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Wednesday July 2, 2008 8:15 pm

The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Review




Posted by K.C. Morgan Categories: Drama, Kids, Prime Time, ABC, Cable, Editorial,

Amy

The compelling promos, tons of press and Seventh Heaven association might have been enough to rope me into watching the premiere of ABC Family’s , but it was the mere presence of Molly Ringwald in the cast which sealed the deal. And so it was that last night during prime time, I found myself watching cable instead of network TV. I don’t think it was a mistake.

Rollicking pop music kicked off the top of the episode, which immediately plunged its viewers headlong into teen pregnancy. Seriously, the main character Amy (played by Shailene Woodley) was barely introduced (as a marching band member) before she was in the restroom staring at the positive results from a home pregnancy kit. No time wasted here on introductions.

Actually, it felt more than a little forced. The audience was given no time to connect with this character in any way before BAM! she’s knocked up. And then, the beginning credits rolled.

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ABC Family

Plot points were displayed quickly, to the point of being rushed, giving viewers almost no time to process the facts. Here’s what you need to know: Amy is a 15-year-old band geek high schooler who has two gal pals, both completely clueless but sincere about having their friend’s best interests at heart. Ben (Kenny Baumann) is a 15-year-old virgin who’s looking to score, led by the help of his two friends (only one of whom is at all interesting - the girl who spits out sexual stats like she’s made it her life’s work). He quickly sets his sights on Amy even as he professes his hatred for the school’s Casanova Ricky (Daren Kagasoff).

Ricky and Adrian

Ricky, by the way, is the father of Amy’s baby. He is also dating a girl who seems to be the school slut, Adrian (Francia Raisa). His sights, however, are set on the school good girl, cheerleader and ultra-Christian Grace (Megan Park). Grace is dating a football player who can’t get his mind off sex and who quickly succumbs to the charms of Adrian, who couldn’t care less about the fact that she has a boyfriend.

Of the cast, there are two highly promising characters. The first is the school’s new guidance counselor Marc Molina (played by Jorge Pallo), who had a great scene with Ben (who came into the office looking for a spot in the band and a condom). The second is Ricky’s therapist, played by the very talented Ernie Hudson. I want to see more of both these men, and I found the dynamic between Ricky and the therapist extremely compelling. However, I do believe he was trotted out too quickly. Audiences barely glimpsed Ricky flirting with girls before they saw him in therapy giving his counselor a rough time. Sexual abuse was also immediately trotted out, somewhat shockingly so, delving us way too deeply into the pathos of the character. It might have been nice to properly meet Ricky before we were suddenly caught up in his turmoil, which doesn’t at all feel genuine at this point.

Abysmally, appeared in only two scenes. We have no idea what her relationship with her daughters and her husband is like. We have no idea who the character is and what she does other than stand around in the family kitchen, and nothing at all to promise that she will soon develop into more than the one who cooks the dinners.

We are left instead with a bunch of high schoolers who have sex on the brain - either they’re determined to do it, determined not to do it, or already in trouble because they did do it. We are suddenly faced with a starring character we know nothing of other than that she’s now pregnant by a kid who doesn’t seem to take anything seriously.

The show is much more like an after-school special, full of smarm, rather than a hard-hitting dramatic series. When Amy tells her friends about her problem, the subject of abortion is quickly raised and just as quickly dismissed. It might have been nice if the series could have looked at abortion more objectively - as an actual option to this particular dilemma, rather than a taboo topic that is quickly brushed aside as inconceivable (no pun intended).

Don’t let’s start sending mails, all. I’m not cheering for abortion or saying that it’s something every woman should do - I’m just realistically saying that it is, however unpleasant, an option. Carrying an unwanted child is likewise unpleasant. The reality is that unwanted pregnancies can become unwanted children, who then in turn can become a serious problem to society. Unloved, unwanted children can easily become victims of neglect and abuse which leads to much bigger (and much more far-reaching) problems. Abortion is an option and it is not a taboo to say so. This is an issue that had better be re-visited, because to create a series which showcases teen pregnancy and then seems to offer no other advice than to simply raise that child (no matter how ill-equipped the potential parent might be to do so) does much more harm than good.

Ben

The show ended with young Ben falling madly in love with Amy, who is still guarding her secret. Her friends come up with a plan they think is brilliant - Amy is to get Ben to love her, get Ben into bed and then play the child off as his own. Meanwhile, the football player and the school slut have been caught together kissing by the entire school. And so the plot thickens.

All in all, it was a very rushed premiere. A lot of information was shoved at us very quickly. I can only hope the pace will slow once the show hits its stride - assuming, of course, that it ever will. I did like the show and think it has great potential…unless it stubbornly remains one-sided on all issues.

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