[06/22/09 - 12:25 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Make It Or Break It" (ABC Family)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Mondays at 9:00/8:00c starting tonight)

The network's description: "Set amidst the high stakes world of competitive gymnastics, the new ABC Family original series "Make It or Break It" premieres on Monday, June 22 (9:00 10:00 PM ET/PT). The 10 all-new scripted hour-long episodes star Chelsea Hobbs ("Lords of Dogtown"), Ayla Kell ("CSI: Miami"), Josie Loren ("17 Again"), Cassie Scerbo ("Bring It On: In It To Win It"), Zachary Burr Abel ("The Secret Life of the American Teenager"), Peri Gilpin ("Frasier"), Candace Cameron Bure ("Full House") and Susan Ward ("Sunset Beach")."

What did they leave out? Candace Cameron Bure actually doesn't turn up in the pilot. Plus its original title was "Perfect 10."

The plot in a nutshell: Boulder, Colorado is home to The Rock, one of the top gymnastics training facilities in the country. It's also home to three Olympic hopefuls - the overly dedicated Payson Keeler (Ayla Kell), the overly competitive Lauren Tanner (Cassie Scerbo) and the overly marketable Kaylie Cruz (Josie Loren), all of whom are expected to take the team's top three spots for nationals. That all changes however with the sudden arrival of Emily Kmetko (Chelsea Hobbs), a scholarship recruit of their coach, Marty (Erik Palladino). Not surprisingly, Emily's dark horse ascent rubs a lot of people the wrong way - most notably Lauren, who takes it upon herself to socially sabotage her at every step. Emily's problems however don't end outside The Rock - her scatterbrained mother (Susan Ward) hasn't found work, forcing Emily to spend all of her off-hours at the Pizza Shack.

The other girls also have their own issues on the home front - Payson's parents (Peri Gilpin, Brett Cullen) worry about the pressure their daughter is under, Kaylie's folks (Rosa Blasi, Jason Manuel Olazabal) seem more interested in her next photo shoot and Lauren's dad/The Rock investor (Anthony Starke) will do just about anything to ensure his daughter's slot at nationals. And while Marty has forbidden the girls to date while training, it hasn't stopped Kaylie from secretly dating a fellow gymnast (Zachary Burr Abel) while Emily finds herself gaining the attention of both Kaylie's brother (Marco James) and her co-worker (Nico Tortorella). In the end, the top three spots are settled - but the future of The Rock may not be so certain.

What works: While no one would accuse it of being a sports documentary, "Make It or Break It" does a solid job of establishing itself as what it ultimately is - a teen show set in said world. There's the usual social dynamics (kindly outsider doesn't fit in amongst the mean girls), the expected romantic intrigue (new girl has not one but two boys after her) and just enough sports sensationalism (everything from bulimia to corporate sponsorship gets named checked) to earn its authenticity's keep. The girls likewise play their archetypes well and, with the aid of some camera trickery, prove to be talented athletes in their own right. Gilpin and Cullen also turn in nice performances as Payson's supportive but cautious parents. And while this show ultimately isn't for me, as someone with a soft spot for the former cable mainstay/1980s camp classic "American Anthem," you could definitely do a lot worse in terms of summer programming options.

What doesn't: The show tends to pile it on a little thick - Emily's a virtuous saint (not only does she have to deal with gymnastics and a borderline full-time job, but her brother is confined to a wheelchair!) while Lauren conversely is a cartoonish villain (she literally says things like "What the hell is that girl wearing?" and "She's training here?"), each of whom get their expected comeuppance. Ultimately, "Make It or Break It" doesn't offer up a new spin on your stereotypical teen show, it just sets it someplace new. And in terms of being a sports-themed show, it's all pretty boilerplate Olympic stuff - it's hard work! you have to sacrifice so much! and my personal favorite, your entire future can disappear in an instant! - all of which are well and good, just don't expect any revelatory takes on them.

The bottom line: In short, even if you're going in blind, you can pretty much know what to expect here.

  [june 2009]  


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