Secret Life Of The American Teenager: Season Two (The)
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (19th August 2009).
The Show

“Fallin' in love

Is such an easy thing to do

Birds can do it

We can do it

Let's stop talkin'

Let's get to it

Let's fall in love”

The lyrics to the title track of "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" say it all. A song with such inane logic as “birds can do it/we can do it” is the perfect fit for a show like this: a show so absolutely illogical, absurd and dumbfounding that I honestly cannot believe ABC Family keeps it on the air.

Well, that’s not entirely truthful – I can believe that they continue to order new seasons. The reason "The Secret Life" remains on TV is because, as one of the networks top rated shows, it brings in lots and lots of money – advertising dollars – and executives just love that. Fine, but I have to ask why this show gets some of the best ratings in the history of ABC Family; I mean it’s not like the series is good or anything. In fact, it’s the opposite of good, its downright awful to the extreme. One might assume that a television program that is being proclaimed as “Simply the Best Teen Drama on TV” is great… it’s not though and that quote says a lot more about the sad state of teen programming than it does about the actual quality of the show. In a world where the competition is "Gossip Girl" (2007-Present), "Degrassi: The Next Generation" (2001-Present) (which I actually think is the best of the group – not by much, but still…) and the remake of ""Beverly Hills, 90210" (1009-2000) simply titled "90210" (2008-Present), being at the so-called top isn’t exactly a feat to be proud of. That’s like being the king of your local garbage dump.

Crap it may be, but I wouldn’t expect anything less (or more, really) from creator and executive producer Brenda Hampton: the woman behind "7th Heaven" (1996-2007), itself a show so depraved and deeply imbued in its own amoral absurdity, with its constant preaching of values, Godliness and do-goodery yet featuring a cast of characters which lacked even a modicum of a single one of those traits; her new show is equally awful. The same extreme polarity seen in "7th Heaven" exist with "The Secret Life" which is at its heart a cautionary tale of what can happen when idiotic teenagers (an oxymoron?) have sex before they fully understand the consequences. But, instead of developing this premise into something deep, involving and “worth it,” Hampton and company spend a copious amount of time each episode having their characters deep in discussion about who is sleeping with who (glamorizing the exact topic that it is trying to warn teens about – it’s that’s like saying: “Don’t do marijuana – it’ll only make you relaxed, happy and care-free.” Where’s the logic?) Characters stiffly act their way through ridiculous melodrama, while doing things that most teens wouldn’t even dream of doing, talking the way absolutely no one talks. Most of the time I was left confused, mouth a-gape at the screen – this is a show about a pregnant teen is it not? Well, where the hell is she? Sulking in her own misery I’d assume; or at least I hope, as that’s what she should be doing. I can’t understand why the producers and writers feel the need to reroute the show so often into the stories and lives of the supporting cast. Who cares about these people? I sure as hell don’t. They’re all a-holes; so self-involved yet simultaneously putting on the fake (completely insincere) caring friend – mom, dad sibling; insert appropriate role – face, I wonder why someone doesn’t just hit them all with a truck and be done with it.

I misspoke earlier: I don’t really miss the lead at all or her story: Amy (Shailene Woodley), our pregnant little darling, is an outright bitch on most occasions, complaining, yelling at and belittling anyone and everyone she shares the screen with. It doesn’t help matters that like most of the actors in the series, Ms. Woodley is woefully ill equipped in the talent department. Like most on the show, she reads through her lines without an ounce of appropriate emotion – she’s either an overacting alarmist or wooden and dry.

The writing is terrible, the characters are poorly developed and the show is one giant cliché after another. The cast is pushed into hollow, cardboard archetypes; because of this, most of the time "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" comes off as self-parodying camp. Unfortunately, it’s all entirely unintentional camp and that’s why this series sucks (sorry, but, bluntly that’s the truth) – nobody involved in production seems to realize that there is something wrong with this show. None of the actors realize that the lines they’re reading sound like they were written by a 12 year old; none of the directors seem to realize that the performances that they’re capturing are easily worse than those in "Troll 2" (1990)… okay – that’s an exaggeration; there isn’t much worse than the acting in that film: but "The Secret Life" is still pretty dang terrible. And none of the producers seem to realize that basically everyone that they’ve cast is at least (very obviously) 2 to 3 years older in real life than the character they play in the show (worst of offender of this: Greg Finley – the dude looks every bit of his 25 years and he’s supposed to be playing a 16 year old teen named Jack Pappas.)

... And yet, as appalling as this show is, I’d be lying if I said it isn’t at least a little entertaining (hence the "D-" below: an "F" constitutes, not only a bad show, but something I had no fun watching). "The Secret Life" can be fun – fun in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of way. There are a couple drinking games you can play with the series: take a shot every time Amy or her mother Anne (Molly Ringwald) say the word “baby”; you will surely be dead from alcohol poisoning by the second or third episode. The second game; drink every time a character says “sex” (or any variation on the term) – again, you will be in a coma or in a grave fairly quickly. Laugh at the absurd plot contrivances; howl at the totally unrealistic dialog; stare in awe, as the series becomes almost another show in the final episode: Amy suddenly has an inner monologue – never before have the show’s writers used this device. "The Secret Life" is dreadfully unimaginative and entirely inept – but you may just find yourself watching it for the pure terribleness. In fact, I am convinced that is the reason this show gets the ratings it does – not because it is a good series that people like, but because it is a bad show that people like to hate: they watch it for the same reason I did: to laugh.

