Debriefing: The Secret Life of the American Teenager

Posted on September 16, 2008. Filed under: Personal Reviews, TV Shows | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Spoiler Alert! Be aware that this is a recap of Season 1 – I will go over characters as well as plot outlines and main events, if you haven’t seen the show and plan on it – be warned that this post will uncover some of the drama that went on in the show….

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 This is clearly a show geared towards families, and teenagers struggling with Puberty and all of life’s wonderful ups and downs, also airing on ABC Family it is clear the audience that they are reaching for.  Even still I found the show to be enjoyable and even compelling at points. This show is about a pregnant teenager – it is not quite as graceful as Juno’s pregnancy,  but it is refreshing to see that Juno has opened the door to similar experiences. This is ‘true’ life; pregnancies happen, to a lot of different people, and in a lot of different situations, even children of VP candidates are not immune to this. It may be chalked up to ‘kids’ feeling untouchable and immune, as well as their overall inexperience, and it may due to the education (or lack of) that they are receiving about sex. This is in no way an epidemic, but it is a topic that needs a dialogue to be opened up about it- this is not something that is going to disappear, and people need to understand and accept that, and make it known to their children that this a very real possibility and consequence.

As progressive as this show may seem, it needs to be understood that the show is very Christian focused. It is positive that the show is not abstinence only, she is pregnant so clearly that line of thinking is mostly out, but don’t think that the abstinence undertones aren’t present. As the season progressed, the very Christian messages became increasingly more subtle, but in the beginning many of the characters would flat out reference God and their beliefs. As surprising as this was to me, I understood the Christian values the show presented (this was a Brenda Hampton show, the same creator as 7th Heaven), but was surprised at the flat out presentation of these values. Many teenagers are not as spiritual or religious in school, or during social settings and this show was so bold in the beginning that I expected many teenagers to find it cheesy. Surprisingly, as the show progressed the Christian dialogue smartened up and became more subtle and more ingrained in the individual characters.

The basic characters were a very diverse group of students. All of them also had very conflicting morals but were seemingly intertwined within each other in this small(or maybe large, it’s unclear about how big the school and town are, though it seems to not be more than 1square mile with tons of picket fences) town. Amy, pregnant, met Ricky, the father, at band camp and thus the child was conceived (goes to prove that American Pie’s good ‘ole band camp really is all its cracked up to be!). Amy’s two best friends give her conflicting advice on talking with her parents, and telling people at school. Lauren, one of the friends, is no longer allowed to socialize with Amy outside of school but encourages Amy that abortion or adoption may both be acceptable options given her situation but that ultimately the decision should be made between Amy and her parents.  Madison, Amy’s other best friend is a devout Catholic who thinks abortion is a sin and that Amy should not even consider those words, or say them because, the baby can hear that after all. Even with the pregnancy, Amy’s new boyfriend Ben is deeply devoted to her and has posed marriage as a solution to the pregnancy. It was made clear by Amy’s parents that marrying Ben at the age of 15 was not the answer (which was a very good take-home message for young girls).

Christian good-girl Grace spends her time either pining over the preacher’s son Jack, or convincing him that waiting until they are married will make sex the best for their relationship. She dons a purity ring, and encourages Jack, and everyone she encounters and discusses the subject with, that sex can wait.  Adrian is a spitfire Spanish girl, with dangerous curves and an absent Mom. She is desperate for attention, and even though she has top-notch grades she craves sexual attention and finds love through meaningless hook-ups.  She wants Ricky’s attention and feels that Amy’s pregnancy is in the way and interferes with her own agenda and relationship with Ricky. Grace is sweet as pie to everyone and doesn’t think Amy should get an abortion and is very much in support of her dealing with the pregnancy and becoming a parent, she doesn’t want Amy to be shunned within the school and goes out of her way to voice her opinions on the matter.

The first few episodes focus on what Amy will do about her predicament – should she tell her parents? Should she keep the baby? Should she tell Ricky that he’s the father and that she’s pregnant? It’s a very big up and down emotional roller coaster for Amy and the emotional walls she has built start to slowly crumble as she tells her sister her secret. From there it is clear that entire school is talking about her, and of course her boyfriend and Ricky the father – such a love triangle for 15 year olds! This is a scary situation for teenagers and it seems that her life slowly gets a little better as she lets her parents know what is happening and really goes through the motions of exploring her options. Of course then the issues of ’shipping’ her to her Grandmother’s or a boarding school for pregnant teenagers enters the conversation of what to do next, as well as adoption conversations. The parents are very supporting and struggle within their own relationship on how to handle this obstacle. As Amy deals with her pregnancy, the ultimate consequence of sex, other characters are left to deal with their own sexual and teenage issues, problems and dilemmas.

Adrian’s reputation catches up with her biological father and mother and they make it clear that it is not becoming for her and start to really reign in on this teenage sex kitten who has had limited parenting and rules until now. Ricky determines that Grace will be his next sexual conquest and does not see the harm in mindlessly using girls for his own pleasure, and does not have the conscious to prevent himself from emotionally tricking Grace into trusting and believing in him. Grace struggled through her relationship with Jack and often found herself defending her right to wait and her respect for God and her parents that was made within her decision to wait for marriage but has trustingly started to fall for Ricky. Ben’s best friend Henry takes the plunge with his girlfriend and decides that sex is the next step in their relationship and the show highlights how this decision did not leave either of them feeling any better or more adult in their relationship. This was the show’s way of ending the entire season with a message of; sex can wait – it’ not the next step, but in a subtle way of course.

Each episode throughout the season ended with Amy’s character letting teens & parents know of the amount of teenagers who have become pregnant. Her take-home message and advice is to talk with your parents and children about this, and be sure that everyone is open and discussing. It is a hard topic to broach, and having a main character encourage this dialogue may be the best way of getting the message out there. It encourages parents to share their morals, values and opinions on teenage sex and pregnancy with their children and ensures that teens also share this with their parents. While the show focused on abstinence, the show also made a point of showing the guidance counselor giving out free condoms, which did encourage sexually active teenagers to use protection – such a big message there! If you are going to have sex, which many teenagers do – be smart and safe about it!

That should have been the tag line of the show! Honestly, we know that abstinence is good in principal, I mean there truly is no better way to prevent pregnancy then not doing it, but when teenagers are having sex, then abstinence education is not helping them and teenagers then need to be educated on safety and prevention.

It is a show worth watching for middle to older aged teenagers, I feel that it was a little brass for the younger crowd unless you’re ready for that very open exposure. While it is geared to be a family show, I could not imagine watching it alongside my parents between the ages of 13 and 17, just a pinch embarrassing to think that your teenage world is exposed, even though most parents have done the same, if not worse things themselves at that age. The show was definitely worth catching during the sleepier summer TV schedule. I don’t know if it is a show that is worth having a second season for, but it was popular among teenagers and even won a Teen Choice Award, so there is a following.

As part of the non-traditional viewing crowd for the show, it definitely had drama and entertainment value. If I were in the teenage age group I could see how this would easily be one of my favorite shows, and while I wouldn’t want my parents to watch alongside me, it would a show worth discussing with them, it would have made the ‘growing up’ talks a bit more comfortable in the end, if its even humanly possible for those talks to be comfortable. 

Rating: ***/5 – Worth Watching 


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One Response to “Debriefing: The Secret Life of the American Teenager”

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Very interesting blog. I never really thought of this show as substantial, because after all it airs on ABC family, but I totally agree with the Juno parallel. It does seem that teen pregnancy has entered the limelight (so to speak) and will hopefully shows/films like these will continue to open the eyes of parents and their children, no matter what age.

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