I’m glad to say that the ABC Family original series 10 Things I Hate About You is not crap. I wouldn’t call it the pinnacle of tween entertainment either, but it has found a lovely place between those two extremes mixing likeable characters with relevant material to create a neat little universe that’s as sunny as Los Angeles itself. Where other ABC Family series tend to get all-melodramatic on you, 10 Things keeps the atmosphere appropriately light and cheery.

The show’s greatest strength is with its pitch perfect cast, six performers who manage to play their caricatures with enough heart to make them fully believable at all times. Lindsey Shaw (who should have played Bella Swan in the Twilight series) plays the feminist, counter-culturist Kat Stratford with plenty of sass and just a hint of longing. Her “ever trying to be popular” sister, Bianca, is played by Meaghan Jette Martin, a young and talented actress that manages to turn the blond popular wannabe into a character we root for.

The always-fantastic Larry Miller reprises his original role from the 1999 film version of 10 Things as Dr. Walter Stratford, the overly protective, single dad armed with one liners that zing and a home breathalyzer kit. Ethan Peck is the mysterious ladies man Patrick Verona, who gets it just right, Nicholas Braun is the wimpy Cameron James who makes his character seem more like the protagonist of a Michael Cera movie, and finally the beautiful Dana Davis (who kicked ass on Heroes) plays everybody’s favorite popular girl Chastity Church.

The show’s plot (which is loosely based off of the wonderful 1999 film version of the same name) follows the paths of Kat and Bianca, two sisters who have just moved to Los Angeles and have different ideas about the right way to get through high school. Kat’s a self-righteous bore and Bianca just wants to be popular. Teen drama ensues.

What makes 10 Things likeable, and akin to the days of old when TV for young people was actually good, is the writing. Remaking a story that has already been told a million times over (and by William Shakespeare) is no easy task, yet writer Carter Covington (who wrote most of the episodes and also writes for ABC Family’s other popular show Greek) keeps the dialogue sharp and witty. Gil Junger’s direction keeps things moving nicely and looking fantastic. Although, there is something weird with how he shoots every conversation between Braun’s Cameron James and Kyle Kaplan’s Michael Bernstein. I don’t know if it’s an inside joke or what, but every exchange makes Braun look like the Jolly Green Giant and Kaplan look like a hobbit.

I only have one negative thing to say about 10 Things, which is that (much like Disney itself I guess) it seems like it wants to have its cake and eat it too. Episodes range from the typical “making the cheerleading squad” to the more unusual “making a pay-for-play Web site with my girlfriend.” The later of which is an episode where Bianca and a friend start a Web site about themselves where people pay $5 to watch them talk about shoes, boys, and their lives.

Things get “spicy” when the girls notice that more people watch when Bianca’s friend scratches her back. The episode climaxes with Bianca’s dad catching her and her friend kissing while streaming live on the Internet. He responds by removing the door to her room and explaining that doing that sort of stuff on the Internet can ruin your life. Later, a boy tries to convince Bianca that her and her friend should do the show topless. She get’s creeped out, and Cameron shows up to shove the kid into a bench before she finishes him off with a smack to the head via Trapper Keeper. We all have a good laugh and learn about the dangers of prostituting ourselves on the Internet. Har, har, har.

Wait… what? It seems like 10 Things wants to be a show that is light and fun, but at the same time, discuss things and issues that I would argue require more thought than just a few wise words from dad. No one wants to see the over dramatic Seventh Heaven style of dealing with serious stuff, but I also don’t want to watch what I would describe as gratuitous deviance without an appropriate recourse from some adult quickly following.

I will only mention one other example and then leave the issue for you to decide. In the pilot episode, Cameron and Michael throw a party at Cameron’s house and what ensues is remarkable. Cameron forgets to pick up alcohol and the result is dozens of people standing in his home looking at him like an idiot. Luckily, Michael shows up with a keg and everyone cheers. We then find out from a private conversation between the two, that the beer is nonalcoholic, and by the time everyone has figured it out the cops will be by to break up the party. So… don’t worry about it man! We got this all figured out!

Now, for all the 10 Things fans out there… Firstly, you should not expect a keg at a high school party. Secondly, if you live in the suburbs and have to drive home you shouldn’t be drinking at all. Third, should you throw a party with: underage kids drinking, no parents home, and a keg, waiting for the cops to come break it up is literally the worst idea I’ve ever heard, just short of burning the house down after you’re all finished. I realize ABC Family is in the television business and not the education business, but wow.

Anyway, aside from wishing 10 Things had a little more balance as far as its intentions go, I think it’s a quality show. Strong acting, delightful writing, and stories that (for better or worse) will certainly make you think. Definitely worth checking out on DVD and come next season.

DVD Extras

A lively commentary by series creator Gil Junger and the cast on the pilot episode. Also included is a gag reel, a behind the scenes featurette, and the cast on their own "10 things I Hate/Love…" lists.

Starring: Lindsey Shaw, Meaghan Jette Martin, Larry Miller, Ethan Peck, Nicholas Braun, Dana Davis, Chris Zylka, Justin Lee
Created By: Carter Covington
Distributor: Disney Home Entertainment
 

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