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TV Review: MTV surprises with atypical teen drama

Wednesday, August 09, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Next Tuesday, MTV premieres the funny-dumb comedy series "2gether," based on the funny-dumb movie of the same name that aired in February. This affectionate satire of boy bands is sure to draw hordes of teeny-boppers to the tube, but tonight's premiere of MTV's first drama series, "Live Through This," is a tougher sell.

"Live Through This"

When: Tonight at 10 on MTV.

Starring: Tom Lock, Sarah Manninen, Jessica Welch.


Funny-dumb is an MTV staple, but a thoughtful, deliberate drama? That sounds more VH1 than MTV.

The notion of MTV attempting a drama series conjures more than a few horrible possibilities -- Teens in school throwing a beer blast! Wet T-shirt contests! Let's get tattoos! -- but "Live Through This" is a decent drama and far superior to The WB's sudsy "Young Americans." But in the first "Live" episode, at least, it's not as much fun.

Set behind the scenes on the reunion tour of the fictional '70s-era Jackson Decker Band, "Live Through This" focuses primarily on the children of the band members, including Chase Rooney (Tom Lock), who at 23 is managing the tour that includes his complaining musician father.

Three years ago, Chase broke up with Lu Baker (Sarah Manninen, who looks a lot like Jennifer Love Hewitt), daughter of the band's stage fright-prone lead singer. Lu and her mother switched roles years ago, with Lu acting as the responsible parent while her mother was the wild child, recovering from years of drug and alcohol abuse.

Chase's sister and the naive daughter of another band member round out the cast, but Chase and Lu epitomize the qualities that allow "Live Through This" to rise above much of the teen dreck on TV.

Once you get past reality issues -- would an untested 23-year-old, even if he is the son of a band member, really be given the keys to a reunion tour? -- "Live Through This" explores themes common in everyday life, but less prevalent on teen-themed television shows.

The way Chase strives for his father's approval, which blunts any benefits he may derive from being the son of a rock star, and Lu's parenting of her mother give the characters more complexity than I'd expect from an MTV series. Even Chase's bratty sister, Olivia (Jessica Welch), has a logical raison d'etre.

The young actors do a fine job, although so far none stand out. Several cast members inadvertently reveal their nationality and the show's shooting locale through their Canadian accents (the word "sorry" sounds like "sore-y" and "solitary" becomes "sole-i-tary").

The biggest stumbling block in tonight's pilot is a supposed plot twist at the end of the episode that is easy to predict early in the hour.

At this point I should admit I'm predisposed to like "Live Through This." The show's executive producer is Bernard Lechowick, who, with wife Lynn Marie Latham, created my all-time TV favorite, "Homefront." Lechowick was brought in after the first "Live Through This" pilot was scrapped. He wrote the episode viewers will see tonight.

It's a decent hour of set-up, always the burden of a first episode, but future episodes of "Live Through This" need to play down the obvious (there's not much suspense in will-they-or-won't-they-tour? when that's what the series is about) and better balance heavy drama with lighter moments.

This won't just help a decent show get better; it's also necessary for survival. MTV viewers typically prefer the loosey-goosey attitude of shows like "2gether." "Live Through This" must lighten up a bit if it hopes to live through more than its first 13 episodes.

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