Empty9-10 p.m. Monday, July 9
At many campuses -- maybe most -- the Greek system has been in decline for about 40 years. The parties and friendships notwithstanding, more students resent the snobbishness, the silly rules, the extra expenses, the hazing and the demands that interfere with study or work.
Those issues don't exist in "Greek," ABC Family's latest and most daring attempt to bring in additional teen and tween viewers. The new series, which repeats episodes four days later on ABC, invokes the mentality of a half-century ago, when the most important concern at college was being accepted into the right fraternity or sorority.
If you can still swallow that viewpoint, there's a lot to like about this combination drama-comedy. But first you have to commit to watch the entire hourlong premiere, because it takes that long for several of the students at fictional Cyprus-Rhodes University to morph from one-dimensional stereotypes to characters with texture and depth.
At the center of the series are Rusty Cartwright (Jacob Zachar) and his older sister, Casey (Kelsey Grammer's daughter, Spencer). Rusty, an aspiring engineer, is a socially awkward freshman; Casey is next in line to be president of the most selective sorority on campus. Certain her brother is an embarrassment, she hasn't even told anyone he exists. "You have your world and I have mine," she tells him.
Rusty, however, is interested in learning about other worlds, particularly after meeting his dorm roommate, a Southern fundamentalist with a germ phobia. When "rush" starts, Rusty stumbles out of the starting gate. "Be yourself," says his new friend, Calvin (Paul James). "If that doesn't work, be someone else." That's exactly what Rusty does, resulting in new friends, a black eye, an invitation to pledge and a better relationship with sis.
"Greek" lacks the sophistication of, say, "Freaks & Geeks," "Undeclared" or, going back further, "My So-Called Life," all of which filtered the teen years through an adult prism. "Greek" does just the opposite, presenting the college years as they might be imagined by high school and junior high students. That includes lots of sex and drinking, which is bound to upset viewers who focus mainly on the last name of the ABC Family network. No doubt execs are prepared to get some angry mail and e-mail as the price for dishing up edgier fare.
Still, "Greek" is much more than artful manipulation of marketing strategy. The premiere has several surprises even as it dares you to pigeonhole any of these characters. The talented young ensemble cast works hard to sell the stories and mostly succeeds.
A Piller/Segan production
Executive producers: Lloyd Segan, Shawn Piller, Anne Kenney
Co-executive producer/creator/teleplay: Patrick Sean Smith
Producer: Nellie Rachel Nugiel
Co-producer: Adam Fratto
Consulting producer: Mike Berns
Director: Gil Junger
Director of photography: Edward Jay Pei
Production designer: Stefania Cella
Editor: Adam Wolfe
Music: John Swihart
Set designer: Roya Parivar
Casting: Marisa Ross, Alyson Silverberg
Rusty Cartwright: Jacob Zachar
Casey Cartwright: Spencer Grammer
Calvin: Paul James
Cappie: Scott Michael Foster
Rebecca Logan: Dilshad Vadsaria
Ashleigh: Amber Stevens
Dale: Clark Duke
Evan: Jake McDorman