“The Secret Life of the American Teenager”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Amazon.com
December 30, 2008

The secret in The Secret Life of the American Teenager becomes all too clear early on.

After having sex for the first time, 15-year-old Amy (Shailene Woodley) becomes pregnant. Scared and unsure of what to do, Amy keeps it a secret from her parents, hoping she’ll be able to figure things out.

Created by Brenda Hampton, the series is slightly edgier than Hampton’s breakthrough series 7th Heaven. Though controversial in topic, The Secret Life of the American Teenager still is a family drama with a twist of Juno thrown into it.

In an adroit bit of casting, 1980s teen queen Molly Ringwald plays Amy’s mom, Anne. Loving and supportive (but at times clueless), Anne is preoccupied by her philandering husband.

The show tackles a myriad of subjects not often seen in family-oriented programming: broken chastity vows and child abuse. It also touches on the what differentiates a good girl from the class slut.

The script offers both preachy and snappy dialogue. When Anne tries to rush Amy’s younger sister to school, the girl snaps back, At least I won’t be late for my period.

One of the defining elements of the series is that while it clearly does not condone unwed pregnancy, it also doesn’t condemn it. By having the stereotypical good girl make a bad choice and wind up pregnant, the series offers the premise that this could happen to anyone, even your Straight-A child wearing a purity ring.         

The Secret Life of the American Teenager depicts the shame of the pregnant girl, but also offers her hope and options. There’s a sweet romance between Amy and Ben (Ken Baumann), who knows she’s pregnant by a different boy but loves her anyway. Their verbal exchanges are reminiscent of the dialogue between Angela and Brian from My So-Called Life, except Amy appreciates Ben’s adoration.

The season finale is designed to leave viewers wondering whether Amy will keep her baby, give it up for adoption or have an abortion.

Given that the series originally aired in 2008 on the ABC Family channel, it’s a good guess that the latter isn’t a viable option.

But it leaves viewers curious as to how Amy will navigate pregnancy and childbirth with finishing school and living out her own so-called life.

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