From the creators of “7th Heaven”, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” takes no time jumping into the subject that will become the foundation of the series. When Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley) returns home from band practice she is gingerly greeted by her mother Anne (Molly Ringwald). Amy appears to be your average teen at first, but less than a minute into the first episode when Amy slips into the bathroom to take a pregnancy test, you realize she has something that is going to change her life forever.
The first people Amy tells about having sex are her two friends, Madison (Renee Olstead) and Lauren (Camille Winbush) who react just as you would expect teenage girls to, which helps illustrate the fact that these are just teenagers and the subject matter is not only a tricky one but a weighty one to carry an entire series. Quickly, characters are set up to represent several “types” that help make up a student body. There’s Grace (Megan Park) who is a popular girl in school who recruits people to her church and vows abstinence, there’s Adrian (Francia Raisa) who is the opposite of Grace and likes to let her know it, and of course there’s slacker/playboy Ricky (Daren Kagasoff) who happens to be the guy who slept with Amy.
Rounding out the rest of the cast is sensitive, average guy Ben (Ken Baumann) who develops a crush on Amy. While the introductions are obvious clichés not exactly reaching the heights of truly exploring the lives or complexities of an American teenager, they are done quickly enough to give an overview of whose who in the cast of characters.
At home, Amy keeps quiet about her recent pregnancy test. Her sister, Ashley (India Eisley, giving a convincing and enjoyable performance) is the first person in her family Amy tells about her situation. A lot happens as the series moves forward, including Amy’s choice to keep the baby which is addressed in the episode “What Have You Done to Me?” and the fact that her parents relationship is over when her dad moves out to live with his girlfriend. While this is a show on ABC Family and is certainly padded down to feel inoffensive, it certainly does tackle some issues that may be uncomfortable for younger viewers.
The topic of sex and pregnancy and abortion and relationships are addressed in every episode, and is clearly geared towards trying to shed light on a situation that occurs more often than one might think. While the series does its best at portraying what happens to a young girl when she discovers she’s pregnant, it doesn’t feel authentic enough to shed honest light on the subject matter. The dialogue is generic at times and a few of the performances occasionally go a bit overboard, drifting into melodramatic territory. The one person who really has to carry the show is Shailene Woodley, and she does so with enough range necessary to make Amy likeable and at the same time accessible. There are some other good performances throughout, including Ken Baumann as Ben and Francia Raisa as Adrian, but otherwise the series seems to suffer from the lack of depth and believability one hopes for.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” but I can see how this series might be beneficial for parents who want to use it as a jumping off point to discuss the issues their teenagers face today. Hopefully the second season will bring richer insight into the life of teenagers and the sort of situations explored in the series.
The new season of the series premieres 1/5/09.
VIDEO: Disney presents the first season of "Secret Life" in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Image quality remained consistently first-rate, with pleasing sharpness and detail throughout much of the running time. While a few minor instances of pixelation were spotted, no edge enhancement or other concerns were seen. The show's color palette looked spot-on, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack offers crisp dialogue and rich, clear music. However, the show's sound design doesn't go beyond the basics (nor does it need to, given the material) and surrounds are rarely heard. Audio quality is fine, with natural, well-recorded dialogue.
EXTRAS: “On Set With The Cast”
A behind-the-scenes look at “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” with cast interviews as well as some insight to how the idea came about. The topics addressed on the show are talked about here, including what the characters are going through and how viewers should be able to relate to at least one person on the show. While only about six minutes, there’s some extra footage here as well that will be fun for fans.
“Greek: Chapter Two”
“Scrubs: The Complete Seventh Season”
“Lost: The Complete Fourth Season”
“The Secret Life of the American Teenager: New Season”
Final Thoughts: "Secret Life of the American Teenager" offers some respectable performances and occasional heartbreaking moments. However, the series is rather uneven, as it sometimes ventures into melodrama, which takes away from the show's attempt to offer a richer, more insightful discussion of some of the issues it explores. Hopefully season two will see the series making improvements and taking a few steps forward. The set is recommended for fans, but those who haven't seen the series may want to try a rental first.