Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Here Comes The Child Bride

"Little to offer," said The LA Times, who described the show as "thin, mechanical and confused."

"Doesn’t take the fun out of teenage pregnancy, it takes the fun out of television," sneered NYT, going on to hmmph that "ABC...could not have done worse."

Dudes! You had me at "thin, mechanical and confused!"

Nevertheless, whether due to planetary alignment, a coincidental side effect of The Pills, the hormonal hilarity unleashed by The Liberation that is Menopause or a combination of all three, but I completely ignored this show when it actually ran on ABC family, and as I did with The Gilmore Girls and more recently, the Twilight book series, sat down one day and gobbled up the entire pie of the first season in one gulp.

Or maybe I'm forming me a little pop culture consumption tradition.

Secret Life is the story of a typical TV-wholesome upper middle class suburban mainstream demographic community, whose idyll is shattered by a series of events at once improbable and ordinary, in a delightfully unlikely yarn ball of plot twists entertwining the various characters and their families.

If season one of Secret Life were a book, I would say it was un-putdownable, a crazy quilt of stereotypes and contra-stereotypes, improbable plot line comprised of everyday elements so commonplace they're either and both cliches and stuff that just doesn't even register on anybody's radar anymore.

Teen pregnancy, teen sex, foster homes, divorce, single parents, absent fathers, extra-marital affairs, blended families, sexual abuse, religious hypocrisy, all living cheek to jowl with the (very) occasional flash of serio-comic sweetness, nobility of character, and just plain old fashioned goodness synonym, all of the latter largely referring to the character of Ben and his widower father the Sausage King, both still grieving for the death of Ben's mom five years pre-show.

That's right. Out of the entire gaggle of tangle-lived teens, plotting against stereotype for once, Ben the rich kid is the "good one," for it is Ben the Chivalrous Prince of Sausage who falls in love wth Amy the Pregnant and offers to marry her, even though the baby is, of course, not his. Ben is so innocent that he practices his planned First Kiss on a life-sized plush bear. And dad the pudgy, dad the loveable Sausage King is all for it, because, he has no problem admitting, he - and his son - miss Ben's mother. What if, he asks, the marriage of two fifteen year olds does work out?

Ken Baumann as Ben appeals equally to lolfans and earnest innocent factions alike, with a performance that will have the latter raising the value of Kleenex stock, while the former will be obliged to give his talent its due and incline their giggling heads in respect.

I suppose some kind of quasi 4th-wall deliciousness points are due for casting Molly Ringwald, whose rise to icon was born of a series of movies where she played a teen who gets pregnant as Anne Juergens, whose daughter Amy (Shailene Woodley), the star of Secret Life, whose secret life includes - you guessed it - getting pregnant!

Amy "embodies innocence" as thoroughly as the most avid fan of innocence embodiment could wish. Shailene Woodley looks younger than fifteen, the age of her character, and somebody figured out that her doe-eyed childface would make a poignant contrast of a visual if they get her hands in the shot, the jarringly womanly length of her nailbeds, unpainted and natural, just to remind us when a scene is supposed to be particularly moving and bittersweet.

Liberal use is made of physical characteristics of other actors as well, sometimes engineered in whole or in part to tell the story, sometimes they seem to have been cast in their own sub-role. Alicia's injected fishlips, Ben's adam's apple, Adrian's big butt, the empty yet earnest opacity of Grace's dull almost turquoise/yellowblue eyes, even the TV evangelist butter-colored prophetlion mane of Grace's overacting buffoon father (played by John Schneider), and of course Amy and her nail beds.

The producers get props for casting Camille Winbush who has - gasp - dark skin - as Lauren, the obligatory African American best friend, and extra props for featuring Luke Zimmerman, an actor with Down's syndrome, though they lose some of those props by giving him lines with an unreasonably high hurl factor.

Megan Park as the vapid blonde devout Christian cheerleader gives really good vapidity, and Daren Kagasoff as the victim of child sexual abuse turned teen Lothario - and - Amy's band camp babydaddy drops upon our heads all the anvils of nuancing anyone could ask for.

Jack the box of rocks devout Christian jock is played to stereotypical perfection by Greg Finley, though Francia Raisa as Adrian the School Ho With A Heart of Gold and OMG! - A Brain! has a tendency to bring a little too much depth and subtlety to her character, making her mercifully short scenes with Finley a little awkward for all concerned.

And for extra stereoffensive lulz, guess what? She's Latin American! - and her single (of course) mom (Paola Turbay) is also a Ho With A Heart of Gold. And oh, yeah. the costume designer makes sure that Adrian has a teeny tiny waist and a big ol' JLo-sized booty.

But it is India Eisley as Amy's perfect Lolita of a little sister who emerges as the consistent scene kleptomaniac, ruthlessly commiting acts of serial scene larceny as she proudly shows off her ability to go from from the zero of a deadpan precocity of 13-going-on-40 Lolita to hurt child sixty in a nanobeat.

Season Two premiered this week with Ben and Amy's wedding. Yes, they really do get married. Why not? The typical scenario of economic troubles that might plague such a union are conveniently sidestepped by the existence of the lucrative Sausage Kingdom.

It is implied that Ben footed the bill for fake IDs for the entire all-teen wedding party and guests.

No parents were invited. Just as well, since all the parents are currently very busy with their own assorted and sordid goings-on.

Amy's parents are splitting up, because it got out that her buffoon of a dad was hooking up with Adrian's mom, who is in negotiations with her babydaddy over Adrian's future, the evangelical blonde Christian Bowmans might also be splitting up, because it got out that Mrs. Bowman cheated on Amy's dad when they were married, before she married Dr Bowman and had Grace and adopted Tom, Lauren's dad, who is also Ricky's shrink, is all conflicted because Ricky made out with Lauren, and the school guidance counselor has Mysteriously Disappeared.

If the opener is any indication, Season Two of Secret Life will be more "thin, mechanical, and confused" than ever!

I'm stoked! I won't be missing a single golden moment! And neither should you!

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