Amy Juergens is faced with an obstacle that most 15-year-old girls would have a hard time coming to terms with. Where The Secret Life of the American Teenager really shines is the series' approach on the subject of teen pregnancy and the way the writers portray the characters as realistic teenagers rather than kids pretending to be adults. The Secret Life of the American Teenager is an ABC Family drama series that follows Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley), a 15-year-old band geek who stumbles across some bad first-time sex at band camp and finds herself pregnant. In the first season of this series, we see Amy come to terms with her condition, which includes confessing the news to her friends and eventually to her parents.
Among Amy’s support group is Ashley Juergens (India Eisley), Amy’s more street-wise younger sister. Amy also turns to her two mostly-useless best friends Madison (Renee Olstead) and Lauren (Camille Winbush) for advice but these girls are much better at gossiping and leaking Amy’s big secret all over school than they are at really being there for her. Amy’s mother Anne (Molly Ringwald) is one of the last people to find out about Amy’s secret because she’s too distracted dealing with her own collapsing marriage with Amy’s father George (Mark Derwin) to see that her daughter is in crisis.
Next there’s Ben Boykewich, an adorable sophomore who finds himself falling in love with Amy during their first date. By the time he comes to realize that she’s pregnant, he’s already head over heels for her and wants to do everything he can to help her with her situation. The father of the baby, Ricky Underwood (Daren Kagasoff) is less of a good guy. We learn off the bat that in addition to spending most of his time trying to get girls into bed, Ricky’s also a foster child who was once the victim of sexual abuse from his own father. Ricky’s dating (sleeping with) Adrian (Francia Raisa), a junior with a reputation for being a bad girl and occasionally referred to as “the school slut.”
Then we have Grace Bowman (Megan Park), a devoted Christian who is as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside, despite being fairly naïve. Grace spends the bulk of the series pilot thwarting any attempts that her boyfriend Jack (Greg Finley II) makes to get past first base. Jack inevitably seeks physical gratification elsewhere and ends up fooling around with Adrian. This story arc seems to follow Jack and Grace throughout the duration of the first season.
My favorite character is Leo Boykewich (Steve Schirripa), Ben’s father. The widower has a fairly open relationship with his son and he seems to get how Ben could fall for a girl even though she’s pregnant. He’s a perceptive man who is able to step back from even the most serious situations enough to assess it as logically and compassionately as possible. Plus, he’s just adorable.
Now that we have the character descriptions out of the way, let’s talk about the premise. In a nutshell, The Secret Life of the American Teenager is all about sex. My initial impression of the series when I’d only seen the pilot was that the show had a distinct after-school-special quality to it. I learned as the season went on that this isn’t entirely the case. As sex is such a popular subject at any American high school, it seems only fitting that the series would put such a great emphasis on it, especially considering the main character is pregnant. Secret Life isn’t just some overblown cautionary tale about a pregnant teenager though. The writers appear to get that, while engaging in sexual activity can have negative consequences, that isn’t all there is to it. The show’s emphasis on the importance of sex in most teenagers’ lives, whether it’s having it, talking about it or even just thinking about it gives the series a fairly realistic approach to the subject.
What we come to learn about Amy off the bat is that she’s pretty much the last person anyone would have expected to get pregnant at such a young age. She’s a sweet girl who makes one wrong-turn at band camp and her life is changed forever. The main focus of the series in its first season is how Amy’s situation affects the people around her. The relationships she has with her friends and family and the way those relationships become tangled up with each other keep the show going so that we’re not forced to dwell entirely on the “oh my god, that girl is pregnant at 15” premise episode after episode.
Finally, what I really appreciate about this show as a teen drama series is that the kids in Secret Life really act like kids, for the most part. Putting aside Adrian, who is practically raising herself and has a decidedly adult view on sex, the rest of the characters all act like high school kids. With so many other teen drama series on the air today (Gossip Girl, 90210 etc), where the characters are high school kids pretending to be adults and constantly being put in situations that are a bit too mature for their years, it’s nice to see a series that addresses real teen issues with characters that behave like real teenagers. In this DVD set, all eleven episodes of season one of The Secret Life of the American Teenager are included and spaced out over three discs. They manage to squeeze all three discs into one regular sized DVD case, complete with useless cardboard slip-cover. The episode index is hidden behind the first disc on the inside cover of the case.
You won’t find any booklet inside other than an insert advertising ABC Family and ABC series. I initially tossed the insert in the trash, only to figure out later that if I wanted to download the free MP3 (Jesse McCartney’s “It’s Over) that was advertised on the slipcover, I would need the code on the back of the insert. There were no instructions on where to get the MP3 and I only figured this out after inserting all three discs in my PC in search of the MP3 download and not finding any information on it anywhere. As this is one of the only special features included on the DVD set, I inevitably rifled through the garbage for the insert and found the code. Downloading the song was easy enough. Just go to the website listed on the insert and type in the code.
In terms of other Special Features, the only other bonus bit you’ll get in this set is an “On the Set with the Cast” featurette, which includes the various cast members talking about the show. It’s interesting enough, but I’m kind of surprised the set didn’t include a commentary for the pilot episode, at the very least.
My only other complaint about the DVD set is something I’ve complained about with other TV shows on DVD. I wish it were standard that there we could always hit “next” on our DVD remote to jump past the “Previously on…” footage and not end up jumping past a portion of the actual episode. The Secret Life DVD set doesn’t have such a convenient way to jump past the “previously” segment. As I was watching the entire season straight through, I had to fast-forward through the “previously” segment, watch the opening scene and the fast forward through the brief opening song in each episode.
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