Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday Talkback: What the hell is Brenda Hampton doing right?

Folks, we have been visited by a major sign of the apocalypse this week. No, I'm not talking about that rash of unexplained bird deaths in Arizona, the 2 million fish found dead in Maryland, or the fact that Glee is planning a Justin Bieber episode. No, the specific calamity I refer to is the fact that Brenda "Seriously, who hired me?" Hampton's abominable ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager got picked up for a fourth season.

I get that TV appeals to a multitude of audiences and as such, there are plenty of shows that just aren't my cup of tea. Most of the time, even if a show doesn't appeal to me, I can still accept that there is a target audience whose needs are being met. Heck, even when I took a few swings at One Tree Hill and its showrunner, I couldn't help but salute the man for his savvyness in doing whatever it takes to keep his show on the air. I might question the quality of that writing and take a few cheap shots at its skeeviness, but at the end of the day, I'd want to work under a head writer THAT determined to keep his people employed.

Secret Life is a different story. It is an absolute failure on every level. I've written about this before, so I'll spare you the long sermon again. On every level, from writing to directing to acting to editing and post-production music choices, it resembles a bargain-basement production. It's like something the Comm department at Iowa State would throw together in their spare time. And this isn't something that TV snobs can blame on it being an ABC Family series. My wife watches ALL of those series, and none of the other shows even approach the mediocrity that is Secret Life.

I get why Pretty Little Liars, Make or Break It and Greek are hits with their target demos. I can see how the stories might resonate with those viewers even if I've long since outgrown them. Most of all, I can feel the writers and the production team giving their damndest for a quality product. Sure, sometimes the acting might not be the greatest, and sometimes the writing might take an ill-advised turn. But you feel actual effort behind the show. So if someone at ABC Family comes across this, don't think I'm taking a cheap shot at your whole line-up. The rest of your shows are doing exactly what they were designed to do and you can be proud of what you've accomplished in original programming.

Stacking Secret Life against the shows on that network is like comparing community theatre to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company. There is no comparison. It's a bizarre series written and performed entirely by pod people. It's only virtue is that it's so inept that it becomes surreal, almost surreal enough to gain the appeal one might find in watching badly dubbed and translated Japanese films. I don't understand how any teen could relate to these characters, or find them entertaining or admirable.

(And you know what, I don't entirely blame the actors either, as there is evidence that an actor on a Brenda Hampton show is capable of a strong performance elsewhere. Exhibit A being Stephen Collins in any performance NOT on Hampton's 7th Heaven.)

Yet this show got a fourth season, and the network recently ponied up to get Brenda Hampton to develop another new show for them.

So my Tuesday Talkback question this week is: what the hell is Brenda Hampton doing right?

5 comments:

  1. I've only seen a couple full episodes of this show, and I agree about how the badness is almost hypnotizing. From what I've seen, this is not a show about teenagers, it's a show about sex. Sex, sex, sex. Every scene is a conversation about people who've had sex, people who are contemplating having sex, or people who are suffering the grim consequences of having pre-marital sex. "Gossip Girl" doesn't hold a candle to the amount of sex in this show. But it's all talk and no action. It's the most unsexy sex ever.

    I think this show is designed for people (all ages) who aren't having enough sex, but would feel guilty if they were. The show has just enough sexual content that these people can get their sex fix but they don't have to feel guilty about it. And these guilt-free people can rest assured that the entire female cast will be unhappily balancing babies on their teenage hips as a pro-life (anti-safe sex?) agenda is fulfilled.

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  2. Tried to watch an episode of "Secret Life" and it was TOUGH, but I think Brenda Hampton is good at enticing viewers with the idea of watching their own ordinary (yet extraordinary) lives so I can kinda understand the popularity. I think the concept of "Secret Life" isn’t bad, in fact, it says to female teens exactly what they want to hear: “This is a show just for YOU. Nobody understands you, but this show GETS IT, it knows what your REAL life is like…your secret life.” A show about teens getting pregnant, swapping boyfriends, and family issues might be good, the problem with this show is really execution (bad writing, bad acting, etc.). But, I think viewers who get hooked by the concept just brush this off (the same way people who get hooked on daytime soaps brush off the same issues). It’s like drinking diet soda. You have a sip and say: “Yuck, that’s diet” but after a few more, you get used to the taste and if you can get past that, you start to forget what real soda tastes like.

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