By: Aleks Chan
At any given point during the 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU pilot – an adaptation of the Heath Ledger-fronted 1999 film, itself a modern telling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew – you can gather the impression that this teen dramedy is both smarter than you’d think and a causality of the very tropes it tries to play up.
Helmed by GREEK writer-producer Carter Covington, it should fit rather comfortably with ABC Family’s lineup of just-saucy-enough programming – attractive to GOSSIP GIRL fans but not enough to wrinkle the noses of the 700 CLUB.
Kat (ALIENS IN AMERICA’s Lindsay Shaw) and Bianca (Meaghan Martin) Stratford are the new kids at Padua High, having just moved to town from Ohio with their obstetrician father (Larry Miller, who reprises his role from the film). The sisters are quickly established as foils: Kat listens to NPR and gets riled up by lack of universal health care; Bianca combs through Facebook pages to pinpoint the most popular girl at school so that she may copy her ever move.
Shaw should just be in every scene – she’s just great, whether you like her character’s politics or not. When she meets the Heath Ledger character (played here by Gregory Peck’s grandson Ethan), who mostly sits and broods intently during this first outing, there’s a powerful sense of chemistry between them, largely because she’s smart enough not to fall (at least right away) for puppy dog eyes, leather jackets and motorcycles.
The cast is rounded out by the unfortunately named queen bee Chastity Church (Dana Davis), who’s popularity Bianca lusts for and Kat brushes up against, and the dopey and lovelorn Cameron (Nicholas Braun), who we know would fall for Bianca even before they share a scene together.
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU lacks the nuance of former high school-set series like FREAKS & GEEKS or My SO-CALLED LIFE – for all it’s hip pop culture references and knowing female lead, it is plainly familiar territory that’s styled up for 2009. The original film buoyed this with wit and charming, immensely likeable actors like Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger, which this comes close to with Kat and Bianca, their relationship being the strongest aspect of the show, full of sarcasm and sisterly rapport.
But charming it veritably is. A dominant trait among ABC Family as of late (save for THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER, which is just another review entirely) that almost inexplicably lifts shows from being derisive, played-out trope-fests into breezily endearing productions that are light on originality but stoked in charm.
This series should only be approached casually (to do anything more would be to court serious disappointment) – this is grinning summer fun, and shouldn’t be expected to be anything else. Grade: B
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU premieres Tuesday July 7 on ABC Family at 8PM