How Keri Russell’s TV drama barged its way

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We saw it happen with Suits last year: A fairly undistinguished old TV show was plucked from obscurity and transformed, through the power of placement on a streaming service’s homepage, into a cultural phenomenon. Now that we know that this can happen at any time, to any unsuspecting show, I want to put something out into the world: I strongly believe that Felicity should get Suits’d next.

You might contend that a 25-year-old show about a girl with a huge mane of curly hair (Keri Russell in the titular role) who follows her crush to college is a pretty random candidate for a Suits’ing. I would only counter that so was Suits itself before that happened. (My colleague Sam Adams might argue that it wasn’t all that random, but let’s not get bogged down in the details.) Following a guy to college is a wacky premise, one that shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would later riff on, but one of Felicity’s achievements is how grounded and realistic it managed to be in spite of that—even as its main character consistently made terrible decisions. Created by J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves and currently streaming on Hulu, the show follows sensitive, impulsive Felicity during her time at an New York University–esque college, where the mundane struggles of studying and living with roommates intersect with larger questions of identity and, especially, love. That crush from the beginning of the series eventually formed one of the greatest TV love triangles of all time: Handsome, aloof Ben (Scott Speedman) vs. nerdy, gentle Noel (Scott Foley). It was the Jacob vs. Edward of its day.

I’ve had Felicity on my mind lately because the website and podcast network the Ringer, along with Abrams’ Bad Robot Audio and Spotify, recently launched Dear Felicity, a podcast looking back on the show—it’s co-hosted by two former cast members and features commentary from the rest of the cast and creative team. This genre of podcast, wherein someone involved with a TV show rewatches it episode by episode, sharing their thoughts along the way, has been a popular format for a few years now. I usually stay away from it; I love Gilmore Girls, but I don’t feel the need to hear the actor who played Luke dissect every single episode of it. So it surprised me to realize that I very much did want to hear Russell, Abrams, et al. dissect every single episode of Felicity.

Part of that is about saturation. Gilmore Girls has never left the zeitgeist, and its Netflix revival a few years ago only further solidified its place there. Felicity, by contrast, feels slightly forgotten, which means the timing is ripe, perhaps even felicitous, for a large-scale discovery and rediscovery. “Felicity is a beloved show, but as we say on the pod, it was smaller compared to some of the other shows at the time,” Juliet Litman, a co-host of Dear Felicity and Ringer podcast regular, told me.

Despite being a huge Felicity fan who watched the show in its original run as a preteen and teenager, Litman was initially skeptical of my position that Felicity ought to be the next Suits. Compared with Felicity’s soft focus on friendship and matters of the heart as they play out over time, “Suits is fast-paced,” she said. “Suits almost has an element of Aaron Sorkin to it, in the walk-and-talks that they do around the office. There’s a slickness to it that Felicity definitely doesn’t have.” OK, so maybe Suits has a little more mass appeal than Felicity. Maybe Suits also has the hook of starring a future member of the British royal family. (Though I would add that Felicity has going for it early appearances from stars like John Cho, Taraji P. Henson, and Jennifer Garner!) Still, obviously there’s room for all kinds of shows, and Litman didn’t entirely reject my vision of a Felicity revival. “I feel like the comp here, actually, is Friends,” she said. I’ll take that—another show that famously went through a streaming renaissance! Though Felicity has “lot of the same limitations” that Friends has, she noted, “it fills a similar niche of a friend group in New York, but it’s not actually shot in New York. I feel like it’s actually the drama B-side to the comedy that is Friends.” As I’ve been saying!

Litman saw some other things about the show that might speak to young people today too, starting with the characters’ clothes. “I think of the fashion, of Felicity and Meghan [Felicity’s roommate] in particular: The way that they dress is so much like how people dress now. The sort of baggy clothes, the sweaters—it’s kind of the more feminine grunge look.”

