January 20th, 2010
If you’re one of the people who are holding off watching Friday Night Lights until it debuts on NBC, you received good news this week: the show returns on April 30th. And I’m going to be really interested to see how viewers respond to “I Can’t” when it airs in early July, because the episode has the show headed in some potentially controversial directions in terms of both cultural and narrative taboos.
It’s perhaps no surprise that the latter are my only real concern, as the show continues to demonstrate a deft hand when dealing with sensitive subjects. However, I don’t know if the same kind of sensitivity could possibly rescue the show from itself in its other major storyline, which is creating some compelling television now but is creating far more concerns than I would like heading towards the end of the season.
Learning that ABC Family was airing a new series, I was of two minds. On the one hand, it’s ABC Family – a network not exactly known for its high-class programming. On the other hand, I’ve been enjoying their fare as of late – I was a big fan of Greek which had its season finale a few weeks back, and I’m slowly but surely going to be posting Middleman commentary in time (And I’m quite enjoying it as well). So, figuring that I should at least give their latest series a try, I dug in.
What I found, however, is that the network is not the issue here: airing on ABC Family is no longer a curse, but Brenda Hampton certainly is. Best known for her eons-long stint running 7th Heaven, one of my most hated shows of all time, she brings to The Secret Life of the American Teenager a bag of tricks so lifeless and emotionless as to emaciate any interest the series could have driven. The show looks, feels, like 7th Heaven, and while it isn’t quite as preachy that seems more like pilot sins that will later be repented.
What Teenager lacks is what Greek had: for all of the show’s stereotypical storylines and love triangles and everything else, it was willing to treat all of it with both a sense of humour and a sense of respect. While there is some humour in the show’s first episode, and I think that it does respect a few of its characters, the former is isolated to one character and the latter is only created through hackneyed bait-and-switch mechanics. At the end of the day, there’s a central secret, but it doesn’t have any of the life that its title alludes to.