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Case Number 19560: Small Claims Court

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Private

New Video // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // August 26th, 2010

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker grew up in public.

The Charge

"We're your new best friends."

The Case

Let's be clear at the outset: Private was not made for me.

• It's based on a series of novels for and about teen-age girls.
• It's set in a high-class boarding school attended by the über-rich.
• It originally appeared as a series of "Webisodes," a format I have yet to embrace.

Nonetheless, here it sits, 20 four- to six-minute episodes, which, I believe, comprise an entire season.

Private gives us the story of Reed (Kelsey Sanders), a middle-class girl who's been accepted to the tony Easton Academy. She's assigned to the most prestigious dorm in the solar system, Billings House, where (evidently) the world's greatest distaff movers and shakers have lived. Reed endures a number of indignities to become a Billings Girl, but eventually works her way into the sisterhood.

Ah, but even then, the sailing is less than smooth for these preppies. Romance, treachery, and a little murder are just a few of the extra-curricular perils awaiting our plaid-clad young misses—along, of course, with opulent parties, reams of girl talk and bonding, and a few lessons in conspicuous consumption.

As I mentioned, Web series in general leave me cold. Maybe I just haven't gotten the hang of them; maybe it's because my computer set-up is not as viewer-friendly as my television set-up. Maybe it's the necessarily low tech, abbreviated running times, and necessity to seek out Webisodes schedules.

In any event, I'll admit that I went into Private with a few prejudices. While I'd like to report that Private caused me to see the error of my ways, Web series-wise, sadly, that's not the case.

Part of the problem here is the format. If I hadn't known these were short-form episodes, I just would have found Private to be a choppy, kinda pointless teen tale. Other than Reed, whose story this is, it's tough to tell the other characters apart. There are two blonde girls who seem interchangeable until almost the last episode, and the only guy who stood out was the "bad boy," and that's just because he always wore a leather motorcycle jacket. The economics of telling a story in four to six minutes shortchanges things like character development and pretty much eliminates any kind of subtlety, and since Private is also a mystery/thriller, it's all pretty devoid of any suspense.

To their credit, Director Dennie Gordon and Writers Veronica Becker and Sarah Kucserka do a better-than-expected job of keeping Private afloat. The series is not without interest and, as befits a good soap opera, becomes more involving as it goes along. While we never especially care about any of the characters, it can be fun watching them go from one point to another. It does promise more than it delivers, though, with plot turns often reaching dead ends, bits of potential intrigue that go nowhere, and a location with a hinky history that's woefully underused.

While I can't see anyone over the age of 16 enjoying this, at least one aspect of Private makes me question how appropriate it is for kids under 16—and it's not the benign skullduggery. These privileged high school don't smoke, don't seem to have sex, and they pale when the subject of drugs comes up, all of which is good. Sure, they have terrible attitudes, they're shallow and materialistic, but that's par for the course. But they drink. And they drink like it's normal, which granted, it pretty much is, but I wonder about the message here. Yes, it seems ridiculous even considering a "message" in a show like this, but most of the "bad" stuff that happens is well beyond the reality of most 14-year-olds' experience. Somehow, I found scenes of high school kids routinely enjoying a kegger or sipping champagne at a secret but elaborate party more chilling than anything involving death or social hierarchy. Few high school kids will find themselves at elite boarding schools or on shopping sprees for Marc Jacobs handbags, so that kind of fantasy stuff gets a pass, but when your 16-year-old heroine is happily passing around beers at an outdoor gathering, something's awfully skewed.

Private is based on a popular series of novels by Kate Brian. Thus far, there are more than a dozen books in the Private series about Reed's adventures at Easton, as well as prequels and spin-offs that deal with other characters. From what I've read, Private the DVD takes the events of several of the Private books and distills them into this 90-minute piece.

The disc looks good, with a solid, nighttime soap opera-style image and a stereo audio track. There are all sorts of extras, including the Webisodes that dealt with casting—they went the reality-TV route here and made it a contest—as well as interviews with the writers and the actresses. If you're a fan, you'll find a lot to like here.

The Verdict

A superficial series about superficial people, Private is kind of like a lower-rent, abbreviated 90210. It's not terrible for what it is, but unless you're in middle school and have read the books, you probably won't find it all that interesting.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: New Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Drama
• Mystery
• Teen
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurettes

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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