Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Make It Or Break It

Caught last night's premiere of ABC Family's newest scripted series Make It Or Break It. Last time I watched the premiere of a scripted series on the network I was pretty much horrified by the blatant born again preaching and swore off the network and it's shows (the series was The Secret Life of the American Teenager, if you were wondering). Then I started hearing about Greek and how awesome it is and kind of regretting my decision not to watch it (and don't want to start now without catching up), so I thought I'd at least give the Make It Or Break It pilot a chance before just saying no.

The fact that Slate.com compared it to Friday Night Lights didn't hurt either.

The series revolves around a group of Olympic hopefuls at a well-to-do, well known training center, Rocky Mountain Gymnastics Center. Things at the center pretty much revolve around three young girls, Payson, Kaylie, and Lauren, who are all a lock to make it to the national competition and, hopefully, continuing to the worldwide games.

But then Emily shows. Emily isn't as rich as the other girls and she hasn't been coached all her life. She's a scholarship case, discovered at a park. She's wearing leotards off the rack and shows some fear when approaching the vault. Her little brother is in a wheelchair and her mother is unreliable when it comes to keeping a job or picking her up on time.

Despite the cold front from the mean girls, a small case of sabotage, and a job at local the pizza joint featuring stoned customers and a meth head manager, Emily's got heart and she don't quit, two ingredients all good family dramas have.

The writing is consistently the highlight of the series. There's a few good quips here and there, and even some language I was a bit surprised to hear on ABC Family. The acting is acceptable, nothing to praise nor disapprove of, though Cassie Scerbo, acting as Lauren, manages to inflict the perfect rich girl sneer of disapproval. The spoiled brat squeal when things don't go her way is also pitch perfect. Scerbo also delivered my favorite line of the evening when she describes her teamate Kaylie's floor excercise routine as "flipping your hair and pulling it out of your ass."

As for the production, I'm sorry Slate but you are WAY off base with the FNL reference. Perhaps with the story telling aspect, but the acting is very rehearsed, unlike FNL and it's famous freedom the actors are given. There's also none of the breath taking camera work or awe-inspiring soundtrack we've come to know and expect from this shows' football-tossing brethren.

The production does have the usual modest budget, filmed in Vancouver or Toronto sort of feel to it. Not that Canadian shows have low quality: check out Being Erica or Flashpoint to dispel that myth. It's just that U.S. productions that don't have the highest of budgets tend to move production up north and TV nerds can usually tell. That's nothing to be ashamed of - many great TV shows rely on this to get renewed come budget-cut time at networks.

Oddly, though, the pilot was reportedly filmed in Los Angeles, Ca., so go figure. Beyond the young girls, the series has also made regular cast members of some recognizable faces, including Peri Gilpin of Frasier, Strong Medicine's Rosa Blasi, and, believe it or not, Candace Cameron (now known as Candace Cameron Bure), little sis to 80's teen hearthrob cum born again christian Kirk Cameron and big sis on Full House.

I'm looking forward to more Make It Or Break It, but I don't see myself missing the characters like I do the first three or four weeks after the latest season of Friday Night Lights ends, nor do I see myself ever gasping in anticipation or marvelling at the images before me. What I do see is chuckling with delight everytime Lauren releases her inner Bitch (much like I do when Blair on Gossip Girl let's it fly) or flashing back to crappy food service jobs or cracking a smile when Emily lands that perfect dismount, pissing off the rich kids and wowing the coaches.


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