The critically ABC Family series "THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER" received a lot of attention during its first season as the series took on the challenges of teenage pregnancy. Showing us the ramifications of being pregnant as a young teen but also the responsibilities and difficult choices one needs to make as a single mother and also showcasing the challenges of teenage sexuality and peer pressure.
"THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER" focuses on the life of teenager Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley). Your typical girl next door. A 15-year-old who plays the French Horn in a band and part of a typical American family ala dysfunctional. During a summer at band cap, Amy met her high school band's "player" Rickey Underwood (Darren Kagasoff) and with one very quick one night stand, this teenager had her life change in ways she would never imagine. The first season of "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" focused on Amy dealing with being pregnant and the months leading to her giving birth and having to decide between giving the baby up for adoption or keeping it.
The second season began with Amy wanting to raise the child on her own but depending too much on her mother Anne to help her out. Anne (played by Molly Ringwald) is strict and wants Amy to learn that having a baby has major challenges and to make things complicated, Anne is pregnant herself and not knowing if the father is her ex-husband George (played by Mark Derwin) or her new boyfriend.
In volume 3, we have seen changes with the friends as Benjamin (played by Kenny Baumann) who is Amy's boyfriend is starting to feel left out, especially as Amy wants the baby's father, Rickey (played by Darren Kagasoff) involved in the baby's life. Ben ended up going to Italy after the recommendation of his father and while there, met another girl.
Meanwhile, tragedy hit Grace Bowman (played by Megan PArk) as her father was killed in an accident, vulnerable and at her lowest of low, Jack (played by Greg Finley) ends up helping his ex-girlfriend and eventually, the two become boyfriend and girlfriend once again. And the two start to discuss having sex once again. As for Adrian (played by Francia Raisa), she starts to become more self-conscious about her sexual promiscuity.
"The Secret Life of the American Teenager - Volume Four" features the second half of season two with 12 episodes on three DVD's.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
"The Secret Life of the American Teenager" is presented in widescreen (1:78:1) and for the most part, the picture quality is satisfactory for this drama series. Also, it helps that the series features various settings, including multiple outdoor shots which definitely makes the PQ for the DVD much better.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. The series is front and center channel driven, dialogue is clear and understandable and music comes out quite clear from the front channels. The series is not the type of series that utilizes special effects or the use of the surround channels but if you have a modern home theater receiver and a 5.1 or 7.2 setup, definitely worth selecting audio on all channels on the receiver for a more immersive soundscape.
Subtitles are in English SDH.
"The Secret Life of the American Teenager - Volume Four" comes with a few special features on disc three. Included are:
* Behind the "Secret" Scenes - (44:06) Featuring the following short featurettes: With Mikaela Pt. 1 - (1:44) Featuring an interview with Allen Evangelista (Henry) and Amy Rider (Alice), With Mikaela Pt. 2 - (2:14) Continuing the interview with Allen Evangelista (Henry) and Amy Rider (Alice) and the two end up interviewing Mikaela, Shooting Hoops - (1:14) Featuring the Daren (Ricky) Kagasoff with his brother Justin and actor Greg (Jack) Finley shooting hoops during a break on the set, Megan Talking to Canada - (:49) Since Megan (Grace) is from Ontario, Megan talks about a Canadian working in Hollywood with director Anson Williams ("Happy Days" Potzie) and Music Scoring - (2:32) The composer for the series talks about working with a great music crew.
* Cast on Family - (5:02) The cast talks about what they expect from their characters and what has made their series a success.
"The Secret Life of the American Teenager - Volume Four" comes with a slipcover case and also included is an exclusive sneak peek to "Ashley Juergen's Secret Diary".
I have been a big supporter of "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" since its debut on television for the most part, for the first three volumes, the series has had its fair share of ups and downs. This second half of the second season, seems to be a bit of a mixed bag.
One of the biggest problems the series now faces is that it is becoming to mundane as sex is the storyline that seems to have consumed each episode of the fourth volume, there are no new teen characters for which the main core can move towards. If one person has a problem, it's like the character has disregarded all their other friends (and has no other friends) and can only confide in one of the people who happens to be a main character.
As much as I like to believe everyone has been brought together because of Amy's pregnancy in the first season, these teenagers were all part of some click and have left it to become friends with each other and what made "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" so unique was that it nearly covered the challenges of today's teenager. Now, it feels as if the writers have no where else to go. If one had to create a relationship conflict, it has to be within the group of core characters and I have to admit, this latest volume has literally frustrated me with its direction in writing.
