The Secret Life of the American Teenager�
Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, July 1 (ABC Family)
First off, I’m a little bit wary of any new series whose title makes it sound like some dorky documentary. “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” huh? Yeah, right.
That high school is purportedly a simmering vat of raging hormones is still considered “secret” somehow? Don’t think so. “Dawson’s Creek” got there first, along with any number of shows on Fox and the WB. If the fact our adolescents are doing more than merely battling acne and spouting “Golly gee willickers!” remains a secret to anyone, we probably should pray for their naive/pathetic soul.
Which brings us to this new ABC Family effort from Brenda Hampton (“7th Heaven”) that works feverishly to make an educational institution look like the equivalent of a Nevada brothel but succeeds mostly in transforming high school to high camp. Were these stereotypes any more simplistic, they’d need to come with their own parental warning label.
Eschewing subtlety for overt exposition at every turn, “Secret Life” fairly screams, “This is a middle-age adult’s fear-mongering perception of high school life circa 2008.” And just in case we weren’t feeling quite old enough, it co-stars Molly Ringwald as the mother of our teenage protagonist. (Add your own “Oh, the humanity!” moan here.) An awkward cross between “7th Heaven” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” it stars Shailene Woodley as Amy, your basic band geek who naturally becomes pregnant after her very first sexual experience -- this with the school stud, Ricky (Daren Kagasoff). The screw-’em-and-leave-’em Ricky also carries his own dirty secret, because this is the age of abuse and dysfunction and everyone is driven by internal demons too numerous to even imagine.
This is how dumb Hampton seems to believe the audience is: She names the “good girl” cheerleader who holds fundraisers for her church Grace (Megan Park). And of course there’s the horrible dichotomy suffered by Grace’s boyfriend Jack (Greg Finley), caught as he is between a rock (his faith) and a hard place (his groin) as Grace yammers on about their abstaining from sex for like eight more years. This seems like a particularly lousy idea when Adrian (Francia Raisa), the school slut, flutters her eyelashes and sways her hips in his direction. Doesn’t seem like God has much of a prayer winning this one. The question is, does the nerdy Ben (Kenny Baumann) stand a chance courting Amy, whom he doesn’t know is preggers?
The only thing missing here, really, is R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” backing it all to evoke the proper tragicomic mood. That should show up sometime around Episode 4 as the series uses Amy’s pregnancy as the centerpiece in a drama that’s clearly more a painfully obvious, crudely-drawn cautionary tale than any sort of youth soap opera. It feeds into parental hysteria in ridiculously one-dimensional ways. Far more intriguing would be a series centering on the girls in Massachusetts who made that pregnancy pact. Now there’s a secret worth exploring.
Production: Brendavision, Prodco and ABC Family. Cast: Shailene Woodley, Molly Ringwald, Mark Derwin, India Eisley, Kenny Baumann, Daren Kagasoff, Francia Raisa, Megan Park, Greg Finley, Jorge-Luis Pallo, John Schneider, Josie Bissett, Ernie Hudson. Creator/executive producer: Brenda Hampton. Consulting producers: Jeff Rodgers, Chris Olsen, Jeff Olsen, Elaine Arata. Producer: Lindsley Parsons III. Writer: Branda Hampton. Director: Ron Underwood. Director of photography: Ronald E. High.