ABC Family // 2009 // 430 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 18th, 2010
Competition. Deception. Perfection.
ABC Family's original gymnastics drama vaults onto DVD and GOD HELP ME I CAN'T STOP WATCHING THIS SHOW!!!!!
"The Rock" is one of the best gymnastics clubs in the country, where four friends train their guts out for possibly their one and only shot at Olympics glory. There's Lauren, the spoiled vindictive girl who makes everyone miserable; Emily, the mysterious new girl whose lack of money ostracizes her from the rest of the group; Payson, the studette of the gym, but a constant victim of her own intensity; and Kaylie, the kind-of-boring other girl who's oblivious to the fact that one of her best friends has got a hard-on for her boyfriend.
It's not just jumps, twirls, and sticking the landing that our heroines have to deal with. There's boy trouble, resentment towards dad's pretty new girlfriend, love triangles, dysfunctional families, hot guys at the pizza joint who stir perplexing emotions, fathers who sacrifice everything for their families, douchebag ex-coaches, awkward conversations about ill-advised sexual encounters, and snug one-pieces.
I don't know what spell this show has cast on me, but I was powerless to evade its hypnosis. What started out as a disinterested endeavor to make the slog through a corny-looking TV show I had never heard of turned into a 10-episode marathon of DVD-watching that I actually enjoyed.
I'm sorry, kids. I know many of you consider me this no-nonsense, tough-talking Alpha male, all macho and cool -- women want me, men want to be me, you know how it is. But if this admission of deep, abiding appreciation for an ABC Family drama about teenage gymnasts sours your respect for me and sullies my reputation, well...that's just the way it has to be then.
Sarcasm and snarkiness aside, Make It or Break It is a legitimately good show, perhaps not geared towards 32-year old men who live in New Hampshire and drive around in Ford F-150s (Note: this is the moment where my review may get creepy), but for the ABC Family faithful, I can't see how the series isn't a homerun. And ratings-wise it was, prompting the network to blast out another ten episodes, thus completing the first season.
Volume 1, which I vaulted into this go-round, tracks the arc of the four girls and their path to nationals. Emily is the new girl, the audience's entry into the drama-filled world of young girls dealing with yet another layer of drama -- the unwavering pressure of "peaking" in their career in their teens. Pretty nuts, when you really think about. That's where the writers have excelled in crafting their storylines for the show. Granted, they aren't terribly different from other teen-themed soaps: resentment towards parents, best friends torn apart by a guy, snobbish behavior alienating the new girl, etc. But adding in the gymnastics angle proves to be much more than a simple gimmick, as we see the vivid effects this pressure has on the characters.
The soapy stuff is fun, too. While the situations are familiar, the writers were crafty enough to toss in some nice twists and teases to keep the momentum going. Maybe she won't end up with that guy; maybe that friendship won't heal as nice and tidy as we expect it to; maybe that engagement is FUBAR; and, most surprisingly, maybe the outcome of the Big Sports Finale isn't going to end up like everyone thought.
Combine this effective scripting with genuinely likable and believable characters (well, mostly likable; that Lauren is a handful!) and the result is a successful outing for ABC Family. What really inches the show into medal contention is the most unpredictable aspect of it all: Make It or Break It is politically incorrect. None of these kids run around shouting out racial slurs or anything, but it's still surprising to see modern, overused stereotypes and clichés punctured. For example, the lone sexual encounter involving the kids (of course only implied) is far from celebrated as an American Pie-like rite of passage. Instead, it provides plenty of drama, hurt feelings, and confusion. A major theme running through the show is the preciousness of that first sexual experience, surely something that isn't seen too often on TV. The girls of Make It or Break It are defined by their aspirations and the work needed to achieve those goals, not by their looks and willingness (or unwillingness) to go all the way.
Granted, this isn't terribly shocking, since it's an ABC Family show (Word of Warning: The themes are mature, so small kids should probably skip this, but I have no problem recommending it for teens and their parents), though it's still nice to see. Also, you get a small amount of Christian-friendly programming, thanks to Candace Cameron Bure's presence as Lauren's wannabe stepmother. Nothing preachy, though.
Last thing I'll mention is the gymnastics. While doubles are obviously used, the editing is skillful enough to blend the real actors with their springier counterparts, making for some cool sports action moments. Again, the gymnastics aren't the main engine, but do offer a unique prism through which to view the drama. When the floor routines, uneven bars, balance beam, and vaulting do kick in, it's a good time.
The DVD set earns a silver medal, thanks to a clean 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, 5.1 surround audio, and some so-so extras: a few deleted scenes and making-of documentary.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ABC Family
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 430 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site