TiVo now: ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager
The Secret Life of the American Teenager, 8 p.m. Tuesday, ABC Family:
The biggest problem with most TV shows depicting modern teenagers is the voice of the kids.
Either they're too silly and independent, like most of the tween-size pablum filling the Disney Channel, or they sound like 40-year-olds trapped in teenage bodies, like the impossibly precocious youngsters studded throughout series such as The O.C., Gilmore Girls and One Tree Hill.
Which is why ABC Family's newest stab at a compelling family drama, the Secret Life of the American Teenager, is such a welcome surprise. Creator Brenda Hampton -- the mastermind behind one of the longest-running family dramas on TV, 7th Heaven -- has developed a layered look at a pregnant high schooler that feels fresh as the young stars filling its cast.
That's because only part of this show is about 15-year-old band geek Amy Jeurgens (a compelling Shailene Woodley) and her horrible mistake -- finding herself pregnant after one unsatisfying encounter with the school Lothario, Ricky Underwood. While Amy wrestles with when and how to tell her parents, Hampton moves on to excavate the many levels of life in the average American high school -- from the religiously devout football star whose hormones make living up to his ideals of abstinence nearly impossible, to ladies man Underwood, whose taste for proclivity seems rooted in childhood molestation and worse.
Less sarcastic than Juno and more grounded than anything on tween-focused Disney, Secret Life confronts the reality of sex and status in high school with a directness sure to make parents uncomfortable even as it resonates with their kids.
Added bonus: veteran stars Ernie “Ghostbusters” Hudson, John “Smallville” Schneider and Molly “Breakfast Club” Ringwald in meaty roles as adults -- another smart move by ABC Family, which is quickly establishing itself as the Disney Channel's smarter, more substantive corporate cousin.