Although this 3-disc DVD set claims to be the shows “Second Season,” in reality it contains the second half of the series first production season. Why Disney/ABC decided to call this the second season is beyond me (the real second season is currently airing on ABC Family, disguised as the third season – apparently no one in the house of mouse has any idea what they’re doing). Strange marketing decisions aside, this DVD includes all 12 episodes from the shows second half of season one, including:

- "The Secret Wedding of an American Teenager"
- "Baked Nevada"
- "The Father and the Son"
- "That’s Enough of That"
- "Chocolate Cake"
- "Unforgiven"
- "Making Up Is Hard to Do"
- "Money for Nothing, Chicks for Free"
- "Maybe Baby"
- "Whoop! (There It Is)"
- "One Night at Band Camp"
- "And Unto Us, a Child Is Born"

Video

They say you can’t polish a turd but "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" sure tries to prove that statement wrong with its excellent DVD transfer. The anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen image is nicely saturated (maybe a bit too much so, but still attractive) with favorable contrast and appreciable depth. A product of Digital HD video cameras, the show is light on both grain and noise; detail is actually pretty impressive too (especially in close ups). I wouldn’t call this a reference quality package by any means but it’s still strong for standard definition. The straightforward-and-kind-of-lifeless direction and limited production design does little to add visual interest to the series and that hurts a bit – but, in the end, considering the source, this is an impressive and colorful picture.

Audio

ABC may have outfitted this show with a 348 kbps English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track but you wouldn’t be able to tell by listening to it. For all intents and purposes this may as well have been a stereo mix; I heard nothing of notable significance from the rear speakers during any one of the 12 episodes in season two and given the low-rent nature of the sound design and the fact that the show is more dialog focused anyway, I can’t say that it surprises me in the least. The one and only audio track on this series is acceptable with nothing outright wrong; just, it’s not anything beyond average either.
The series includes subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

A disappointing supplemental package awaits viewers of this show on DVD. It’s probably true that the fan base likely isn’t going to be looking for insightful audio commentaries or in-depth documentaries (frankly, the type of people who truly like this show probably don’t even watch extras), nonetheless this is nothing short of a poor package. Supplements include a music video, a series of short interview clips and an EPK featurette. A few bonus trailers are offered as well, and, on the bright side, (almost) everything is enhanced for 16x9 displays.

DISC ONE:

Pre-menu bonus trailers (material does not appear in the extras-proper):

- "Samantha Who: The Complete Second Season" runs 55 seconds, presented in 4x3.
- "Cheri" runs 1 minute 17 seconds.
- "Confessions of a Shopaholic" runs for 2 minutes.
- "Disney Blu-ray" promo runs for 1 minute.

DISC TWO:

There are no extras on this disc.

DISC THREE:

A music video for "Secret Life (You and Me)" by The Strange Familiar is included. Bleh. Crummy song, worse video: it’s just an extended trailer for the show, without words and set to this horrid tune, that runs 3 minutes 55 seconds.

"Character Secrets: The Cast Tells All" is a short promotional featurette for the series. Running 10 minutes 9 seconds it’s full of plot recap, canned interviews and tons of clips from the show.

"Cast Close-Ups" are a series of 9 short interviews with the main cast members. Some annoying little girl named Mikaela hosts these chats that I’m pretty sure were meant for the web (if they actually appeared on some "Secret Life" website I don’t know, but it seems likely). The topics discussed are highly superficial and nothing of consequence. Questions include such irrelevant things as, “are you and ______ friends in real life?” or “______, are you anything like your character on the show?” The most interesting moment in this entire set is probably when the little interviewer asks Molly Ringwald what her favorite movie is from her own body of work – The little girl says that she personally likes "Pretty in Pink" (1986) – Ringwald proclaims "The Breakfast Club" (1985) and adds a “definitely.” Good choice Molly, good choice. Interviewee’s include:

- Shailene Woodley; runs 2 minutes 59 seconds.
- Mark Derwin; runs 3 minutes 7 seconds.
- Molly Ringwald; runs 1 minute 33 seconds.
- Megan Park; 2 minutes 37 seconds.
- Daren Kagasoff; 3 minutes 6 seconds.
- Greg Finley; 1 minute 29 seconds.
- Ken Baumann; 1 minute 12 seconds.
- India Eisley; 1 minute 53 seconds.
- Francia Raisa; 1 minute 37 seconds.

More bonus trailers on this this disc:

- "Morning Light" runs 2 minutes 21 seconds.
- "Make It or Break It" ABC Family original series promo; runs 31 seconds, presented in 4x3.

Packaging

"The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Season Two" is packaged in a 3-disc amaray case with slip-cover. The interior of the keepcase offers a breakdown of each DVD and its corresponding content.

Overall

I am not, never have been, nor ever will be the target audience for "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" but that doesn’t mean I can’t rightfully critique it. The premise had promise once upon a time; the time has passed and, in the hands of Brenda Hampton, all hope of this ever being a good show has been squandered away. The series is a sorry excuse for even cable programming with frankly poor acting and above all else absolutely dreadful scriptwriting. The DVD has a nice video transfer, underwhelming but passable audio and bunk extras. This is one for those who are woefully inept at watching decent television, or, I guess you could call them: "Fans of the Secret Life."

The Show: D- Video: B Audio: C Extras: D Overall: D

 


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