2012 ABC Family promo. I promise I didn’t film this as I would do a much better job (you choose whether I’m being sarcastic or not).
Hello again, and what a lovely sunny day after the terrifying thunderstorms in Sydney last night!
This bright weather calls for some mellow, heart-warming fluff that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside – yes, I’m talking about guilty pleasures.
Celebrities are often asked what their guilty pleasures are. And quite frankly, they always seem to reply with answers that aren’t remotely embarrassing. I suspect that they don’t want to harm their rep by revealing what they really love.
Cereal, Cody Simpson? Seriously? My gosh, how embarrassing! Well there’s something that’s front-page worthy.
Anyway, my biggest guilty pleasure is… drumroll… cheesy rom-coms (especially the ones directed at tweens), Disney/Nickelodeon shows (also directed at tweens) and ABC Family shows (hey, at least their audience has hopefully reached puberty!)
Over the past week, I’ve watched Princess Protection Program (my eyes literally watered, it was so touching), Bratz: The Movie (it was on the tele, what else was I going to do?), Gossip Girl, several Home and Away reruns without a break, The Hills, Gilmore Girls, Life Unexpected, Pretty Little Liars… and today, the pilots of Switched At Birth and Jane by Design. I’ve also watched The Chaser’s War On Everything (is that a guilty pleasure? Hmm, probably). Shameless, right? What self-respecting eighteen-year-old watches this rubbish (and actually has time for it?)
Well, I suspect that I’m not the only one. There are only a handful of shows that people my age would openly admit to watching (for UTS journalism students, that would be Q&A, Four Corners and Media Watch in an attempt to keep our tutors happy). Well, I’m ready to unleash all. So here’s my picks for the season, and they’re all from ABC Family*. I owe them everything for keeping my guilty pleasure needs satisfied.
1. Pretty Little Liars
Marlene King (series) / Sara Shepard (novels)
I have to put this one first because it is without a doubt my #1 guilty pleasure. It’s Desperate Housewives for teens. Mystery, romance and drama all in one show.
The show follows four best friends, budding writer Aria (Lucy Hale), it-girl Hanna (Ashley Benson), straight-A student Spencer (Troian Bellisario) and jock Emily (Shay Mitchell), who are reeling after their friend Alison, the queen bee of the group, mysteriously disappears during a sleepover. One year later, Alison’s body is found and each of the friends starts receiving eerie, premature heart attack-enducing messages from ‘A’, who seems to know things about them that they only told Ali.
This teen dramystery (is that a word? If not, the Oxford Dictionary needs an update… or at least Urban Dictionary) is set in the fictional small town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania and follows the girls as they try to bring A down and dodge his/her bullets and find Ali’s killer whilst surviving high school and living their not-so-normal teenage lives. But with Aria constituting one half of a teacher/student tryst, Spencer lusting after her sister’s fiancé, Hanna getting involved in legal/boyfriend/eating/daddy problems and Emily falling for her new female next-door-neighbour, things are never as easy as they seem.
2. The Secret Life of the American Teenager
I knew that picture would get your attention.
Teen pregnancy is not a new issue. While it isn’t so mainstream in Australia, in the United States figures are alarmingly high, with one in three American girls getting pregnant before they reach the age of 20. So, naturally, a show was created to directly address the issue.
The Secret Life of the American Teenager (or, to keep your tongue in tact, The Secret Life) opens with Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley), an all-American 15-year-old ‘band geek’, coming home with a pregnancy test kit. Less than two minutes into the show, we find out that she’s pregnant.
Before you have time to grab some popcorn and get comfy on the sofa, Amy finds a 16-year-old Seth Cohen-esque boyfriend (Kenny Baumann) who says he loves her and wants to marry her and look after the baby (sorry, did I forget to mention I had spoilers?). We then meet the rest of the gang – promiscuous Adrian (Francia Raisa), Grace (Megan Park), a devout Christian, jock Jack (Greg Finley II), Ashley (India Eisley), Amy’s 13-year-old sarcastic sister, and bad boy Ricky (Daren Kagasoff), who happens to be the father of Amy’s baby after “one night at band camp”.
