From the creators of “7th Heaven”, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” started its first season by jumping into the subject that would 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, the viewer feels the shock and fear that washes over Amy.
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.
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.
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.
While the series does continue to go a little overboard in creating situations that veer towards the melodramatic (Amy's mother had a pregnancy surprise of her own; having that occur seems a bit much right after Amy just gave birth), the series does at least continue to provide a mostly sensitive and thoughtful discussion of the difficulties of teen parenthood and how actions as a teenager can have definite consequences.
The Volume Four DVD of the series continues along with a good deal of the same plot threads. Volume Four is the second half of the second season, picking up with the episode, “You Don't Know What You’ve Got”. In the first part of season two a lot happened for Amy including the continuing ups and downs with Ben and her difficulties balancing school, work and motherhood. Also in the first half of season two, Anne learns she’s pregnant, Ashley starts high school, Ricky and Adrian reevaluate their relationship, and George reunites with Anne. The character who sees some of the biggest changes in season two is Grace loses her virginity and faces tragedy back to back.
A lot has occurred by the time you pick up Volume Four, but more drama remains as the next eleven episodes present new situations for each character. The volume opens with everyone taking a break from their problems. Anne and Amy go on vacation with their babies to forget their lives at home, while several students decide to skip school. While not exactly the most exciting episode, it sort-of reminds the audience that these characters can’t always be consumed by drama, which for the most part they are. For Anne and George it seems they can’t find peace with each other, as the father of the baby is still in question. Meanwhile, Ricky has his own drama to deal with, including seeking a custody agreement with Amy so that he has rights regarding their son. All kinds of relationships are put to the test here, including Grace’s and Adrian’s, and even Amy and Adrian try being friends for a change.
By the end of season two, new relationship are forming and old relationships are hanging by a thread. The custody battle between Amy and Ricky heats up as well. There’s a lot of reoccurring storylines, including Ben trying to decide if he and Amy should or shouldn’t stay together. While their relationship was enjoyable in the first season, by the second season it feels almost exhausting to watch. Whatever positive aspects there are to the series, sometimes it’s hard to remember these characters are just teenagers. A good example of this is in the episode, “Til It’s Gone” when Ben tells Adrian that he doesn’t want to work at a relationship, but just wants to have fun. She tells him to grow up.
The heaviness of the show aside, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” holds up considerably well and continues to address the lives of the teenager. While there are some episodes that seem like filler, the characters feel genuine and the writing holds up throughout the season. By the end of the second seasons, the characters are more developed and the performances are richer. Shailene Woodley's performance as Amy continues to be the core of the series. While the show can go a little overboard at times, it's Woodley who keeps the series grounded, giving an engaging and often moving performance as a young woman who has to grow up fast. There are some other good performances as well, as Ken Baumann as Ben and Francia Raisa as Adrian continue to deliver fine efforts. Although the series still could stand to be a bit more subtle, it continues to discuss topics not often discussed on TV and provides fine performances from the ensemble cast.
36 2-13 04/Jan/10 You Don't Know What You've Got
37 2-14 11/Jan/10 Til It's Gone
38 2-15 18/Jan/10 Loved & Lost
39 2-16 25/Jan/10 Just Say Me
40 2-17 01/Feb/10 The Second Time Around
41 2-18 08/Feb/10 Let's Try That Again
42 2-19 15/Feb/10 The Rhythm of Life
43 2-20 22/Feb/10 Mistakes Were Made
44 2-21 01/Mar/10 Choices
45 2-22 08/Mar/10 Good Girls & Boys
46 2-23 15/Mar/10 I Got You, Babe
47 2-24 22/Mar/10 Ben There, Done That
VIDEO: Disney presents the fourth volume 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.
“Behind the ‘Secret’ Scenes” - this featurette is broken down into five separate “behind the scenes” including: “With Mikaela Pt. 1”, “With Mikaela Pt. 2”, “Shooting Hoops”, “Megan Talks to Canada”, and “Music Scoring”. In the “With Mikaela” segments, Amy Rider and Allen Evangelista are briefly interviewed. “Shooting Hoops” is a quick glimpse at Daren Kagasoff, his brother Justin, and Greg Finley playing basketball. In “Megan Talks to Canada”, Megan Park talks to Canadians about being from Canada and what it’s like for Canadians working in Hollywood. “Music Scoring” is a brief look at recording the music for the series. The five “behind the scenes” can be viewed all at once or separately.
“Cast On Family” - The cast talk about the series, the characters, and the idea of family in the show. Fans of the series may enjoy this feature. Worth a look.
Final Thoughts: “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” continues to hold up considerably well as the series progresses. While there are some tired storylines, the performances and characters help the series remain watchable. The DVD set provides minimal extras, but very nice audio/video quality. Recommended for fans.