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Tune-In Reminder: ABC Family's 'Make It or Break It' returns
Are flipping, cat-fighting and moralizing gymnasts more of a summer thing?
[ABC Family's "Make It or Break It" is not one of TV's Best of the Aughts, nor is it likely to be one of TV's Best of the Whatever-Decade-We-Just-Started. But something had to be my first regular, old-fashioned blog post of the New Year. Prancing, cat-fighting teens in leotards seemed like as good a bet as any...]
It shouldn't be surprising, but there's certain programming that I would watch in the summer that I wouldn't necessarily watch in the fall, winter or spring. Summer programming probably has a specific temperament, a certainly looseness and giddiness. There are obviously exceptions. AMC has done well with late-summer starts to "Mad Men," a show which has fall or winter seriousness. Burn-offs placed "Kings" in the heart of the summer, where it made for substantive viewing, but nobody watched.
That doesn't mean that summer shows can't play outside of the summer. HBO has now come to think of "True Blood" as a summer show, when it would obviously draw just as many fangbangers regardless of the season. "Burn Notice" is, to my mind, the quintessential summer show, but USA likes splitting its seasons into summer and winter components, not distinguishing between the two. But if you take a show I love in the summer, take not-so-hypothetically FOX's "So You Think You Can Dance," and plunk it in the fall, sometimes my enjoyment isn't the same or else there's just no chance that show is going to retain its hold on coveted DVR position.
I worry, but only slightly, that a similar effect is about to take hold of two ABC Family shows I began watching this summer as amiable time-passers. I think I'll still be able to make time to catch up with "10 Things I Hate About You" when it returns this spring, since the frequently clever comedy is a painless 22 minutes, well-suited to quick Huluing and whatnot. The gymnastics drama "Make It or Break It," though, may prove to be the sort of show that proves arduous to keep up with outside of the wasteland of July of August.
"Make It or Break It" returns to ABC Family on Monday, Jan. 4 and since I never reviewed the show when it launched, I've got a few thoughts after the break...
You may have missed it when it premiered in June, but "Make It or Break It" is a little bit like "Glee" with gymnastics. It's bright, high-energy and the cast is full of attractive fresh faces. It's also a bit like "Glee," only without the subversion of high school stereotypes, the snappy dialogue, the musical numbers and with extended bouts of conservative moralism snuck into the corners.
Like "Glee," "Make It or Break It" spent its first block of episodes building up to an intermediate competition, in this case the US National Gymnastics Championships in Boston. And, like "Glee," that event that everybody spent months getting excited about was dispatched with minor abruptness, leaving some fans wondering what the next set of episodes would be able to focus on.
In its midseason premiere, "Make It or Break It" follows up on the National Championships, which ended with Kayle (Josie Loren) as an unlikely champion and Lauren (Cassie Scerbo) and Emily (Chelsea Hobbs) both holding spots on the Olympic team. Poor Payson (Ayla Kell) had to learn a valuable lesson that it's wrong to do drugs even if you don't do drugs, suffering a horrific fall in the finale, leaving some doubt if she'd ever be able to walk again.
Fortunately -- spoiler alert! -- Payson can walk again, but she's got a neck halo and a back brace and the doctors are certain that her gymnastics days are done. Naturally, she's pretty miserable about this, which makes the season's first two episodes a strong showcase for Kell, who spent most of the first half of the season stuck in the unlikely position of playing the "plain girl" envying her prettier friends, but taking solace in her gymnastics expertise. Without that to fall back on, pun tragically intended, Payson is left wondering what comes next in her life and apparently the answer, "Junior year" offers insufficient hope.
[Note: My new favorite personal meme, one that I've already discussed on Twitter, is to see permanently injured characters on TV and think, "That doesn't look so bad. They just need to betray the N'avi and everything will be OK." Yes, that's an "Avatar" joke, but since the movie as made a billion dollars, I'm assuming most of you get it. So in any case, Payson's got a messed up back? She should just betray the N'avi. Jason Street's still in a wheelchair? If he betrays the N'avi, he can get his legs back, his real legs. I suppose this works for less significant problems as well. Say Bianca (Meaghan Jette Martin) is having a bad hair day on "10 Things I Hate About You"... She could either visit a stylist, wear a jaunty hat or, if the hair day is bad enough, she can just betray the N'avi and get her hair back, her real hair.]
Meanwhile, Kaylie, overwhelmed with time demands as new champion, is still clawing at Lauren's throat because Lauren slept with Carter (Zachary Burr Abel) last season. Viewers knew about that unfortunate canoodling early in the season, but Kaylie only found out in the summer's penultimate episode, but that doesn't mean we can't all thing, "Get over it already, Kaylie." But sex isn't something you're allowed to get over on "Make It or Break It," which is one of many things Candace Cameron Bure's Summer taught us last season. Premarital sex, like drug use and underage drinking are very, very bad things with consequences, "Make It or Break It" likes to assert. Amusingly, if you just make it past high school and into the "Greek" demographic, ABC Family has no moral qualms about any of those things, but that's just a branding issue ABC Family is still trying to figure out.
[Yes, I recognize that that last comment -- why ABC Family still has to punish "bad girls" on shows like "Make It or Break It" but can celebrate all manner of poor behavior on "Greek" -- should have been the thesis for this entire review. Maybe I'll get a different article out of it at a different point. What can I say? I'm rusty...]
And that leaves Emily still embarrassed by her mother (the very funny Susan Ward) and departing boyfriend Damon (Johnny Pacar), which gets complicated by the return of weirdly identical former flame Razor (Nico Tortorella). Yikes.
Providing a long-term arc is the 2012 Olympics, but we have a long way to go before then, with plenty of National Team drama arriving in the second episode when a coach is announced and vanquished champ Kelly Parker (Nicole Gale Anderson) arrives for additional and enhanced bitchery.
The lead actresses keep "Make It or Break It" entertaining amidst the questionably edited gymnastics stunt work and the on-the-nose Family Values preaching. I especially like Hobbs, whose uncanny resemblance to Missy Peregrym was certainly intended to lead to "Stick It" comparisons. I also love how little motivation there seems to be for Lauren's bad-girl scheming and how adept Scerbo is at playing her devilishness. She's exactly the kind of evil-for-evils-sake villainess "Melrose Place" has failed so badly at generating this season. As mentioned above, I also appreciate Ward, because she's the only one of the show's many mothers and fathers -- played by solid actors like Brett Cullen, Pery Gilpin, Rosa Blasi and Anthony Starke -- who isn't a caricature of serious-but-loving parenthood. She's a different kind of caricature, but she's a fun one.
The men are less engaging, with Emily's interchangeable beaus and Carter, who needs to stop telling Kaylie that they're soul-mates before I call in the stalker police. Then again, from what I can tell on Twitter, there's already a Team Damon/Team Razor battle brewing, so my disinterest is probably a demographic thing.
"Make It or Break It" obviously isn't as buzz-worthy as "Glee" and, but it's a spunky, likable show -- even if I usually fast-forward through the Important Life Lessons -- set in a somewhat untouched milieu (gymnastics, Colorado, etc). But will those qualities be enough to make me keep watching the shiny, leotardinous antics in what is already a tight Monday 9 p.m. slot? Probably not, but maybe ABC Family will do a repeat marathon this summer just for me.
"Make It or Break It" returns to ABC Family at 9 p.m. on Monday, January 4.