Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, producers and writing partners on such well-crafted, teen-focused shows as “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” can boast a keen insight into teen behavior and an ability to craft eminently sympathetic yet realistic characters in coming-of-age stories. That talent is not nearly as apparent in their latest venture, based on the Melvin Burgess book “Doing It.”
In “life as we know it” (the producers said that, for legal reasons, the title had to be all lower case), which airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on ABC, the primary focus is on three high school students who, like most high school students on TV, look more like college students. There’s popular athlete Dino Whitman (Sean Faris), slightly sarcastic and often obnoxious Ben Connor (Jon Foster) and introvert Jonathan Fields (Chris Lowell). They don’t have a lot in common except that each is a walking, talking, raging hormone, hornier than the brass section of a marching band.
Dino has hopes, plans and schemes to end the virgin status of his girlfriend, Jackie (Missy Peregrym). Ben is teetering dangerously close to re-creating a Mary Kay Letourneau scenario with his teacher, Ms. Monica Young (Marguerite Moreau). “All I can think of is doing her on the desk,” he says in one of many voice-overs. And the only thing holding Jonathan back from all-out pursuit of Deborah (Kelly Osbourne) is his fear that he will be ridiculed for being with a full-bodied girl. The girls, by the way, aren’t much better. They strategize on ways to frustrate and tease.
Not as wildly histrionic as “The O.C.” but still far more fanciful and glamorous than real life, “life as we know it” settles for a middle ground that is neither entirely credible nor utterly melodramatic. And, by incorporating a story line about cheating parents, it practically admits that there just isn’t enough of substance in the lives of its three heroes to sustain the pilot.
The series, recognizing teenage boys’ reluctance to share their innermost thoughts with others, frequently uses stop-action voice-overs to give the guys a chance to explain, again and again, how confused they are about, well, everything. Done in moderation, this can make the characters more dimensional. In this case, it happens too often and gets annoying.
There are flashes of potential in the pilot script from Sachs and Judah, like a scene in which Jonathan and Deborah talk out the nature of their relationship, but mostly what we get is superficial and tilted heavily to below-the-belt emotions.
The show has a shot if enough teens and young adults switch to it after watching “The O.C.” on Fox. However, with such formidable competition as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “The Apprentice,” “life as we know it” could meet with an early demise.