When Felicity was airing, critics liked to point out that its characters didn’t sound like teenagers, but Litman said she thinks that in the years since, the rest of the world has caught up to them. “Emoting is a big part of the TV landscape in 2024, and I think that some of the teen soaps that were on the WB were kind of early to that,” she said. “Part of what made them different was how they used language. This was particularly true of Dawson’s Creek, but it’s really true of the character of Felicity and the character of Noel. The way they communicate about themselves at the time maybe felt hyperreal, but now I think it’s more similar to how people communicate.” When—slight spoiler alert—Noel explains to Felicity that he kissed her because he missed his girlfriend, I couldn’t help but think of how people today use “therapy-speak” to justify all manner of missteps.

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Also in the realm of communication, consider the show’s voice-over narration: It’s, somewhat improbably, supposed to come from the tapes Felicity is seen recording to keep in touch with her French tutor (voiced by Janeane Garofalo, who has yet to show up in the podcast, but one can hope). As strange as it seemed then, “That sort of presages so much of how people communicate now, between podcasts and voice memos,” Litman said. “I send voice memos to my friends all the time.” It makes the idea of listening to a podcast about Felicity all the more appropriate.

I’ve read that one reason some Gen Z–ers like older shows is that they help them imagine a life before the anxieties of social media, and Felicity definitely fits that bill. I’ve also observed that when people are looking for an older show to pick up, they’re often hoping for something with a lot of episodes to get lost in, as with Suits or Friends. Felicity’s got more than 80, and they neatly cover all four years of college. College, too, feels as if it should be a draw, considering how few shows are set during those years at all, never mind how few shows are intentionally set during that time, rather than following their high school characters there and it never quite being the same. (Again, I’m thinking of Gilmore Girls here.) Both Litman and Christina Choi, an executive producer on Dear Felicity, cited The Sex Lives of College Girls as another great show that’s set on a college campus, but its current two seasons of 10 episodes each wouldn’t last anyone more than a weekend of sustained bingeing. As Choi said, “There’s something about the longer episode count that really brings people in. I actually just finished watching Fallout, which is that new Amazon show, and you’re basically with the characters for, like, maybe eight hours. That’s it. if you’re watching something like Felicity or like a Dawson’s Creek or The O.C., there are so many more episodes to kind of dig into and spend time with characters and feel like you really know them.”

The Ringer is known for its coverage of sports and intellectual property–driven media, so focusing on a show about a college girl is slightly out of character for the network—is Bill Simmons a big Felicity guy?—but Litman said she wanted to bring a similarly fan-driven perspective to different material. “I think it feels pretty in line with what some of my colleagues do on the The Ringer-Verse and The Watch and our coverage of House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones. Even though it’s not necessarily in the same Venn diagram of content, it is, I think, the same approach.” I’m immensely in favor of this because I’ve long thought society should have the same reverence for hourlong dramas watched primarily by women as it has for superhero movies, but it’s also worth noting that, á la Madame Web, I.P. connects them all: Felicity creators Abrams and Reeves both went on to helm major franchises like Star Wars and Batman. Just saying, can you really call yourself a fanboy if you haven’t explored Abrams’ full origin story? At the least, Felicity has a very cool Twilight Zone–inspired episode and, at the end of the series, believe it or not, a time travel arc that should interest sci-fi/comic-book nerds.

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  • It’s not too late to catch up: The podcast is about to wrap up its coverage of Season 1. Its format actually deviates slightly from most rewatch podcasts in that each pod episode covers several TV episodes. I was on the fence about this, wondering if it might feel as if the hosts were fast-forwarding through the series, but ultimately, this approach makes the show less daunting, especially for anyone who’s slightly allergic to rewatch podcasts. One of Litman’s favorite revelations so far came in a recent episode that featured an interview with Gina Prince-Bythewood, who was a writer on Felicity before going on to enjoy a successful career as a director of films like Love & Basketball and The Woman King. She revealed that the letter a character named Julie, who is adopted, writes to her birth mother on the show was verbatim a letter Prince-Bythewood wrote to her own birth mother in real life. And very soon, Dear Felicity will get to the episode when Felicity gets a certain infamous haircut, a Season 2 event that Litman called a “transcendent moment” in popular culture. It truly was—you had to be there. Except, thanks to Dear Felicity and the magic of streaming TV, it’s OK if you weren’t.

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