Monday June 7, the ABC Family Hit ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager‘ returns for its third season. On NBC, a new summer series, ‘Persons Unknown,’ premieres. I would love to tell you all about these shows. But the networks have not made the episodes available for review. There are clips of shows that will not until in the fall, but not next week’s debuts. Films will sometimes open without screenings for critics, including major studio releases like the upcoming ‘Killers‘ starring Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher. Usually it’s because the studios suspect the reviews will be bad. But television tends to promote the heck out of even the lamest shows. So what’s going on here?
‘The Secret Life’ has become a top rated show among teens and young adults by appealing to two different fanbases: tweens and teens who take the show very seriously and adults and snarky Daria Morgenderferesque teens who consider it a so-bad-its-good must see. Apparently, the show has enough of a fanbase, and is so critic proof, that the network is not even bothering to solicit much publicity. The one clip ABC has made available on its site is of Grace (Megan Park) talking to her kooky guidance counselor (Mayim Bialik) about the school’s mother daughter dance. Other than showing that ‘Secret Life’ will continue to be set in an alternate universe that bears no resemblance to earth, where teenagers do things like go on dates with their mothers, there is not much of an incentive to tune in. According to the spoilers in the network press release, the show will continue to be completely obsessed with sex even as it purports to show that teen sex is a terrible, awful thing that leads to unplanned pregnancies. So, all of you Secret Life of the American Teenager fans, can look forward to watching Adrian tell Ben that she is not pregnant (unless she’s lying) and young Ashley going to the doctor with her dad to discuss “birth control options,” perhaps because her big sis Amy’s baby Daddy Ricky has taken an interest in her. In the strangest tidbit, “The Secret Diary of Ashley Juergens,” published by Hyperion Books, will be released on June 15, 2010. The book is “written by” the precocious and perceptive Ashley Juergens as an ongoing assignment from her middle school principal to express herself in an “appropriate” manner. This actually sounds kind of intentionally hilarious. Everyone who might want to watch this show has already set their Tivos, reviews unnecessary.
The radio silence surrounding ‘Persons Unknown‘ is more perplexing. The show has a prestigious pedigree. It was created by Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Academy Award for writing the screenplay for ‘The Usual Suspects.’ The premise is intriguing: seven strangers wake up in a deserted town with no recollection of how they got there. They learn they are being held hostage and that their every move is recorded by strangers. They must rely on each other as they work to figure out what happened to them. It sounds like ‘Big Brother‘ meets ‘The Prisoner.’ The cast features some familiar faces including Alan Ruck (‘Spin City‘) and Jason Wiles (‘Third Watch‘). It certainly seems better than a lot of the dramas that NBC aired during the regular season. Of the two actual reviews that I could find from the chosen few journalists who got a copy, the sci-fi site liked it, while the newspaper critic was not impressed. That’s batting .500. Not bad. I could I wish I could post some clips, but none have been released yet. NBC is running plenty of promos for the show, which it is billing as a mini-series. So why all of the critical secrecy? Either the network’s strategy is to heighten the mystery by revealing absolutely nothing or they have already written it off as a dud. I’ll be tuning in Monday to find out if the show is terrible or just a victim of terrible marketing.