Sunday, November 27, 2011

Has the Secret Life of the American Teenager (on TV and Off) Really Come to This?

Being a teenager certainly isn't what it used to be.

Neither in real life nor in reel life.

That's the conclusion I reached after watching my first two episodes of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, an ABC Family drama series that airs on the Universal Channel in Bangkok. I've seen tons of teen TV dramas over the years, from the early seasons of Beverly Hills 90210 to My So-Called Life to 7th Heaven to The O.C. to Gossip Girl to the new 90210 to Glee (I'm proud to admit, I've never seen a single episode of The Hills or Laguna Beach, which is reel life parading around as real life), so I wasn't surprised that the high schoolers are more uniformly attractive than they ever are in real life.

But in what universe are the parents just as good-looking as the kids? Well, I guess the adults have been climbing the looks ladder since the days of The O.C., and I could be simply showing my age here, but on American Teenager, some of the actors playing the parents are even more f**kable than the twentysomethings playing the teens. Molly Ringwald and Josie Bissett both look like hardly no time has passed since the late '80s and the '90s, respectively. 40 is more like the new 25!

That would make me just about the right age to wanna be starting somethin' with Daren Kagasoff, the 24-year-old actor who plays Ricky, the resident bad boy who is preppy-looking enough to be in the National Honor Society. From what I've seen so far, he seems like a pretty decent guy, but we know he's the Dylan or Ryan or Puck or Chuck Bass of these proceedings because he's super-hunky, he has a dysfunctional family, and he sleeps around.

Which is how he ended up being baby daddy to Amy, played by Shailene Woodley (with Ringwald, above), who, from what I've heard, is on the verge of getting an Oscar nomination for playing George Clooney's daughter in The Descendants. (Poor My So-Called Life's Claire Danes, who, after a so-so big-screen run, is back on series TV and, for now, must make do with her 2010 Emmy for Temple Grandin.)

But wait, they're not the only baby daddy and the girl he knocked up! There's also Ben and Adrian, who were still expectant in the season three episodes I saw (the show is now in its fourth season -- everything is behind in Bangkok, with cancelled shows like The Defenders and Hawthorne still premiering "brand new" episodes), but thanks to Wikipedia's season summaries, I know that things won't end as well for them as they did for Ricky and Amy.

While the soapy action has drawn me in, as soapy action usually does, I kept getting distracted by how high school has gotten so, well, soapy, though there's less unrealistic intrigue on American Teenager than on Gossip Girl, which seems to exist in a galaxy far far away where teenagers act like Joan Collins and J.R. Ewing. Maybe there was far juicier stuff going on behind the scenes back in my day than I was aware of, but if I were a student on TV today, I wouldn't want to miss a single day of school.

If there had been so much high drama unfolding in the hallway between classes, I probably would have spent more time in detention for chronic tardiness. Every high school drama worth its weight in teen angst has a pregnancy storyline, but in American Teenager, we get not one but two. Yes, there were teen pregnancies in my high school but not involving two couples who would have been guaranteed a spot on Homecoming Court in any given year.

And I'm pretty sure that even back then horndogs were perfecting their craft in high school, but when Adrian devised a plan to humiliate Amy by gathering all of the girls Ricky has slept with in one spot, I was shocked by how many hot girls in love he'd managed to lure between his sheets and how many of them were willing to publicly admit it. In my high school era, no girl would have done that. Apparently, he freely and casually drops the L word, too. What a bad boy.

Maybe Ricky's actually a good guy who just happens to like sex and falls in love easily. I haven't seen enough episodes to know for sure, and I'm a little off my game, so it's harder for me to spot a cad in reel and real life. Though some might characterize me as something of a cad myself, I was a late bloomer, so I know I can't use my actions back then to gauge the average behavior of my peers.

In high school, I was more concerned with graduating with honors (and a scholarship) than getting laid, and I never uttered those three magical words until I was 23 years old, which is one year older than my last boyfriend! But as unfathomable (and possibly misunderstood) as Ricky is, I'm having a tougher time buying a storyline in which a teen mom can be victimized by the common knowledge that her boyfriend and the father of her kid has had sex with a lot of girls and told them all that he loves them. At least he's in touch with his feelings. That should count for something, right? And surely a teen mom has more pressing concerns, even if her hot dad is helping her bring up baby.

As appealing as the younger actors are (and Shailene Woodley makes me even more determined to track down a bootleg DVD copy of The Descendents on Silom Road one of these nights since God only knows when and if it will open in Bangkok), as is almost always the case with high school TV dramas, even back when the parents weren't so hot, I wanted to see more of the grown folks. Why? Because, well, in reel life as in real life, 40 year olds are generally more interesting than people half their age. (If only more of them would ask me out! The average age of the guys who pursue me seems to drop one year with every year I gain.)

You can cast as many beautiful twentysomething guys to play bad boy teens as you want, but I'll always prefer to see more Josie Bissett and Molly Ringwald!
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