By Chaz Lipp
Article first published on Blogcritics.
The first thing fans will notice about The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Volume Seven is the utterly no-frills, “just the facts, ma’am” packaging. Now available exclusively through Amazon.com as a three DVD-R set, the ABC Family show apparently wasn’t selling well enough to justify the full-fledged release the previous six volumes received. Don’t let that scare you away if you’ve been keeping up with Amy, Ricky, Ben, and Adrian over the last few years. The audio/visual quality of these 13 episodes is fine, matching the modest standard set by the previous six volumes. The only annoyance is a pesky PSA (urging parents and children to discuss sex) inserted mid-way through every single episode.
At this point in The Secret Life there are really only two storylines worth any attention. Has Ricky (Daren Kagasoff) truly reformed to the point where he can remain faithful to Amy (Shailene Woodley)? And what will become of Ben (Kenny Baumann) and Adrian (Francia Raisa) since their baby died at the end of Volume Six? The many other plot threads seem like a waste of time. That includes the on-going attempts by Amy’s parents, George (Mark Derwin) and Anne (Molly Ringwald), to rekindle their marriage. Also wearing out its welcome are Ben’s dad, Leo (Steve Shirripa), and his marital woes with his new wife Betty (Jennifer Coolidge). If there’s one thing this show doesn’t do well, it is adult relationships.
But even the younger characters seem to suffer from a general lack of inspiration by the writers. Amy’s underage sister Ashley (India Eisley) spends the whole volume hanging out in Florida, doing odd jobs with her apparently platonic male friend. Perhaps her reduced screen time was due to Eisley’s Underworld: Awakening shooting schedule. Still, it seems unlikely that her parents would accept her strange absence.
Meanwhile, Grace (Megan Park) is still slutting it up with no apparent regard for her once-strong religious convictions. Her brother Tom (Luke Zimmerman) has turned into another unnecessary character. His main function throughout Volume Seven is getting used by a single mother of two who is taking advantage of his goodwill. Tom, despite having Down Syndrome, makes a nice salary as Vice President of Human Resources at a big company. Tom and Grace’s mother, Kathleen (Josie Bissett), allows this woman to live with Tom in the guest house. She’s also cool with Grace’s ex, Jack (Greg Finley), living as a guest in the bedroom right next to Grace, even though he clearly never got over their break-up.
These soap opera entanglements are par for the course with The Secret Life, but many of them have become incredibly stale. Of much more interest is how Ben and Adrian, who got married due to Adrian’s pregnancy, are handling the emotional trauma caused by their recent stillbirth (which concluded Volume Six). Ben, always impossibly immature and self-centered, has become a passive-aggressive mess. The usually robotic Kenny Baumann finally gets to show some range as Ben fights with his wife and develops a minor drinking problem.
Francia Raisa continues to shine as Adrian, probably the most complex character of the entire ensemble. I would love to see Raisa tackle a better-written role soon, much like Shailene Woodley did in The Descendants. Speaking of Woodley, she has less to do as Amy than in earlier episodes. Mainly she’s just waiting to see if Ricky will commit fully to their relationship, both as a partner to her and a father to their son John, or if he’ll screw up and start sleeping around again. Daren Kagasoff has some really nice moments throughout Volume Seven, as he makes Ricky’s gradual transition into a respectable young adult very believable.
No fair revealing how things end up in the last episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Volume Seven, but suffice it to say that the series could have comfortably ended here. It’s continuing on, but I have my doubts about how much gas is left in the tank. Hopefully the next batch of episodes does a better job of integrating the side characters while introducing some new and relevant conflicts.