"American Teenager" flunks first episode

Mon Jun 30, 2008 8:50pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," a new ABC Family effort from Brenda Hampton ("7th Heaven"), 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.

Eschewing subtlety for overt exposition at every turn, "Secret Life" fairly screams, "This is a middle-aged 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. It debuts Tuesday on the cable channel.

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). Ricky 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.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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