December 16, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Finding Carter”


In its second season, MTV’s FINDING CARTER made a disappointingly dim argument for sustaining itself beyond its initial premise.  The series remains well-acted, and it has its emotionally pursuasive moments, but its season was swallowed up by plot contrivances and melodrama.

Melodrama has always been part of Finding Carter‘s DNA.  It began with the return of teen Carter Wilson (Kathryn Prescott) to what appeared to be her birth family, police detective Elizabeth (Cynthia Watrous), writer David (Alexis Denisof), twin sister Taylor (Anna Jacoby-Heron), and younger brother Grant (Zac Pullam), after having been raised since the age of three by a loving but unbalanced kidnapper, Lori (Milena Govich).  That was the stuff of tabloids, but the strength of the series in its first season was that it concentrated on its characters’ believable emotions, balancing Carter’s discomfort with her new “normalcy” with the tensions between her parents and siblings.  The pull Carter felt toward the woman she’d known as her mother felt real, and so was the way she acted out when she felt out of place among family and friends.  Elizabeth and Taylor were also fully developed characters, and Taylor’s halting romance with Carter’s ex, the sensitive Max (Alex Saxon), was well drawn.

The problem with such a premise was that it could only stretch so far:  eventually, Carter would either have to adapt to her new surroundings or go utterly dark.  Finding Carter chose the first, and that left it reaching for new sources of drama.  It turned out that Lori, while still not exactly stable, wasn’t as crazy as she looked.  In fact, she was Carter’s (and Taylor’s) biological mother, and David’s mistress, a fact that ultimately (and unconvincingly) led her to be let out of jail despite her abduction of the child.  Lori become so reformed as a character, in fact, that by late in Season 2, she and Elizabeth were practically mismatched buddy cops, working together to help Carter.  In a painfully familiar jump-sharking move, we were introduced to yet another sibling for Carter, troubled Ben (Ben Winchell).  Carter went through the TV teen’s usual succession of bad-boy romantic interests, including last season’s Crash (Caleb Ruminer) and this year’s Jared (Jackson Rathbone).

The 25-year old bar owner Jared became the focal plot point of Season 2, and it was tediously obvious from the start that he’d bring nothing but trouble.  He constantly liked to Carter; he had a gun; he owed money to the wrong people; he dealt drugs (and suborned Ben to do the same); he was responsible for the overdose death of the boyfriend of Carter’s friend Bird (Vanessa Morgan).  Ultimately, he threw Ben under the bus–after swearing to Carter that he wouldn’t–when he was arrested for that crime.  It all followed a pattern familiar from decades of stories about young women who make unwise choices, and unlike in Season 1, none of it was able to transcend its genre roots.  Subplots about Taylor’s near-date rape, Carter and Max’s one-night tryst and Bird’s teen pregnancy were also out of the high school soap textbook.

Tonight’s 2-hour season finale (Hour 1 written by Supervising Producer Maria Maggenti and directed by Sharat Raju; Hour 2 written by showrunner Emily Whitesell and directed by Norman Buckley) spent much of its time as a whodunit, as Jared was finally disposed of via a vodka bottle to the skull, with Carter unconscious on the scene and Lori mysteriously present.  Through one twist and another, it was finally revealed that the killer was Max, self-sacrificing and protective to a fault, who was led off by the cops in one of the season’s cliffhangers (the other being Ben’s beating at the hands of the villainous local druglord).  Some of this was mildly compelling, but it didn’t play to any of Finding Carter‘s strengths, concentrating on unoriginal plotting rather than the complications of its characters.

The series remains notable for its acting, especially by Prescott, Watrous and Jacoby-Heron, and when it takes a break from hitting the timeworn teen drama beats, it can still muster moments of quiet perceptiveness.  It’s also made an effort to employ a strong group of indie film talent, mostly women:  Maggenti, Jennifer Lynch and Rose Troche are among those who have written or directed episodes.  But the spark of Season 1 is gone, the ratings have gone from OK to dismal, and there was nothing in the finale to suggest that the series is on the road to correcting itself.  Finding Carter could have been a memorable limited series, but as a continuing one, it’s become the captive of its own worst instincts.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."