Created by Kenny Schwartz and Rick Wiener
Produced by 3 Hounds Productions, Littlefield Company, MHS Productions, Paramount Networks Television Productions
Aired on The WB for 1 season (15 episodes, 4 Unaired) from September 19, 2002 – December 5, 2002
Penn Badgley as Joel Larsen
Angela Goethals as Cheryl Larsen
Josh Wise as Pat Brody
Natasha Melnick as Isabelle Meyers
Michael Milhoan as Bill Larsen
Gigi Rice as Karen Larsen
After enduring a jolt to the head from defibrillator paddles, a depressed paper salesman named Joel Larsen is sent back 20 years into his fifteen-year-old body, where he is given a second chance at life to do everything he never allowed himself to do the first time around, including helping out his drug addict sister from going down a bad road and saving his parents’ marriage. Joel quickly adjusts to his new status as a teen, now with knowledge of the future, and lives his days trying to do the best he can to improve his life in the present, as well as in the future.
Through narration from Tom Everett Scott as the older Joel, the audience gets a nostalgic context to the 1980s setting. Each episode involves a particular regret that Joel recalls happening, and the resolution comes from him trying to come to terms with the experience and learn what the most important things to him actually are. The only other person who knows about his future knowledge is his best friend Pat, a rebellious teen who hates authority and conformity, but will one day become a high profile lawyer. The themes often deal with fate, regret and living for today, and are filled with a heavy dose of 1980s pop music and nostalgia.
Nostalgia television shows have been popular going as far back as Happy Days, which was a show produced in the 1970s that showed the adventures of teens, but in a 1950s setting. In the 1980s, The Wonder Years looked back on the 1960s with nostalgic eye. The 1990s produced That ’70s Show, which turned into a long-running success. The next logical step for the new millennium would be a 1980s nostalgic series, which could’ve easily been Freaks and Geeks, but that show got cancelled after just one season. The bug hit during the early millennium, with That ’80s Show attempting to capitalize off the success of its predecessor, but the show failed to be as much of a landmark. There is a strange phenomenon where two different sources develop almost the exact same idea, and usually the first to be released is the one that has the most resonance. This phenomenon occurred in September of 2002, where two different shows came out at around the same time with essentially the same idea of how to structure their 1980s nostalgia TV show.
Those two shows were WB’s Do Over and ABC’s That Was Then, both of which had the same concept of an unfulfilled thirty something year old who is now filled with regret, with the weight of the world having sucked the life out of them, but, through fantastical circumstances, are sent back in time into their teenage bodies to live their life over again, with full knowledge of what is to come. Also, oddly enough, a basic jolt of electricity is the catalyst of time travel in both these shows (not something I would ever suggest anyone actually attempt, by the way). Although neither of these shows had longevity, Do Over had the longer run, with eleven episodes of its fifteen airing in the US, while That Was Then only aired two of its produced four episodes. The rule remains true that the first one out of the gate will have the most resonance.
Do Over as a television series is, in actuality, a very good show, and did develop a small cult following during its run. The premise was fairly unique and a made really fine use of the voice over narrative, which worked on a level that was both reflective and active, since the main character could make references that the audience would know, but in the context of the 1980s setting.
Possibly one of the easiest things to commend this show for is its use of 1980s music to create a sense of time and emotion. The theme song is a The Go-Go’s song, called “Do it over”, a studio track that was never released and remains unavailable, except in this recreated fan mix version. On the series, the main character Joel has a crush on the unattainable popular girl, played by Melinda Sward, and every time she appears, her theme is “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead or Alive, which he hears even before she sees her coming. There are other moments of interesting music cues, but that one for the most part remained consistent, and became a bit of a running gag.
The show has a strong lead with Penn Badgley, who is very likable from the pilot and is able to convey a relatable persona. As for the rest of the cast, they are all also perfectly suited to their roles, from the parents to the friends. The parents, portrayed by Gigi Rice and Michael Milhoan, are excellent and very funny. Joel’s sister Cheryl, played by Angela Goethals, is a great antagonist for Joel at times, and is an interesting character as a would be drug addict that the show really doesn’t get that much into, but would’ve been nice to see more of. The best friends of Pat and Isabelle are very well characterized by Josh Wise and Natasha Melnick respectively. It’s great to see the dynamic of Joel’s friendship with Pat, who is the only one he shares his future knowledge secret with, as well as his relationship with Isabelle. There is always the possibility the show will turn Isabelle into the unrequited love interest to Joel, who is only interested in the popular girl, but the series doesn’t ever go this way, instead reinforcing their friendship in fun ways. This show has also had some very good and interesting cameos, including Nicholas D’Agosto, Taran Killam, and Ken Marino.
Do Over is essentially an episodic series, and as with any episodic show, it runs the risk of being repetitive. Even at its fifteen episodes run, there were plenty of moments where beats were repeated. To the credit of the writers, though, these beats, although redundant, were all entertaining, and varied the premise with each episode. The basic structure of an episode would be that Joel presents himself with a dilemma when he recalls or foresees an event happening, realizes that he can change things this time around, tries to change the event using his future knowledge and then, depending on the event, either changes things for the better, or learns something about that event that defines his character and who he wants to be. It’s actually a fairly broad structure for an episode.
There is an overarching plot that does get resolved in the end of the run that is very satisfying, dealing with Joel’s mother Karen, where she is always coming up with million dollar ideas like the fanny pack, lunchables, or drawstring trash bags, but she never follows through with any of them because she is discouraged by her shortsighted husband Bill. There are several episodes that deal with her deciding to follow through with one of these ideas, but she doesn’t do so until the last episode, where she invents Chilghetti, a mix of Chili and Spaghetti. Up until this point, Joel has been encouraging and supportive, but now he is faced with an idea that his mother has that he is uncertain of how successful it will be. It brings a natural uncertainty to the series that, if the show had continued, would’ve been an excellent area to explore.
There are plenty of shows that are made to play on our nostalgia from a time and reflect on those ideas with new sense of wonder and appreciation, but how Do Over is different from the average nostalgic series is that it has nostalgia, reflection of regret, and the fantasy of being able to relive one’s life over again differently. It would be nice to be able to revisit this series with insight from the creators about what exactly they had in mind with Joel and his adventures in his teen years, and what the end game would’ve been. Unfortunately, there is no official channel to see this show, or a stronger cult following that would demand such an inquiry. As it is, all we can do now is look back as passive viewers, as the series remains out of reach in the annals of the past, due to its home video unavailability.
Show creators Rick Wiener and Kenny Schwartz would go on to write episodes of American Dad, Sean Saves the World, and Modern Family.
Penn Badgley continued his television career as a main cast member on series such as The Mountain, The Bedford Diaries, and Gossip Girl, and most recently can be seen on NBC’s The Slap.
The series is not currently available on any home video media, nor is it available on any HD quality streaming sites.
The full episodes are available in SD quality streaming.