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'Young Americans' unintentionally funny

Sunday, July 09, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The WB named its latest teen drama "Young Americans."

Evidently "Young, Horny, Sexually Confused, Possibly Incestuous Americans" was too unwieldy a title. But it's much more accurate.

What makes "Young Americans" unintentionally humorous is the checklist with which the show was constructed. It's as if creator Steven Antin (writer of the indie film "Inside Monkey Zetterland") looked at the blueprints of other WB shows and plucked out the elements that would give his series the best chance for success with the Gen Y set.

Picturesque New England setting? Check.


"Young Americans"

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday on The WB.

Starring: Rodney Scott, Mark Famiglietti, Kate Bosworth


Star-crossed lovers? Check.

"Boys Don't Cry"-like gender confusion? Check.

Shirtless boys with buff bods? Check.

A cute girl to attract the notice of a few stray guy viewers, but not too sexy lest she intimidate the target female audience? Check.

Overbearing, abusive father? Check.

A lead protagonist who stares into the camera, vaguely pouting in a way that's supposed to make him look sexy (or constipated)? Check.

One - and only one - compassionate adult teacher with a look (stubble, long hair) that says, "I'm cool, I'm one of the good guys"? Check.

That a series could be so meticulously put together, so blatantly made to appeal to the lowest common denominator is admirable from a business standpoint. It doesn't make for an original TV show, of course, but "Young Americans" still manages to be guilty summer fun. Mindless and cliche, to be sure, but escapist entertainment nonetheless.

Local poor boy Will Krudski (Rodney Scott) gets a scholarship to prestigious Rawley Academy where he rooms with rich kid Scout Calhoun (Mark Famiglietti). Scout, in turn, falls for local girl Bella Banks (Kate Bosworth), who has a chip on her shoulder about Scout's wealth, calling him, "a Fresh Prince of Southampton kind of guy who always gets what he wants."

Not always, Bella, as the premiere episode slowly reveals.

In addition to the three leads, other "Young Americans" include the dean's son, Hamilton Fleming (Ian Somerhalder), a dark, slightly weird guy who befriends the mysterious Jake Pratt (Katherine Moennig), whose deep secret will be immediately obvious to viewers, even though Hamilton is clueless.

"Young Americans" sets up a rivalry between the poor folks of Rawley and the rich kids who attend the town's prestigious prep school. But even as the town kids make fun of being "smart and poor" themselves and tag the Rawley Academy kids as "rich and dumb," the show embraces these stereotypes.

This is especially true of Will, who is deep and conflicted and probably a writer in the making. Naturally, the poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks is the soulful one. Rich Scout? He's just a playboy, pretty much the way Bella described.

As for the acting, well, how much effort is really required when one of the premiere's showcase scenes has Scott and Famiglietti wandering through town in their underwear? Having a Marky Mark body seems more important than anything so secondary as acting talent. It's dumb luck that none of the "Young Americans" cast members embarrass themselves.

At the end of the "Young Americans" pilot there's a plot twist revealed that sends the show in a direction that seems more suited to a backwoods, hillbilly joke than a melodrama about beautiful teen-agers falling in love. At the Television Critics Association press tour in January, executive producer Antin said all will be explained in time.

"There are so many complicated twists and turns to this relationship," Antin said. "It's not going to be creepy at all. It is a potentially creepy notion, I suspect, but it will be palatable and it will be dealt with sooner rather than later."

This relationship and the Jake story make "Young Americans" titillating enough that the calculated storytelling just might work. The WB is taking an approach similar to Fox's "Beverly Hills, 90210" summer episodes that pushed that series into the limelight. If "Young Americans" gets high enough ratings, it may return at midseason.

To succeed, Antin and his staff better have plot twists as equally juicy as the pilot in upcoming episodes, otherwise young Americans will turn off "Young Americans" as fast as they tune in. If that happens, The WB will really be up Dawson's Creek without a paddle.

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