Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Secret Life of Vance: I Watched The Secret Life of The American Teenager And I Liked It

Is it wrong that I began watching The Secret Life of The American Teenager so that I could criticize it, but then ended up falling in love with the show? I feel dirty. I don't know what to do. I feel like a born again virgin on the bleachers during prom night.


So a show by the 7th Heaven writer and producer making a show about a pregnant teenager in a Christian town sounds icky and preachy but I secretly devoured the episodes to catch up with tonight's new episode (on abcFamily at 8pm before a new episode of Greek which is probably the show that sounds immoral yet is quite sweet).

The Secret Life of An American Teenager may have gotten attention because it stars teenage 80's queen Molly Ringwald as the "an American teenager" Amy's mother, but I think I love the show because it's a cross between MTV's Undressed and 7th Heaven.

In both style and substance. Seriously, I half expected Jessica Biel or Barry Watson to walk in, and I half expect those pop up circles with the next segment of horny white and interchangeable youngsters trying to get it on.

On a really cheap looking and obvious studio set.

With the most wooden acting this side of David Caruso in CSI: Miami.

It's an odd pairing that surprisingly works as an American glossified rip off of Canada's more balanced Degrassi (right down to Amy's Shailene Woodley (below with Baumann) looking an awful lot like Shanae Grimes who moves on to 90210 tonight (on The CW at 8pm) which apparently was original another homage to Degrassi AND the new version poached not only the The Next Generation star, but a couple of former writers as well. Boy, the TV mobius strip just continues doesn't it?). The Degrassi allusion is probably why I like this new version so much.

Somehow, the show comes off incredibly sweet and grounded, despite the heavy overtones of the church and state but instead of turning me off, I actually found it quite compelling and discussion worthy. The kids (and adults) may know it's wrong but some still do it, and there are consequences (but without that bolt of lightening thing) and I like that every character is trying to be a better person even if everyone has a different way to try. I'm not always in agreeance and I'm a bit worried at what direction they are still taking us down, but so far, I don't actually think some of the morals being presented are completely wrong (but I've always been incredibly liberal in most issues but I harbour a tiny bit of old fashion Miss Manners conservatism in me).

There's interesting adult casting choices. Josie Bissett! Is her new religious role somehow payback to clean up for all the sexual dalliances on Melrose Place?, Mark Derwin! (He always gets points for playing Bonnie Hunt's husband), John Schneider! (Smallville was never the same when they killed you off), Ernie Hudson! (They really don't have enough roles for older black men do they?), L. Scott Caldwell! (Hey, how did you get off the island? Aren't you supposed to be Lost?), Steve Schirripa in a much less violent role (The Sopranos) and of course, Molly Ringwald whose acting is either incredibly wooden, or incredible underplayed and realistically monotone. I'm not sure which yet.

The best adult is guidance counselor Mr. Mark Molino played by Jorge-Luis Pallo who is totally great with his sarcastic-seen-it-all but secretly loving tone. I don't know who this actor is but he needs more screen time.

Meanwhile, the teenagers are a hodgepodge with a few standouts.

Kenny Baumann is incredibly winning as Ben, the boy who falls in love with the pregnant Amy and does all he can to continue winning her over despite her situation.

Francia Raisa (above with Kagasoff) is fantastic as the sexually liberal and knowing school flirt Adrian. The floosy who is smarter than everything thinks.

Daren Kagasoff is perfectly cool and aloof with his handsomeness as the school's rebel hottie who impregnated Amy during band camp (no less). It could easily be a one note character but Kagasoff carries the weight of his character (bad parents left him with foster parent Caldwell) without being overdramatic and all stereotypical, and his character is nicely balanced as good guy who just happens to be really sexual. It's all super psychobabble stuff that's a bit cliche but I don't think I've ever seen them play it on a teenage character which makes it an interesting twist.

Megan Park (above with Greg Finley as Jack) is terrific at playing innocent and bitchy all with the glow of Jesus behind her as Grace, the school's resident queen religious bee and despite the fact that I feel sorry for all the delusions spilling out of her mouth, I LOVE the character.

I love the two Asians, Alice (Amy Rider) and Henry (Allen Evangalista) who speak in a Gilmore Girls tone, while it's nice to see Camille Winbush find a spot for her calm monotone delivery (that balanced so well with Bernie Mac on The Bernie Mac Show).

So far, it's been mostly a smooth ride, though the delusions Ben was having of Amy got a bit weird. Love that his father is the "Sausage King". Is that some sort of inside joke on a show that tries to talk about sex?

Love that Grace finds herself on a street corner and danger actually seeks her out. Love a naked Ricky saving her even more, and AFTER she prays and threatens the would-be-rapists with a broken bottle!

I still haven't figured out if India Eisley (as Amy's mentally older but younger sister Ashley) is great and actually acting like that on purpose or is she the worst actress ever? Either way, she intrigues me. Ditto for mom Molly who either comes off truly natural or just a really bad actor that explains her absence since the 80's.

Finally, Shailene Woodley didn't do that much for me at first but she's grown on me and has a nice quieter presence that actually grounds the show and makes me believe all this might be possible. The grandma Mitzy twist was a nice bonus I didn't see coming, and her reaction was spot on. She also has great chemistry with Kenny Baumann AND Daren Kagasoff (below with Woodley) so I'm curious to see where they finally take all this.

Greg Finley (as Jack) and Megan Park:

Shailene Woodley as Amy:

Daren Kagasoff as Ricky:

Francia Raisa as Adrian:

Kenny Baumann as Ben:

Megan Park as Grace:

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