When I watched season one of the show again, I was amazed at how many episodes and moments I remembered. My memories of season 2 were not so clear. While I remembered the additions of Annie, Nick, and the diner, not too many of the plot lines were familiar to me. So there wasn't nearly as much nostalgia this time around while watching the episodes, and it's possible that may have affected my enjoyment of this season.
I can understand that the show runners had a desire to change things up, and giving Parker a relationship was certainly one logical inclusion, and a new set is a common second season change for most shows. I also know from listening to the commentaries of the first season that the network was not too happy that some of the show's trademark antics often equaled really high budgets for a sitcom, and for the second season they were probably forced to tone it down a bit. Unfortunately, it all adds up to a less enjoyable season than the first.
Annie is not the awful character I remember her to be, though she's also not really a season regular at this point. She appears in the background occasionally, but primarily her time is spent in three episodes. The first chronicles when Parker meets her for the first time, and how their attraction leads them to want to go steady. Annie's initially hesitant, but they do end up going out. It's a fairly realistic episode for how these teen relationships go, it's just that being shown from Parker's perspective, Annie appears to be wishy-washy with no real reasons given for why she's being so hesitant. The second episode is further on in their relationship, the two month anniversary to be exact, and chronicles their first real arguments, which in true teenager fashion are barely about anything at all. While once again realistic, it didn't really make for truly interesting television, and was definitely way too serious for this normally silly TV series. The third and final episode is about Parker and Annie planning to have sex for the first time. Their planned night alone is quickly ruined by tons of people showing up to the house, and in the end the two of them decide now is not the time anyway. The problem is that because of the time slot, they're not even allowed to use the word sex and it all just comes off really awkwardly.
As far as Nick and the diner, the problem I have with it is that the show ends up depending on both far too much. Perhaps it was cheaper to film at that location rather than rent a high school? But all of the characters spend most of their time there. Nick, the owner, gives out sage advice to everyone, sometimes cryptically, sometimes not. You would think they changed the name of the show to "Nick Can't Lose" because the other characters, including Parker, depend on him that much. It's not awful, but is disappointing.
This season is also tainted by a few episodes that were not handled well at all. Unlike the video game addiction last season, these are just poorly handled and not resolved in the best way. Allow me to break them down"
Episode 11: "Love Handles" - The name alone is offensive. Parker starts talking to a girl online who he has a lot in common with. They arrange a meet up and *gasp* *horror* she's overweight. He's immediately cringing at the idea of going to a dance with her, which he asked her to do before they met in person. Some random "hot chick" asks him to go instead, and he tries to find a way to tell the firsst girl no but he can't do it because he knows it would be mean to do so. They end up going on a date, where everyone in the diner stares at them agape because OMG Parker Lewis is dating a fat girl! When Parker talks to Nick about it later, he says he likes her as a friend but isn't attracted to her. Yes, Parker, because you're a shallow asshole, even if you know it's too damn mean to tell her so. But worse yet is that instead of dealing with that, or having Parker stand up to any of the other rude people, the episode switches focus to blame everything on the girl's lack of confidence, as she is the one who cancels the date to the dance because she's too scared to go in there and be stared at. And this is after a scene where when Parker came to pick her up for that first date, her parents and grandmother had to take pictures because surely as a chunky girl she's never ever been on a date before and they were so excited. While there's elements of truth here - yes, kids are often that cruel in high school when weight is concerned - I still feel like the tone of the episode is completely off. They were trying their best to do right, but they failed.
Episode 21: "When Jerry Met Shelly" - This is actually not a bad episode. Jerry and Shelly are set up by Nick on a blind date (do you see what I mean about the dependence on Nick this season?) and find out they really like each other. Parker is convinced his sister is just playing Jerry to succeed on a school project, and breaks the two of them up, really hurting his sister. It's a great episode for Maia Brewton especially as she shows Shelly at that age of not quite a kid and not quite a full blown teenager yet. The problem is that the whole reason this episode happens is that Jerry is supposedly dateless and has never been kissed before, except that we saw him get together with Rita in "Full Mental Jacket" and the two of them were still together in the episode before this one, "Dance of Romance." The show is usually pretty good at keeping continuity, so it's really disappointing that they dropped the ball here.
Episode 22: "Geek Tragedy" - Here, geek is still going by the old definition - kids who are smart but socially awkward, wearing glasses and pocket protectors, and having greasy skin. This episodes pre-dates a similarly themed Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode by five years, showing how unpopular kids literally disappear when not enough people pay attention to them. Though here they don't turn invisible as much as they are transported to a parallel universe by a masked football player that breathes fire. The problem here is that once again, the blame is put on the geeks rather than the other people in high school. It's the lack of confidence in themselves that forces the geeks to disappear, and no attention is paid to the fact that people bully them and treat them like crap, and that it is those actions which make them lose confidence. Yes, confidence is important, but ignoring the effect bullying has on people is kind of ludicrous. I realize it's a pretty big topic for a silly sitcom to truly tackle but if you're going to choose to bring it up, I'm going to put it under a microscope and analyze it.
Episode 25: "Diner '75" - After largely staying grounded all season, they suddenly turn the craziness up to 11 with this episode, where a train spills toxic waste outside the diner therefore trapping everyone inside. There's also an escaped criminal in there with them, nicknamed the Chameleon for his ability to take on the form of anyone or anything he chooses. While I appreciate the turn back to cartoonishness, the episode ends in a pretty insane fashion - Parker appears to be replaced by the Chameleon, with the real Parker trapped in the basement of the diner. Add to this the fact that Season 3 will probably never be released on DVD, and that adds a whole new level of odd to this season finale.
So overall, this was a pretty disappointing season for me. Perhaps the highlight was seeing Juliet Landau appear as Frank's love interest in "Dance of Romance," and that's really not saying too much. I am still interested enough to try to track down the third season to see if they managed to get the show back on track or not.