The series reached its high point when trying to showcase high school life, teenage pregnancy and the challenges that teenagers face when it comes to peer pressure but it has become a series that focuses too much on the sex amongst its grownups and teenagers and it seems like the writers don't know where to go.
Even a series "Degrassi Junior High" has been able to find ways to overcome the group dynamics by varying storylines in which the group is not always hanging out with each other. Even "Beverly Hills 90210' (and it's current incarnation) has found ways to utilize other teenagers, other adults into the storyline.
The problem with the series now is that its far removed from how things were with the core characters, some which is understandable but some direction in storyline decisions which I find mundane, contrived and becoming too kitsch. The series has had it share of surprises but Ben and Adriana and now Adriana may be pregnant?
Amy, the young parent and former band member will always have challenges and there is so many storylines to explore with that. Meanwhile, her younger sister Ashley has transformed from this rebellious youth, to now the character who is hanging out with Adrian and Grace. She's younger, the writers should be able to find storylines that reflect challenges of young teenagers at her age, trying to fit in high school, without having to force her to become friends with people of Amy's age group. There is no reason Ashley should even be hanging out with Amy's friends. She's mature for her age, please writers... give her some new friends, introduce some new characters without having to force Ashley to hang out with Amy's circle of friends.
As for Ben, the storyline with him going to Italy, had the potential to be much stronger. If anything, he could have came back with confidence, a new relationship and for the most part, the writers played his character well...with his confusion around his feelings towards Amy. But once again, the writers feel the need to do this sex swapping and in this case, with Adrian. I see where the context of revenge on both sides leading to this sexual pairing but it could have been with someone else outside of the group.
Grace, the cheerleader, the person who has gone through major changes since her father died. I felt that this was a good storyline for her character but there has to be a breakaway from Jack. She's a beautiful cheerleader, who I am sure can attract other jocks or guys at that school without having to resort to Rick or Ben. There is no need for this beautiful teenager to be stuck within her own group. She's popular, she now has issues, then go with that.
As for Jack, the jock of the bunch, I thought it was great how they explored with his character earlier on of trying to pair him with an African American young woman but then the writers ended up going back to having him mess with Adrian and back and forth with Grace. Similar to Grace, Jack is popular, he's a jock and I'm not expecting a "Friday Night Lights" storyline but I'm sure there are other cheerleader friends that wouldn't mind challenging Grace for Jack's attention. Or at least, using his poor choice of decision making and leading him astray with other things other than sex.
I do feel that Adrian and Ricky's part of the series works well. Adrian is always going to have these issues especially with sex and I have no doubt the writers are going to showcase the repercussions of her easy going lifestyle in the next season. For Ricky, I see him wanting to get more involved in his child's life and the writer's did a good job for volume four.
Overall, "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" needs to take some risks, utilize new characters who show up from time to time but somehow preventing these characters from shacking up with each other all the time. The series is going to get increasingly stagnant if the storyline reflect around these same group of people and not having them get out of the circle once in awhile.
You can look at every teenage group-themed high school series - "Glee", "The OC", "Beverly Hills 90210", "90210", "Degrassi Junior High" to even "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", you have a tight knit group but the series has managed to take the characters outside of the group and explore elsewhere with other characters. These characters of "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" need other characters to breathe. I feel that the characters are being suffocated by the writers not taking the chance to explore other areas outside of sex. They need to remember how things were in the first season, and remember where each character came from and there are so many storylines to play off that. Amy, the single teen mother; Ricky the bad boy; Adrian, the bad girl; Ben the normal guy; Grace, the cheerleader; Jack the jock, Ashley the rebellious teen - there is so much potential with these characters and to introduce other characters into each character's lives.
Instead, now Adrian has had sex with every major male character. Grace has had interest in every major male character. Ricky, Ben and Jack has had sex with nearly every female character. What next? Have these characters start mixing it up with sub-characters Alice and Henry (writers came very close with pairing Henry and Ashley earlier), what about Madison and Lauren? If anything, at least the storyline with the grownups are fine for now but even these characters are forced to deal with sexually-driven storylines it seems.
In the end, "The Secret Life of the American Teenager - volume 4" is a mixed bag. I like where the storyline is going with Amy and her parents, and I can understand the Ben revenge storyline. But I have always felt the strength of the series was that people especially teenagers can identify with the issues shown in each episode and I felt this second season strayed away from that.
In the end, if you are a big fan of the series, volume 4 is still worth checking out but having watched this series from the beginning, I can only hope for the best for season three.