William Shakespeare's name appears nowhere in the opening credits for ABC Family's new series "10 Things I Hate About You." The credits do mention that the series is based upon the characters created for the well-regarded 1999 film of the same name, but any inkling (or acknowledgement) that that movie owed its characters and structure to "Taming of the Shrew" has somehow been lost in the Xeroxing.
Probably William Shakespeare isn't going to take ABC Family to court. Beyond being dead, The Bard would have to accept that this new "10 Things I Hate About You" has basically ceased to be an adaptation and reinterpretation of his play. It isn't even actually an adaptation of the movie so much as an elongation, testing the capacity of an already wafer-thin 97-minute film to spread into a full series run, one 30-minute episode at a time.
Plus, Shakepeare wasn't always so great at providing citations for where his own plots were coming from, so he'd understand that turnabout is fair play.
[Full review after the break...]
Very-slightly-redeveloped by Carter Covington ("Greek"), the new "10 Things I Hate About You" turns strong-willed Kat Stratford (Lindsey Shaw) and status-obsessed Bianca Stratford (Meaghan Jette Martin) into the new kids at Padua High, having just moved into town with their obstetrician father (returning castmember Larry Miller, providing continuity). At their new school, Bianca quickly seeks approval from Head Cheerleader Chastity (Dana Davis) and earns the affections of nerdy Cameron (Nicholas Braun), while Kat earns Chastity's enmity and enters into a staring contest with bad-boy Patrick Verona (Ethan Peck).
All indications are that we're heading down the exact same path here as in the original "10 Things I Hate About You," as in "The Taming of the Shrew" and as in the finest "Moonlight" episode ever. It's likely that the misogyny of Shakespeare's play will continue to be toned down, but we can probably anticipate Bianca's dating being restricted by Kat's unwillingness to date. We can probably anticipate Cameron sweetly wooing Bianca, while Patrick simultaneously breaks through Kat's hard exterior through the magic powers of love. Good. So what's Season Two?
Because "10 Things I Hate About You" is setting itself up for a slow crawl through a familiar plot and because the show's creators are assuming that most viewers will be familiar with at least one version of that plot, the pilot can skip a lot of character development in favor of shorthand.
Because we know Kat's going to eventually soften, she can be written as a little more than a sloganeering pill and Shaw can play her stridently. Because we know Patrick Verona's eventually the male lead of this drama, nobody needs to bother giving him any character other than a motorcycle and a brooding stare. Instead of defining characters by their actions, Covington defines them by the pop culture allusions they make, so the pilot includes references to Shia LaBeouf, "The Fast and the Furious," "Project Runway," Justin Timberlake, Zac Efron, Long Duk Dong, Hogwarts, Hannibal Lecter and more. It's a clearing house for middle-brow media references, covering so much ground that viewers of all ages will get to feel hip and in-the-know, while hitting targets so broad that even viewers watching the DVD a decade from now will get the jokes.
Actually, "10 Things I Hate About You" is more clever when it isn't just rehashing important Generation Y cultural touchstones. I've only watched a bit of "Greek," but I can still recognize a lot of that show's caustic wit in Covington's pilot script. That makes it a good fit with ABC Family's new brand identity, in which jokes about lesbian locker room fantasies, the gay guys in show choir and breast size are fair play. Once upon a time, Daddy Stratford's obsession with his daughters' sexuality might have seemed creepy for ABC Family, but now it seems... Oh, nevermind. Still creepy.
Shaw is accustomed to somewhat creepy objectification, having played the inappropriately bouncy sister on "Aliens in America." The character has always been difficult to crack, either from the Shakespeare or in subsequent adaptations and Shaw's version is a bit too sullen. It's a problem with a character who gets to have a full arc over two hours versus one doled out in half-hour installments. The taming of this shrew will have to be accelerated, because viewers won't warm to six or seven weeks of this version of Kat, but excessively swift taming will make Kat seem like a pushover. It's not an easy balance.
It's still easier than Peck's task of tackling the role that helped establish Heath Ledger's career. Perhaps understanding that Peck isn't going to be able to quickly erase Ledger in the minds of "10 Things" fans, Peck has almost nothing to do in the premiere, with no more than two or three lines of dialogue.
First impressions for Martin, Braun and Davis are all fine. I was pleased to see Jolene Purdy rise from the ashes of FOX's "Do Not Disturb" and happy with the grounding provided by more experienced co-stars Miller and Suzy Nakamura as Padua High's principal.
It's going to be interesting to see how comfortable the "10 Things I Hate About You" team feels with deviating from the movie and from "The Taming of the Shrew." Are the key relationships and plot points open for deviation or do we already know exactly where things are going all the way through to the finale? A bright and witty high school comedy is always welcome and "10 Things" has the team in place to become that, especially as a contrast to the "Gossip Girl" and "90210" and "NYC Prep" version of the genre. I don't know that "10 Things" will deliver on that promise if it remains just a slavish copy of a decade-old movie, delivered at a snail's pace.
"10 Things I Hate About You" premieres on Tuesday, July 7 on ABC Family.