But the parents are interesting too. Molly Ringwald (remember her? She was iconic in The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink) plays Amy and Ashley’s mum, while Mark Derwin provides comic relief as their father and Leo (Steve Schirripa) is the laid-back 21st century dad of Amy’s boyfriend Ben.
The US has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world, with over a million pregnancies per year. Ninety-five percent are unintended, and almost a third of these pregnancies are aborted.
The show has helped develop awareness of the issue, so I’ll be the first to admit that it was based on a good idea, but poorly executed. Everything happens at an unrealistic pace, the word ‘sex’ is mentioned at least a few times every minute, the script is repetitive and not all the acting is great. Not to mention the cutesy opening credits – what were they thinking?! Regardless, The Secret Life exudes a charm and simplicity that has made the show as popular as it is in the 50 federated states. Several of the characters are likeable and witty (monotonic Ashley Juergens is my personal fave), there are some good one-liners and the emotional scenes will make you shed a tear or two for little Amy.
3. Switched At Birth
This family drama revolves around two teenagers who lead very different lives and discover that they were switched at birth. Bay (played by Vanessa Marano, who has played an estranged daughter before) is a wealthy teenager with a passion for art. After doing a blood type test at school and wondering why she looks nothing like her parents or brother, a genetic test tells her family that she is not their biological daughter. She was switched with Daphne (Katie Leclerc), who is deaf and was born into a working-class single-parent family.
All this is discovered within five minutes of the show starting. The rest of the pilot sees the two very different families meet and interact with each other, with Daphne’s family moving into Bay’s mansion by the end of the episode (sorry, I love spoiling things for people!)
Switched At Birth has really reeled me in because it definitely brings you that warm-fuzzy feeling. It shows families coming together in an unconventional way and the sign language used by several characters shows the audience an insight into what life is like for the hearing impaired.
Having a close friend with a hearing impairment myself, this show hits close to home and is a drama with a deeper meaning. This premise has already captured millions of hearts, with the most viewers ever tuning into an ABC Family series’ premiere (4.9 million Americans on its first day of broadcast).
I’m expecting good things from this show!
4. Jane by Design
If warm and fuzzy isn’t really your thing and you’re more into fashion, look no further than Jane by Design.
Jane (Erica Dasher) is a slightly socially awkward high-schooler with an eye for style. When she applies for an internship position at Donovan Decker, a top fashion label, she is mistaken for someone a little older and offered the position as assistant to DD fashion executive Gray Chandler Murray (Andie MacDowell). Since she’s living with her unemployed older brother and her dream has basically come true, she doesn’t hesitate to say yes.
In a snap she’s running from the classroom to Donovan Decker HQ, helping Gray at her beck and call. We’re introduced to all the other extremely good-looking staff like the ambitious India (India de Beaufort) and ladies’ man Jeremy (Rowly Dennis), as well as Jane’s best friend Billy (Nicholas Roux).
With its fun humour, solid acting, attractive cast and even more attractive wardrobe (I want every single one of Jane’s outfits!), Jane by Design is truly a must-see for anyone who wants to work in anything remotely associated with the fashion industry. It’s entertaining and energetic without being childish, and there’s fashion eye candy galore to lust after and inspire. It also provides a bit of an insight into the industry. Of course it looks super-glamourous and perfect on-screen, but it’s also heaps of hard work, which we see in the pilot as Jane frantically runs around in heels and goes from schoolgirl to Andrea Riseborough in the backseat of her best friend’s car.
This show is fabulous for inspiring me to chase up more magazines for work experience – and then hopefully an internship – as I enter into my second year of uni. It’s a tough industry to crack, but with determination, passion and a little help from Jane, maybe I’ll make it!
I hope one of these shows appeals to you. The other original ABC Family shows currently running which I haven’t seen yet are gymnast drama Make It or Break It, situation comedy Melissa & Joey (Melissa Joan Hart makes a comeback! Man, I haven’t seen her since Sabrina!) and drama/mystery/thriller The Lying Game (I owe Sara Shepard my life, truly). I can promise I will start watching each of these shows before the end of the month. Somebody help me…
*Disclaimer: I am obviously not being paid, bribed or held for ransom by ABC Family to endorse these shows. That would require the network to actually know who I am.