Friday, January 09, 2009

SLAT - Insert Palin Family joke here

The second season of ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager premiered this week, and if you're not caught up with what's going on in this communique from Deep Red America don't worry. That's what bloggers are for.

The story so far: Amy (Shailene Woodley) arrives home pregnant after a trip to band camp and her first sexual experience, a one-time fling with school player (Daren Kagasoff). Amy spends the early part of Season One hiding her pregnancy from her family and friends, but once the truth comes out the furor touches not only Amy but fellow students Grace (a minister's daughter conflicted about her vow of pre-marriage chastity) and Adrian (Ricky's girlfriend, searching for her birth father and trying to live down a bad reputation for frequent hookups). Then there's Ben, Amy's well-intentioned boyfriend so impossibly noble he proposes marriage. In this week's Season Two premiere Ben and Amy tie the knot in front of an approving throng of their friends, who have all gotten fake ID's for the occasion. No parents invited.

SLAT comes to us from Brenda Hampton, whose resume includes the long-running Seventh Heaven - didn't the last episode finish about ten minutes ago? There's no adult with the presence of Stephen Collins here; the best developed character is Amy's mother (Molly Ringwald), who's given little to do except deliver pep talks and have '50s-sitcom style spats with her estranged husband. The kids are the focus here, and SLAT presents a view of teenage life that only a cultural conservative would love. For example:

1. On SLAT there are no high school cliques - Grace (Megan Park) is a minister's daughter but appears to have no Christian friends. Her boyfriend isn't down with the whole no sex until marriage thing and makes out with Adrian at first opportunity. Amy's gossipy friends are more concerned with boys, and Ben's only friends are a couple who appear to have teleported in from Gilmore Girls. No one seems to be a part of any subculture or think about anything except their own feelings and how they could be nicer to other people.

2. On SLAT, sex causes problems - No one, absolutely no one, enjoys sex or sexual feelings on this show. Amy obviously regrets her encounter with Ricky, but Adrian and Grace are likewise s uncomfortable with their own desires that you'd almost think it's no fun being a teenager. The female characters just feel guilty, but Ricky gets off easier since we're told he has been molested as a child and acts out in response. Again, sexuality is a no-fun zone. Then again, what did I expect from ABC Family?

3. On SLAT, being different is weird. - Amy's 12-year old sister Ashley (India Eisley) dresses all in black and speaks in a robotic monotone that I think is supposed to denote "edginess". Eisley is about as much like a 12-year old as, well the 15-year old she actually is. Grace's brother Tom (Luke Zimmerman) appears to have Down's Syndrome, but don't worry it's the funny kind! Tom is sex-obsessed and saves up his money to hire an "internet prostitute;" his sexuality is played for broad comedy.

Amy, whom Shailene Woodley actually plays well, would have hated Juno. SLAT is a finally a show about suppressing oneself in an effort to live up to a moral code. It's about as enjoyable and as realistic as that description makes it sound.


Monday, January 05, 2009

"In the Realm of the Basses" - Gossip Girl, episode 2.14

We're all agreed that GG represents teenage life for about .001% of its viewing audience, but when Chuck gets drunk why does he have to act like a 47-year old man? "Farewell to my dear Spanish ladies?" Really? This show is still set in 2009, right? I half expected Chuck to pop up between Benchley and Parker at the Algonquin Round Table.

The New Year finds our GG friends back to their old habits. Serena, having dumped Aaron on the flight to Argentina (thank goodness!), is nervously mooning over diffident Dan. Blair is socially climbing, up for membership in a high-end social organization and obsessing with Dorota about impressing the selection committee. Then there's Chuck. MIA since the funeral of his Dad, Chuck is discovered in a family hotel (which resembles an opium den) in Bangkok by his uncle (Desmond Harrington) and dragged back to New York in a stupor. If you saw the promos for this episode you know that Chuck's grief over his Dad pushes him near the breaking point. But of ocurse the great reversal begins. It has been a season of growth for Blair, as she disovers there's more to life than being Queen Bee. Tonight, she chooses her heart over status and abandons the high society track to help Chuck out. I'm a little skeptical about what a tamed Chuck will do to the show's energy level and about Ed Westwick's range as an actor, but time will tell. (What's this? Blair and the uncle on New Year's Eve? Nothing comes easy>)

I liked a back-at-school Jenny and Eric as forces for good. After a season burning bridges and trying to establish her own identity, Jenny seems poised for a career as a sort of social anarchist inside the school's tightly regimented social structure. The scene where Jenny faces off with the Steps Girls over Nelly in front of Blair was a missed opportunity though; couldn't that scene have been played more satirically? I was expecting something like the never-filmed Marlon Brando scene from Godfather II. Still, it's good to see Taylor Momsen less bratty than usual.

As Rufus and Lily prepare to go on a road trip in search of Lily's given up child, Dan struggles with urge to tell Serena about their parents' history. I'm a little worried here, because new siblings and trysts with characters we've just met are pretty thin reasons to keep characters apart. We'll see going forward, but I'm hoping not to have to strain credibility (more than usual) to enjoy the rest of the season.