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HTF DVD REVIEW: The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Season 1

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#1 of 2 sigmund100

sigmund100

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Posted January 12 2009 - 06:49 AM

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Studio: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Year: 2008
Rated: TV-14 DLSV
Film Length: 473 minutes (spread out over three discs)
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.78:1),
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: French / Spanish



The Show – 4 out of 5

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, I’m not a 13 year old girl. I’m just a guy who “came of age” in the 1980’s and I clearly am not the demographic for this show. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate it. I have been hooked on teen dramas and comedies for as long as I can remember. I snuck into see Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last American Virgin, Private School… For Girls, I watched “Degrassi” on PBS, the list goes on and on. Then in the mid-1980’s, along comes John Hughes and changes everything. No longer were teens sex crazed miscreants willing to do anything to get laid. Hughes (and to some credit, “Degrassi”) proved that the teenagers on the screen could actually be just like us, with realistic thoughts, feelings, emotions and they actually spoke like us too. It changed the way we looked at teen comedies and made it okay to make the characters more “real”. The movies got better, the TV series got better. In the 1990’s the teen movie took a backseat to “Beverly Hills: 90210” and we were given a show that offered a decent mix of realistic problems that confronted teenagers (teen drinking, gambling, racism, peer pressure, acceptance, teen pregnancy, love, etc…) and fantasy (I did not know any kids that drove brand new Corvettes, wore clothes that weren’t from “The Gap”, and had the kind of money and freedom that the 90120 kids had). That show eventually went on to become another typical soap opera, but not before it inspired bevy of new shows like “My So Called Life”, “Dawson’s Creek”, “The O.C.” and most recently, the ABC Family hit “The Secret Life of the American Tennager”. With the first season averaging over three million viewers per episode and actually beating The CW’s buzzworthy (and completely unbelievable) "Gossip Girl" in its timeslot, "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" proves two things… You could actually hire teenagers to play teenagers (at least they look like teenagers to me) AND have realistic problems, storylines and situations for them and still make it interesting. Add 1980's teen icon Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink) to the cast playing the main character’s mother and you have a recipe for a great show.

This serialized drama follows the lives of six teenagers as they learn to define themselves while they navigate the perilous waters of contemporary adolescence. The show is pretty much told through the perspective of Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley), who, after hooking up with one of the most popular kids (and biggest jerk) at school, Ricky (Daren Kagasoff) at band camp, discovers she is pregnant and attempts to hide it from her parents and her new boyfriend Ben (channeling his best “Ducky” imitation this side of “Shermer High”). Other character subplots include Cheerleader Grace Bowman's (Megan Park) struggle to keep her vow of chastity; Ricky’s own personal demons that cause him to treat girls like sex objects and an oversexed high school quarterback.

What surprised me most of all was the frank discussions of sex between the teenage characters that I had never heard before on a teen soap opera, especially one that airs on ABC Family channel. Unlike the film Juno (that seemed to glamorize teen pregnancy to some extent and featured funny, but unrealistic teen-speak) the dialogue in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" feels real and the writers are not afraid to have these characters talk like actually teens talk. I found it to be refreshing and honest, but parents, be warned… This is not a show for ten-year-old girls. In my opinion this show raises real teen issues confronted by today’s youth, it’s has frank, sexual dialogue (including sex, oral sex and more) and it does not pull any punches. They don’t necessarily show very much, but man, they sure do talk about it in the school’s hallways, at home, on the phone and in therapy, just to name a few. It’s nice to see a show created for teenagers that doesn’t talk down to its audience or take it for granted. Created by Brenda Hampton ("7th Heaven), "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" also stars Shailene Woodley (“The O.C."), Francia Raisa (Bring It On: All or Nothing), Greg Finley (“Cold Case”), and television veterans Josie Bissett (“Melrose Place”), and John Schneider (“Smallville”).

The Video – 4 out of 5

For a standard DVD these have pretty nice transfers with little use of edge enhancement and very little noise. The image has a high level of detail and there is absolutely no grain dust or debris. The colors are exceptionally bright with accurate flesh tones and deep blacks. My only complaint would be that you can clearly see the use of some “fake backgrounds” (especially in the first episode of the exterior at the entrance of the school when the kids are walking in), but I’ll chalk that up to the budget. All in all, a great presentation for a standard DVD.

The Audio / Sound – 3 out of 5

Nothing much to brag about here. This show is talking heads. Most of the action in the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack came through the center channel, with little us of LFEs. The dialogue was free and clear of distortion and the only time the soundstage perked up was when one of the many hit songs (Avril Lavigne, Jesse McCartney and more) came on, complimenting the score. But let’s face it, this isn’t the reference DVD you would want to use to show off your system anyway.

The Extra's – 1 out of 5

On Set With the Cast (5:58) (full frame) Interviews with the cast of the show. Felt like EPK leftovers. Missed opportunity here.

Free download of Jesse McCartney’s new single “It’s Over”

Also features trailers for “Greek”, Scrubs, Lost and the movie Swing Vote

Final Thoughts

I believe "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" is a show that parents should be watching with their children and be discussing the issues following the episodes. A show like this could open a dialogue between parents and teens and I think that’s a good thing. I really do recommend this show, especially for its demographic. However if you are a twenty-three year old male who spends his afternoons playing X-Box 360 and drinking beer, you might be a little bored with this one.

Overall Score – 4 out of 5 (for its intended demographic)

Release Date: December 30, 2008

Eric Douglas

My DVD Collection: DVD Profiler, by Invelos Software, Inc.

#2 of 2 Abby_B

Abby_B

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Posted January 13 2009 - 02:55 AM

I completely agree about parents and teens being able to watch this series together. It brings topics up in a very non-awkward fashion and it's entertaining for both age groups. The moms will especially love seeing Molly Ringwald again (I know I did!)

Plus, I kind of enjoy seeing a high school drama that more closely resembles my own. Somehow 90210 and Gossip Girl don't really ring true to how I grew up, haha.