Last night I watched the premiere of the new ABC Family Channel series, The Secret Life of The American Teenager. I hadn’t seen any of the previews so I really had no idea what to expect from this new show from the producers of Seventh Heaven. Even though the first hour left me feeling like the show is a bit hokey, over-acted, and somewhat lame, I do believe there’s some potential. . . most of which lies not in the show’s plotline, but in the possibilities the plotline present for discussion with a certain – yet to be determined – group of kids.
First, the story. . . . which is at this point fairly simple even though it’s headed quickly into the realm of teen-targeted soap opera. All the campus stereotypes are present, and during the first hour they had some interesting interactions designed to lay the groundwork for further plot development. Fifteen-year-old freshman good girl Amy Juergens plays French horn in the band. She suspects and discovers she’s pregnant, the result of her first-time (and nothing good about it) sexual experience at band camp. The father, Ricky Underwood, is the band’s drummer. Sexually abused by his father as a child, Ricky now lives in a foster home, regularly attends therapy, and is obsessed with having sex with every girl he meets. . . . including Amy. In this first episode, Amy reveals her pregnancy only to her two best friends, who offer advice, but she has yet to tell her mom and dad. Incidentally, Amy’s 13-year-old sister Ashley is an emerging Goth whose search for identity is leaving her family dazed and confused.
Other characters offer stereotypical portrayals of how teenagers handle their emerging sexuality. Grace Bowman is the 15-year-old bubbly evangelical Christian who speaks in Christian clichés – oftentimes while a church organ plays in the background (I said it’s hokey), and is outspoken about her promise ring pledge. In teen language, Grace is “hot,” which may be why she’s so good at getting her unsaved peers to attend her youth group’s post-football game dance and party. . . . where, by the way, Grace teeters on doing some dirty dancing of her own with boyfriend Jack. Even though he’s a football player, Jack is Grace’s follower when it comes to faith. It quickly becomes obvious that all of Jack’s faith-talk (clichés and organs again) is more of an effort to convince himself to remain sexually pure, than to give in to his – for lack of better words – curiosity and horniness. After unsuccessfully trying to get Grace to engage in oral sex (“Is oral sex sex?”), viewers discover that Jack satisfies his sexual curiosity with steamy and seductive baton twirler Adrian (I told you it was going to be a soap opera!). Incidentally, it’s Grace’s downs-syndrome brother Tom (a member of Grace’s over-the-top and sticky-sweet evangelical family) who discovers Jack and Adrian locked in a kiss at the end of the first episode, leaving everyone hanging until next week.
One other character worth mentioning is Ben, another virgin freshman who wants a sex life and talks about his desire with unbelievable openness with the new school counselor. By episode’s end, Ben’s pursuit of Amy leads him to join the school band (cymbal player!) and the episode closes with Amy and Ben slow-dancing in the church gym. At some point in an upcoming episode, Ben is in for a big surprise.
That’s the story. Now some thoughts.
First, the show is simple, over-acted, and as I said before, a bit hokey. I felt like I was watching High School Musical without the music, but with a simplified peek into coming-of-age sexuality in today’s youth culture. That said, the target audience for this show is pretty clear. Late elementary-aged girls, middle-school girls, and high school girls who are less jaded (naïve) will most likely get sucked into this soap opera. I can’t imagine the typical high school kid connecting with The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but I could be wrong.
Second, I think the show will raise enough real-life issues (sexuality, sexual abuse, oral sex, etc.) that it’s value will lie in parents and their kids watching together, followed by some healthy discussion. If that doesn’t happen, the show could function as a pretty powerful mentor and map for kids looking for sexual and relational guidance.
Finally, I’m guessing the portrayal of Grace and her family will have lots of Christian’s buzzing with anger this morning. I can understand that. . . . I hope that I never come across that way to the watching world. (I can assure you that my life looks nothing like the smiley/bubbly/sugar-coated lives of the Bowman family). But the reality is that the portrayal flows from a watching world that has all-too-often seen Christians live shallow, cliché-filled, unrealistic, and dis-integrated lives. What the show reflects back to us shouldn’t make us angry at the writers and producers, but should make us angry with ourselves. I don’t think the stereotype would exist if we didn’t fuel it. . . . . which just might be the best discussion point coming out of the first episode of The Secret Life of The American Teenager.
So do we watch next Tuesday at 8pm? Or do we find a good book and lay in the hammock? It all depends on who else will be watching. If it catches on with the kids – and I think it’s destined to do just that – then we should be watching too. Then, we need to do some talking as this is one show that will help open doors for discussion on a variety of real-life issues, each of which the Scriptures speak to in liberating and life-giving ways.
I am a young adult and I haven’t seen the show yet but have seen commercials for it. When I watch these shows I do see some of what had been going on in my high school when I graduated in 2003.
I think it is a good idea for parents to watch the programs their young teens are watching so that they can talk to their teens about what is going on in the show. It also helps you lead a discussion with them if you are engaged in some of the activities they are.
I am lucky, I lived a sheltered life without cable when I was younger. When it came to movies if they were rated anything over PG my parents had to see it first. I prefered to listen to contemporary christian music which has a positive message rather than the other music teens listen to these days.
I plan on watching the show, even though there may be some “dirt” in it. As a volunteer counselor at a local pregnancy center, I need to make my self open to what is going on with my clients rather than continue to live a sheltered life.
I agree that the show was hokey, much more so than I had thought it looked from the ads. But I was pretty disturbed by the entire Bowman family, as you mentioned so many of us will be this morning.
If the stereo types of Christians swing between the two extremes of completely judgemental hypoctires, and the sacchrine sweet naive out of touch family, as displyed by the Bowmans, how do we actively work to change this perception. What are the steps we can take to help our nation view us more accurately?
Walt, I love that last line!
i would love to be able to process these kinds of shows with other leaders so that we can all learn from one another and see different approaches with the emphasis of applying biblical truth to real life situations!