The Secret Life of The American Teenager is No Secret After All

On Tuesday night the new drama, The Secret Life of The American Teenager, appeared on ABC’s Family channel, a one-hour drama created by 7th Heaven’s own Brenda Hampton and includes actress Molly Ringwald. So what? That’s what I thought when I first heard about the show, but it’s since become a hot topic for conversation.

“Secret Life” is meant to demonstrate the effect of behavioral choices on teens and those around them, including a public service announcement midway through the premiere urging parents to talk to their kids about sex, although Ms. Hampton has been quoted as saying, “I don’t have anything to say about the issue of teen pregnancy, I’m just telling a story about a girl who happens to get pregnant.” What a shame.

The Secret Life of The American Teenager follows 15-year-old Amy (played by Shailene Woodley), who learns she is pregnant following her first sexual encounter at band camp. No surprise there either. The show includes the stories of Amy’s family and friends, with Ms. Ringwald playing the part of Amy’s mother.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen pregnancy rates are on the rise for the first time in more than a decade, and teen birth rates have risen 3% between 2005 and 2006, after declining 34% between 1991 and 2005. That’s not good news.

The increased media attention on teen pregnancy, including that of the Gloucester High School Pregnancy Pact (later debunked) has made the topic of teens getting pregnant fertile ground for the networks. NBC’s “Baby Borrowers” has also drawn widespread praise for showing the work required to parent a child. I still say creators of Baby Borrowers should have targeted much younger teens than what is currently depicted on the show, but whatever.

Some reviews of “The Secret Life” include the Los Angeles Times:

“The tone of the pilot careens between an after-school special and “American Pie,” with a bit of “Pretty in Pink” grabbed along the way. It is almost all about sex — and a little bit about family, but the subject there is largely sex, as well, and why it’s not for the young. The sexually active kids we meet are either made unhappy by having it, or they’re having it because they’re unhappy. (Ricky’s compulsion to sleep with every girl who crosses his path is shown to spring from his having been molested by his father.) Amy confides of her deflowering: “I’m not even sure it was sex. It wasn’t fun and definitely not like what you see in the movies.”

The New York Times:

“For a generation of young viewers raised on “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and “Degrassi Junior High” (not to mention reruns of “Sex and the City”) this kind of earnest, sound-out-all-the-syllables agitprop is almost comical, a parody of an after-school special. The occasional lapses into portentous symbolism are inadvertently hilarious. While Amy sneaks into the bathroom to take a home pregnancy test, her mother, played by Molly Ringwald, reheats Amy’s supper in the microwave. At the exact moment that the oven timer rings and reads “End,” Amy stares at the test results that will end life as she knows it.

That part is kind of fun. “Secret Life,” however, actually tries at times to be funny, and that makes it painful to watch. The peripheral presence of Ms. Ringwald, once the teenage heroine of John Hughes classics like “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles,” is almost taunting, a reminder that these teenage morality plays have been made many times before, much better.”

The Baltimore Sun:

“How to be very, very popular: Get pregnant. Do you know what happens to teen girls who become pregnant? They suddenly become the center of the universe, and everyone cares about them like never before. What a great way to instantly be popular and even loved: Get pregnant.That’s one of the core messages in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, a new drama premiering tonight on the ABC Family channel.

This is not to say that Secret Life has only one message. Hampton offers an array of images and role models in the pilot.Grace (Megan Park), the pretty and popular captain of the cheerleaders, defines herself in large part by her Christianity and a commitment to celibacy until she finishes medical school. And while the writers do go for some laughs in the reaction of her football star boyfriend to her abstinence, they do not mock Grace. She is generally depicted as being every bit as nice and smart as Amy. But here’s the difference: Grace was always popular, whereas Amy is transformed into being popular, loved and adored only after she becomes pregnant. It’s troubling to see its Hollywood storytellers spinning such an attractive tale about teen pregnancy.”

And finally, Variety:

“ABC Family’s latest original drama wants to be a slow-motion version of “Juno” but settles for being an obvious, stereotype-laden teen soap, albeit more “North Hollywood, 91607″ than the story of what happens in flashier, better-known SoCal zip codes. Series creator Brenda Hampton made family drama with religious underpinnings a long-running success on “7th Heaven,” but teen pregnancy — especially on a youth-oriented network — is too important a subject for such shallow, ham-fisted treatment. The topic may find a receptive audience, but based on first impressions, The Secret Life of the American Teenager should probably stay a secret.”

Personally, the whole premise of the show leaves me yawning from sheer boredom, and I have no intention of wasting my time parked in front of the television watching shows that appear to depict most if not all teens as having sex, sex, sex on their minds. I’m very grateful that my kids are already past the teenage years and I don’t have to worry (anymore) about having to deal with the issue of teenage pregnancy in my house. Whew.

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