle life lessons. Oh, and time-travel sex. Mustn’t forget the time-travel sex.
Here’s why watching “Being Erica” (available on Hulu) can bring you all the comfort and catharsis you need.
Why I started to watch: In session
Make a list. Write down every scenario in which you desperately want a do-over. If your life is anything like mine or Erica’s, this is going to take a while. Erica has a list that includes running away from her Bat mitzvah, calling her mother a “total Nazi,” drinking too much at a high school dance and losing her virginity to a jerk. By far, her biggest regret, however, involves the death of her brother, Leo (Devon Bostick). She’s not ready to touch that one for a bit, so she starts small.
Watching Erica blast to the past is hilarious as she struggles to acclimate. (Would you remember your high school locker combination? No.) She’s both adult Erica and child Erica, or a teenager, or a barely young adult, subject to both hormonal mood swings and adult buzz-kill tendencies. (Her confused friends, played by Sarah Gadon, Vinessa Antoine and Paula Brancati, laugh it off.)
Erica’s jaunts through the space-time continuum are especially fun when she winds up romancing fellow travelers, like Kai (Sebastian Pigott), a future rock star reliving his own pre-fame regret. Their star-crossed love can never be, but why not enjoy each other in the meantime? This, of course, creates paradoxes. But what would a time-travel story be without those? Dr. Tom (Michael Riley) does not approve.
What I manage to overlook: Surfaces
Sometimes, “Being Erica” is very deep. But sometimes, it’s not deep enough. Exhibits A and B: Erica’s campy publishing colleagues Julianne (Reagan Pasternak) and Brent (Morgan Kelly). Julianne is a cliché of a Girlboss — she’s partial to air quotes, bristles at every perceived slight and demands latte perfection. Brent, meanwhile, is flamboyant and often mistaken for gay, but he claims to be straight. It’s a confusing use of gay stereotypes, and it might be offensive to gay men. “Being Erica” also tries to dabble in bisexuality by way of Erica’s relationship with Cassidy (Anna Silk). But it doesn’t quite get there.
Erica is mostly straight. She’s also cisgender, able-bodied, naturally thin, well-dressed, well-educated, middle-class and white. Erica has a lot of privilege that she fails to recognize. I’ll allow that because she’s at a low point when Dr. Tom offers her the opportunity to pick herself back up. And that opportunity comes with a big condition: She has to give back.
Why I Kept Coming Back: Epiphanies
In chasing the past, Erica stumbles into the future, and this wrinkle is what hooked me. Erica’s previous understanding of her own history was inherently flawed. Now, when she muddles around in the past, she finds new perspectives and new information, so that even if her original goal was to change the past, it winds up changing her. She learns that some of her “mistakes” were actually good decisions, some outcomes were unavoidable and also, correlation is not causation. (That hurtful remark wasn’t the cause of a longstanding family rift; it was something totally out of her control.) Erica’s retrospective timelines teach her to have a stronger sense of herself, to reconsider her goals and to make fundamental life changes — and to use her experience to help others. In other words, she learns how to move forward.
In addition to all this, the show manages to breaks free of its basic formula, as the therapist-patient/teacher-student relationship mutates. Dr. Tom turns out to be a little too devoted to his patients. And how do the doctors — including Dr. Fred (Dewshane Williams), Dr. Naadiah (Joanne Vannicola) and Dr. Arthur (Graham Greene) — decide who deserves to benefit from time travel therapy anyway?
At one point, British and American remakes of “Being Erica” were both in development and went to the pilot stage. What became of them? Will we ever get them? Probably not! I can’t travel to the future to find out. But we still have the 49 hours of “Being Erica,” which, at the cost of a Hulu subscription, is still a lot cheaper than 49 hours of talk therapy. You’re welcome.