On a show full of enfants terrible, it takes a lot for one character to sink to the bottom of the likeability scale. And when there’s an artist in the group, it’s not hard to figure out who the outcast will be… that’s right, it’s the artist.
We already know that male artists are cads, but Colin Robbins (Jason Wiles) is also a cocaine addict, who turns his girlfriend into a cocaine addict, and then gets sent to prison (but not before trying to skip town). He also has sex with his art dealer in exchange for her selling his paintings.
Colin is physically indistinguishable from the rest of his So Cal counterparts, aside from the paint smears on his clothes. You might mistake him for a JC Penney model were it not for the hippy-dippy things he says, hoping he doesn’t “forget how fresh strawberries taste” while he’s in prison, for example.
From the way the other characters treat him, we are meant to believe that Colin has received substantial acclaim for his work. When his girlfriend’s roommate Clare (Kathleen Arnold) meets him, she regurgitates a quote she has memorized, for some reason, from a review of Colin’s work in Art News: “Colin Robbins’ work attains a formal depth and radiance, yet reflects the tangential nature of living in a fast, media-filled environment.”
For the most part, the paintings are comprised of circles, squares and stripes, painted in different colors and textures. An exception is the time he paints a picture of a cake with a dude in a toga for his girlfriend’s birthday (a painting that oddly ends up later in his gallery show, presumably for sale).
The script is problematic as it seems to jumble up the logical course of events in an artist’s career. We know that Colin already has gallery representation and has been written about in a major publication, but then he is commissioned to paint a gaudy mural in his friend Valerie’s night club (and it looks exactly like a mural you’d expect to see in a night club). Maybe he should have his next show at the Peach Pit Diner next-door.
Colin routinely puts his artwork before the needs of his girlfriend Kelly (Jennie Garth). The assumption that artists are selfish is a familiar trope, as is the cliché that they rely on drugs as a catalyst for creativity. The sensationalized substance abuse by Basquiat, Damien Hirst and Jackson Pollock, among others, reinforces the audience’s predisposition to accept this as the norm. It is even confirmed in Colin’s mind after a collector buys two of his new canvases he painted while high. “You don’t need coke to paint,” his friend Valerie (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) tells him. “No,” he says, “I only need it to paint well.” But when he gets Kelly hooked on coke, as well, he loses our sympathy completely.
As an artist (and a New Yorker), Colin is an outsider amongst his friends, but his most significant distinction is that he is the only truly unredeemable character in the season’s storyline. After being sentenced to two years in prison for drug possession and resisting arrest in a high-speed car chase, he then puts his friends who bailed him out in jeopardy by fleeing when he is supposed to turn himself in. It then becomes the plight of the rest of the cast to track him down and bring him to justice, even briefly uniting arch rivals Kelly and Valerie for the cause.
Indeed, Colin is no less than a villain. And, as is to be expected when villains are defeated, a great relief settles in his victims when he is apprehended by the authorities. Such was the relief when I realized I didn’t have to watch any more episodes of this show.