By Emily Yahr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Given that a teen-movie target audience has the collective attention span of an ADD goldfish, it's no surprise that many excellent teen flicks wind up forgotten. Tonight, one such film gets the rare chance for a comeback as "10 Things I Hate About You," the 1999 hit comedy, is reincarnated as a series of the same name on ABC Family.
For the uninitiated, the movie was a delightful modern-day spin on Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" that launched the career of Julia Stiles (playing the shrew) and officially categorized the late Heath Ledger as "dreamy." Although the new series lacks the charm and cast chemistry of the movie, it shows promise as breezy summer TV fare. And for "10 Things" fans, it serves as an amusing homage to the original.
Right up front, however, the series wants to make sure you know it takes place right now, not way back in 1999. The dialogue is full of pop culture references, from Facebook to "Project Runway," and the opening sequence kicks things off right with a Katy Perry tune.
Still, similarities are quickly established -- same characters, same director (Gil Junger), same tendency of Kat (Lindsey Shaw) to smash people's cars. But while the movie's main dilemma was that Overprotective Dad wouldn't let Younger Prettier Popular Bianca start dating until Older Moody Feminist Kat found a boyfriend, it's clear there are different plans for the series's story lines.
In the first scene, Walter Stratford (Larry Miller, the only cast member to cross over from the film) gives his girls a first-day-of-school pep talk: "Remember, the most important thing: Don't get pregnant. . . . I'm just saying, boys want to put a baby in you."
"Well, they'd have to do it in vitro, since I can't date until Kat does!" whines Bianca (Meaghan Martin), essentially dispensing with the entire plot of the movie in one throwaway line. From there, the show focuses mainly on the adventures of the two sisters at a new high school, filled with every TV high school stereotype from the evil cheerleader (Dana Davis of "Heroes," who gets the pilot's funniest lines) to the motorcycle-riding bad boy (Ethan Peck, surprisingly adept in Ledger's old role with the "dangerous" stare).
Though it will be difficult to get invested every week in the love lives and wacky high jinks of high-schoolers (Bianca wants to be in the popular crowd! But, oh no, her sister knocked the bumper off the head cheerleader's car!), the show does an admirable job of keeping the scenes moving with unexpectedly funny moments.
"This is a public school, where every student deserves to be treated with dignity and respect," Kat complains, after said car incident, when she's told that the head cheerleader, Chastity, is also the superintendent's daughter. The remark elicits guffaws from the principal (Suzy Nakamura), who informs Kat: "That's private school. Here, we keep Chastity happy so we can keep our funding."
Before getting too excited about "10 Things," be warned: The teen-movie-to-television transition has had a shaky history. For every "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," a 1992 horror-flick-turned-cult-favorite that lasted seven seasons, there's a "Ferris Bueller," a clunker that NBC yanked after 12 episodes in 1990.
Of course, timing is everything, and reviving "10 Things" after a decade is wise. A new generation of teen girls -- who helped make surprise hits out of ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" and "Greek" -- could welcome the show's attractive cast that debates who's cuter, Zac Efron or Justin Timberlake. And at the same time, it might serve as nice nostalgia for fans of the movie (now in their mid-to-late-20s) longing for any reminder of carefree high school days.
10 Things I Hate About You (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 8 on ABC Family.