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Featured TV on DVD Review: The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Volume Five

December 20th, 2010

The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Volume Five - Buy from Amazon

I've reviewed The Secret Life of the American Teenager from the beginning and at first I thought it had potential, but never quite lived up to it. However, as the show progressed, it seems to have gotten weaker and weaker. Critically the show started out earning mixed reviews, but quickly became the most popular show on ABC Family. However, now not only have a lot of critics turned on the show, its ratings are really starting to suffer as well. (Ratings for the season three premiere were down more than 30% from the previous season.) Were they able to turn things around? Or is this show clearly on the way out?

The Show

I think it's on the way out.

First a quick recap of the show. Amy Juergens had sex with the high school player, Ricky, and got pregnant. She then started dating Ben, the nice shy guy, but that relationship ended. Ben then had sex with Adrian, the female equivalent of Ricky, and she got pregnant. However, previous to that happening, Ricky and Adrian were an item. Now Ben wants to get back with Amy and Adrian wants to get back with Ricky. Even though it looks like Amy and Ricky are getting together. At least it did before Ricky kissed Amy's sister, Ashley. This has gone from Soap Opera stupid to Jerry Springer Sleazy.

There are a couple other main characters, Grace and Jack, who started out as a couple, but that relationship has also been on again and off again. When Grace wanted to wait till marriage to have sex, Jack had sex with Adrian. And Grace and Jack got back together, Jack had sex with Madison, Amy's friend. Jack might want to get back with Grace, or he might want to stay with Madison, while Grace has moved on with someone named Grant, maybe. That's "maybe", as in she might have moved on with Grant, or she might be using Grant to get back at Jack. I also mean "maybe", as in I'm not entirely sure his name is Grant. There are so many characters that it is hard to keep track of who is with whom.

Everything bad about the show is still there, but somehow worse. Every single plot seems to be about sex, which at the best of times would quickly grow monotonous, but it is even worse here. Because this is a "family" show, they can't show the sex, not even in a campy Daytime Soap kind of way, so instead you have characters talking about sex. Who had sex with whom. Who wants to have sex with whom. Who is planning on having sex who whom. I might even forgive the show for that, but the dialogue is so bad it's distracting. There are many, many times where the conversions are big walls of dialogue with the characters repeating themselves, just with slightly different words each time. A halfway decent editor could trim five-minute conversions down to three or four sentences. Maybe if they had one character talk like this, it would be an interesting personality quirk, but almost everyone of them talks like this.

The vast majority of the show is people talking about people having sex, and by season three, nearly every single possible pairing between the main cast of three guys and three girls has happened, not to mention many of the secondary characters have gotten in the act. It's beyond love triangle and gotten into a love octagon. At this point, the only characters that don't actively drive me nuts are Hank Miller and Alice Valko, because they seem to have a normal high school relationship and are not part of the hook-up Merry-Go-Round.

Also, recycling the main storyline of teenage pregnancy, but with a different couple, is not the same as creativity. (Maybe if the girl in question actually went through with the abortion, it would have been something new, but of course they can't do that on a "family" show.)

There are a few moments where I think to myself, "If the show focused on this and not the various hookups, I could actually enjoy it." But those moments are too few and far between.

The Extras

Over on disc three, there are four interview segments with a total running time of roughly 15 minutes. This is not a lot of extras, but it is on par with previous releases.

The Verdict

How is The Secret Life of the American Teenager a family show? It's 90% about sex. In three seasons, there have been three unexpected pregnancies. I guess when they say it's a family show, they mean it's a show about people starting families. I keep hoping that the show will improve and that the writers will concentrate on the bits that do work, but that's not the case with the latest 13 episodes of Volume Five and I think the erosion in the ratings will continue.

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