I was hoping “Secret Life” meant they all wear masks and fight crime at night.
Amy: “Is that an early pregnancy test?”
Anne: “They don’t make late pregnancy tests.”
After watching the second season of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, I thought it was mostly atrocious, except that the main plight of pregnant teen protagonist Amy (Shailene Woodley) was just interesting enough that I kept watching anyway. So it’s time for the third season. Now that Amy has had the baby, will the show change? I’m going to say yes, in that it’s gone from “mostly atrocious” to “completely atrocious.”
It’s at this point that the show’s fans like to say that I’m not the target audience and it wasn’t made for me. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce special guest reviewer Ashley-Jenny C. Teen. (The “C” stands for “cliché.”)
Verdict: So, Ashley-Jenny, what do you think of The Secret Life of the American Teenager?
Ashley-Jenny: OMG, it’s, like, the best show ever!
Verdict: Why is that?
Ashley-Jenny: Well, duh. Have you seen all the cute boys that are on the show?
Verdict: I see. Anyway, each season has kicked off with a big sensationalist moment. First, it was Amy being pregnant. Then, the second season started with Amy and her doting boyfriend Ben (Ken Baumann) trying to elope. This time around, we start with two big shockers. First, Amy’s mom Anne is pregnant, which means there’ll soon be two babies in the house.
Ashley-Jenny: Her mom is old.
Verdict: You know she’s played by Molly Ringwald of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, right?
Ashley-Jenny: I don’t know who that is. My favorite actress is Bella from Twilight.
Verdict: That’s the character’s name, not the…never mind. The other big attention-getter has to do with Amy’s friend, pious Christian girl Grace (Megan Park). Her father dies in a plane crash the same night Grace loses her virginity with the hunky Jack (Greg Finley). This takes its toll on Grace, as she believes God killed her father as punishment for her having sex.
Ashley-Jenny: That was so sad. I cried.
Verdict: You didn’t think that this was kind of a stretch? That maybe the show’s creators could have had the character deal with the emotional consequences of her first sexual experience in a natural way, instead of illustrating her inner conflict by piling on the death of a loved one? That maybe they were trying too hard to wring every last bit of emotional torment out of her? That maybe what should have been touching and heartbreaking ended up being so exaggerated and over-the-top that it’s almost unintentionally comedic?
Ashley-Jenny: But there were a lot of times when Grace was crying. That meant it was OK for me to cry, too.
Verdict: Uh-huh. The Grace plotline also illustrates what is easily the biggest downfall of this series—the awkward, repetitive, practically unspeakable dialogue. So Grace thinks God killed her father because she had sex. We get that. So why do the writers insist on reminding us not just multiple times per episode, but multiple times per scene? It’s like this:
“Grace thinks God killed her father because she had sex.”
“I know that Grace thinks God killed her father because she had sex, but what are we going to do about Grace thinking God killed her father because she had sex?”
“We should talk to her about why she thinks God killed her father because she had sex.”
“You’re right; we should talk to her about why she thinks God killed her father because she had sex.”
They go on and on and on like this, and I’m only exaggerating a little bit.
Ashley-Jenny: I like that’s how they talk.
Verdict: You do?
Ashley-Jenny: Yeah, because I’m usually texting while I’m watching, so it’s good that they constantly remind me of stuff.
Verdict: But the…wait, you’re texting right now, aren’t you?
Verdict: Whatever. For a supposed teen show, the parents get a ton of screen time. I have to wonder why on Earth the creators decided Anne being pregnant would be a great idea. It comes out of nowhere and it’s only dealt with halfheartedly. This doesn’t really throw the whole family for a loop like you’d think it would. More than anything, the pregnancy seems to exist only to supply more tension between Anne and her separated husband George (Mark Derwin).
Ashley-Jenny: You mean Amy’s dad? Why is he such a psycho?
Verdict: I have no idea. Although his man-child antics and crazy schemes bugged me during the second season, I found him a lot more fun this time around. I think it’s an inverse proportions type of thing, where as the rest of the cast gets blander, he gets crazier. After a while, I wanted to jettison the rest of the cast and see George in a Will Ferrell-style comedy.
What else? Ben spends a lot of time frustrated over how the baby’s father, bad boy Ricky (Daren Kagasoff), gets to spend more time with Amy and the baby than he does. An opportunity to spend the summer in Italy causes more complications for Ben and Amy. Elsewhere, mean girl Adrian (Francia Raisa) has a lot of sex, but somehow without the dire consequences faced by Amy or Grace. She continues to develop a relationship with Ricky while also hoping her parents will get back together. All this is standard TV soap opera stuff, and not all that interesting.
Ashley-Jenny: But it’s about girls who like cute boys and them hooking up.
Verdict: Why can’t it be about that, except good? For example, look at all the times two characters are having an intimate or tense moment, only to have a third spontaneously enter the room, interrupting them. If this show is to be believed, this must happen to people several times a day. Other plotlines have the characters unable to see the obvious right in front of them, such as Ben’s father getting involved with a clearly unscrupulous woman. Also, for a fun drinking game, take a sip every time someone says the word “sex.” Actually, that would be a terrible drinking game because you’d be unconscious in thirty seconds. Or, maybe that would be good because then you wouldn’t be enduring this show any longer.
Ashley-Jenny: Quit dissing my show!
Verdict: See, that’s the problem, it’s only “your” show because it’s built on teen girl clichés, and you, Ashley-Jenny, are also a teen cliché.
Ashley-Jenny: I’m what?
Verdict: This show posits that all teen girls are vapid and sex-obsessed, and it’s marketed to teens in the same way. The truth is that teens come in all shapes and sizes, and with all manner of tastes and interests. The Secret Life of the American Teenager, however, wallows in teen cliché after teen cliché, and never once tries to accomplish anything more.
Ashley-Jenny: But if the show is a cliché, and I’m its cliché target audience, what does that say about me as a person?
Verdict: I think it says that idiotic, bubblegum-headed girls like you only truly exist in the minds of Hollywood marketing executives, and that programs like this one merely perpetuate those stereotypes.
Ashley-Jenny: But if I don’t really exist, what am I doing here, what’s going to happen to me? Who am I going to text?
(At this point, Ashley-Jenny’s existential crisis becomes so profound that the metaphysical space around her implodes, and the universe corresponds by filling the gap with pure emptiness. So it’s like nothing has changed, really.)
All 12 episodes are on this three-disc set. Video and audio are adequate, which is fine because this is a dialogue-heavy show without a lot of flashy cinematography or sound effects. For extras, there is a “Hat Chat” featurette that has the actors answering questions they pulled out of a hat, and the pilot episode of ABC Family’s Make It Or Break It.