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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen we met15-year-old Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley) at the end of Season One of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” she was pregnant with the child of Grant High’s resident bad boy, Ricky Underwood (Daren Kagasoff), after one night of summer lovin’ at band camp. When we leave her at the end of Season One, she’s had the baby.
Here’s the question: why in God’s name did they drag out the pregnancy for 23 episodes?
“Secret Life” is one of many bright spots within the ABC Family Channel’s lineup of original programming, but after keeping things moving right along throughout the first season, providing us with both teenage and adult relationship angst, the series really got mired in neutral for awhile. Though there’s no evidence that this is what actually happened, it feels like the network said, “Okay, we don’t want Amy to have the baby until the second season finale,” thereby leaving the show’s writers to scratch their heads and say, “So what the hell are we supposed to do ‘til then?” That’s the only explanation for how little ultimately goes on during the first half of the season.
Oh, the season premiere is strong enough, with Amy and the real love of her life, Ben Boykewich (Kenny Baumann), getting married. The service isn’t legally binding because neither bride nor groom has reached the age of consent, but it’s a testament to the love between these two crazy kids. Or is it? Despite this act of devotion, the show quickly finds its way back into the same approximate place we left it at the end of Season One, with Amy not sure if she wants to spend her life with Ben, if she wants to put the baby up for adoption, and if Ricky should have any say in the goings-on. Yes, the typical teenage mom probably really is this indecisive, but the way it causes the series to drag leaves you thinking, “Wow, couldn’t they have sped things up a little bit and let her have the baby at mid-season?”
As you may recall, “Secret Life” isn’t strictly about the Amy / Ben / Ricky trifecta. There’s also the Ricky / Adrian / Grace romantic triangle – or, if you include Amy in the mix because of Ricky’s impending parentage, then it’s a quadrangle. Grace is the good little Christian girl who’s coveting her virginity but is still tempted by Ricky, and Ricky’s devious enough to know this and still try to be the one to pop her cherry. Adrian’s the school slut who more or less takes after her mother, and she’s also got daddy issues because, until very recently, she didn’t even know who her daddy was. It might give her an excuse to jump into bed with Ricky, even though she knows that Grace has a thing for him, but it certainly doesn’t excuse the desires she has for someone else.
It’s a little disconcerting to note that “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” is one of two shows produced by ABC this season which has featured a subplot involving a sexual liaison between stepsiblings. Fans of “Reaper” – yes, it aired on The CW, but it’s an ABC production – will recall that the character of Sock spent half of that show’s second season trying to bed his brand new stepsister; here, it’s Adrian who’s trying to stir the loins of her newly-discovered stepbrother, but it’s ultimately just as creepy a concept. Is there really an uprising of horny stepsiblings within the Writer’s Guild of America, or is it just coincidence?
There are other storylines going on this season, including Amy’s parents (Molly Ringwald and Mark Derwin) and their apparently impending divorce, and Amy’s sister, Ashley (India Eisley), and her attempts to participate in her sister’s life without coming across as anything less than aloof. Grace’s ex, Jack, gets an entertaining plotline where he helps tutor a student from a less-fortunate background, only to fall in love with his older sister. And let’s not forget Tom, Grace’s adopted brother, who has Down’s Syndrome. It still feels forced to have him in the show, especially given that almost every word out of his mouth is a punch line, and it’s not helped by the decision to give him a girlfriend this time around.
It isn’t until the second half of Season Two that “Secret Life” finally begins to get back on track, wrapping up the concerns about whether or not Amy is putting the baby up for adoption, moving forward with the idea that both Amy and Ben are going to have to get jobs, and related plotlines. We get the obligatory baby shower episode, too, and before the child is born, there’s even time for a flashback episode to that infamous “one time at band camp.” The season finale has the interweaved storylines all meet up in a rather unrealistic fashion, but that’s par for the course with these things. Besides, it’s so nice to finally meet this child that you’re willing to let just about everything else slide – well, in this particular episode, anyway.
With Season Ome, I freely acknowledged that, despite the outcry from conservative viewers that “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” was more likely to inspire sexual activity in teenagers than abstinence, I’d rather have my daughter watch the series than just about anything on The CW. That opinion still holds true (especially since “Reaper” was canceled), but we can only hope that, now that the baby’s here, the show will manage to get back into a more consistent groove for Season Three. The performances remained strong throughout – Steve Schirripa remains the MVP amongst the adult cast members – and if the characters didn’t necessarily develop much more, they at least remained constant by cementing the personalities we’d seen in Season One. But if the show proceeds to backslide into the standstill of the first half of Season Two, I wouldn’t blame anyone for letting Andy, Ben and Ricky fend for themselves.
Special Features: Fans may enjoy the two featurettes – “Character Secrets: The Cast Reveals All” and “Cast Close-Ups,” the latter described as “a series of personal videos” – but it feels like slim pickings, especially when the only other bit of bonus material is a music video for The Strange Familiar’s “Secret Life (You and Me).”