Does television hate teenagers?
That’s the question I found myself pondering after watching the first three episodes of the new USA series Dare Me.
What has happened to fun teen dramas of my youth? Where are the “Donna Martin graduates!” The “Welcome to the O.C., bitch!” The “I’m the best sex you’ll never have” declarations?
Give me the camp of The O.C. and Glee. The over-articulate gang of Dawson’s Creek. Anything but this current drivel (including the recent Euphoria) which treats adolescents as if they are harbingers of doom who do nothing but say “fuck,” plot each other’s demise and get high. Are you having fun yet?
But I digress, let’s start with what this show is about. Based on the novel of the same name by Megan Abbott (who also serves as an executive producer), new coach and former high school cheerleader Colette French (Willa Fitzgerald) arrives to turn the Sutton Grove High School cheerleading team into national champions. She’s not what you might call an encouraging, supportive coach. “Fix this. We don’t do this,” she says to one girl referring to her less than flat stomach. “These girls are nothing but boxed wine with attitude,” is how she lovingly describes her squad. Colette is mom to an infant girl and married to Matt (Rob Heaps), who gives new meaning to the term “clueless husband.”
Meanwhile, two best friends/frenemies—Addy (Herizen Guardiola) and Beth (Marlo Kelly)—are at odds with each other. Addy, who serves as narrator for the series, has dreams beyond her town and being top of the pyramid. For Beth, cheerleading is all she has. She was cheer captain and queen bee before Colette arrived. Beth is threatened by Colette while Addy is enthralled with a coach who is encouraging of Addy’s dreams. Both Guardiola and Kelly are far better than the material they are given.
Dare Me is framed in the now cliched hook of showing us the mystery and then zooming the action back to “three months earlier.” The entire series is filmed in gloomy sepia tones, as if it’s in need of some sunlight therapy.
Beth and her strung out mom (Tammy Blanchard) live across the street from her dad Bert (Paul Fitzgerald), his new wife and her half-sister Tacy (Alison Thornton). Beth delights in torturing and hazing Tacy while the freshman dreams of cheerleading glory. Bert is way too invested in the success of his daughters’ squad. There’s also marine recruiter Sarge Will Mosley (Zach Roerig) who spends a lot of time at the high school.
In the three episodes I watched (yes there were more available but it’s the holidays and only suffering through three episodes was my gift to myself), one character kicks another in the stomach until she throws up, and in another scene Addy and Beth chew food and then systematically spit it out. Just in case the lame plot twists weren’t enough for you, the show adds in treating eating disorders with a distressing casualness. Oh you want more? There’s also the consistent undercurrent that all the female characters want to sleep with each other. That’s such a male fantasy it’s hard to believe the series is from female executive producers.
Not to sound like a whiny “in my day” adult, but Dare Me’s take on today’s current adolescents doesn’t at all jibe with the teenagers I know. Of course, TV absolutely doesn’t have to be reality based. I love good, over-the-top camp and dark mysteries where the adult characters behave worse than their adolescent counterparts.
But this is not Pretty Little Liars. This a show that seems to think perhaps it is saying something important about small Midwestern towns the economic boom has left behind, and the lingering effects a depressed town has on its youth. It also thinks it knows a lot about teenage girls and none of it is good. “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls,” Addy says at the beginning of the series.
What about the boredom of a TV critic?
Dare Me premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on USA.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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