Mixed Media: article from Singapore

Thanks to Michelle, and to Janet who both sent this in!

Teen shows that can show adults a thing or two

Mixed media
By Ong Sor Fern

Roswell and My So Called Life deal with more than teen issues

WEDNESDAYS on TCS 5 is now teen alienation night officially. Literally and metaphorically.

Roswell, which airs at 11 pm is followed by My So Called Life, which is getting a second lease of life after getting buried at Mondays, 4.30 pm in its first run .

In My So Called Life, there are the emotionally-alienated teens, led by the angst-ridden Angela Chase.

In Roswell, the teens actually are aliens, an idea which could have crashed and burned more spectacularly than the Roswell spaceship.

But three crucial factors prove to be Roswell’s saving grace: executive producer/director David Nutter, producer/writer Jason Katims and a cast of fresh faces who prove to be naturals onscreen even if they’re no great shakes as actors.

Nutter cut his directing teeth on The X Files, so he imbues Roswell with the same broody atmosphere and dramatic lighting. Katims was the story editor on My So Called Life, so he grounds Roswell’s dotty premise with some solid characterisations.

Both these shows may be centred on teenagers but, like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, another excellent teen series, the writers deal with issues that transcend adolescence while embodying it in all its rocky splendour.

MSCL, as fans like to call it, debut in the United States in 1994.

It lasted all of 18 episodes before being cancelled unceremoniously despite critical acclaim and howls of protests from devoted fans. But without MSCL paving the way, talky, layered teen dramas such as Buffy, Dawson’s Creek and Roswell could never have developed.

Now that TCS 5 has brought the show in finally, it is easy to see why fans, both teens and adults, took to its prickly charms.

MSCL recreates, with great authenticity, all the awkward rhythms of an adolescent’s turbulent emotional life. No doubt it is American in tone and outlook, but in episodes such as Life Of Brian and Pressure, universal topics such as crushes and sex are dealt with.

Claire Danes, in her first major role, is pitch perfect as Angela. She not only looks the part — too plain to be beautiful, prettier than average — she plays Angela with intuitive understatement.

When she says “lately, I can’t even look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly”, you empathise immediately with her despairing, inchoate mix of love, hate, guilt, anger and exasperation.

Angela’s circle of friends are etched out with equally detailed perception. Devon Gummersall with his spray of blond curls is all yearning geekiness as Brian Krakow, Angela’s next door neighbour and doormat nursing a Titanic-sized crush. And Wilson Cruz plays another breakthrough character — Angela’s friend Rickie — who is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality.

For a show that is supposedly about teens, MSCL also boasts a wonderfully subtle depiction of a marriage in the form of Angela’s parents.

The subplot involving Graham’s desire to become a chef and Patty’s clumsy attempts at helping is a masterful portrait of the complex dynamics of love and power play in a marriage.

Roswell does not pretend to be as angst-ridden as MSCL. But it manages to crank up the intensity level as a sort of X-Files Jr meets Buffy.

The secrecy/paranoid /alien bits come in the form of Max Evans (obligatory hunk Jason Behr), sister Isabel (voluptuous boy-magnet Katherine Heigl), and friend Michael Guerin (broody, spiky-haired Brendan Fehr).

They are aliens, hatched from pods out in the desert near the Roswell crash site. They have no idea where they come from, they have the power to change molecular structure and they love Tabasco sauce.

Max is in love with Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby), a Romeo-Juliet romance which sets the plot in motion. In the pilot, Max uses his power to cure Liz of a fatal gunshot. Which jeopardises the aliens’ cover as humans since mean Sheriff Jim Valenti (William Sadler) is out to get them.

Like Buffy, it is smart enough to use the stories as vehicles to explore universal issues, broadening the show’s appeal beyond the teen audience.

For example, one of Liz’s closest friends is Alex (gangly Colin Hanks, son of Tom).

One subplot has been the tension in their friendship as Liz struggles to keep Max’s secret without lying to Alex, who is hurt by her reluctance to tell him the truth.

And the dialogue dealing with trust and truth issues are handled nicely by both writers and players.

Okay, Shakespeare it will never be. But MSCL and Roswell prove that teen flicks don’t just have to be smart-alecky Scream-type copycats.

They can be just plain smart. And sometimes, even smart enough to teach adults a thing or two.


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