- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 6, 2001

TV shows that highlight teen-agers tend to glamorize the life of young people, such as "Beverly Hills 90210," or trivialize it, such as "Saved by the Bell." Harder to find are the shows that attempt to portray teens in a realistic light without exploitation or pandering.

"Edgemont," a midseason addition to the Fox Family Channel debuting Jan. 13 at 12:30 p.m., is a step in the right direction but doesn't always follow through with its good intentions. The show is set in the fictional town of Edgemont and follows the lives of several teens — their relationships, their dreams and even the daily drudgery of classes.

The pilot episode introduces Mark (Dominic Zamprogna) and Jennifer (Sarah Lind), longtime friends and a new couple struggling to stay together despite the changes going on in their lives. Other characters include the new girl in school, Laurel (Kristen Kreuk); resident gossip Anika (Vanessa King); and a school braniac (Micah John Gardener).

Mark is having problems at home, with parents who are splitting up and nonexistent in his life. His acting-up in school has started to worry Jennifer.

Laurel finds adapting to suburban life difficult after living in Toronto. She uproots Anika's role as arbiter of school fashion, attracts several boys and may even drive a wedge between Mark and Jennifer.

With quick cuts and several story lines, the pilot episode sets up the series as more than a typical dramatic comedy — story lines arch through several episodes, telling the story in more of a soap opera fashion.

The audience joins this longer story in medias res, with several plots already in motion. This technique only adds to the realism, as life does not fit neatly into half-hour-long segments with moral messages included.

The cast will be somewhat familiar to many viewers, as it is virtually a reunion of cast members and guest stars from the Nickelodeon show "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" The young actors, none of them well-known, only add to the realism in a way other teens on television, such as Sarah Michelle Gellar, fail to do.

While some characters play stereotypical roles, they also are able to show more depth behind them. The relationship between Anika and her best friend, Erin (Elana Nep), does an excellent job of cracking these timeworn roles by showing the insecurity that underlies the two characters.

Anika is unsure of herself and threatened by Laurel, and uses put-downs and insults to help her feel better about herself. Erin, meanwhile, changes her attitude depending on whom she's with — when Anika is there, she flatters her, but makes quips about her behind her back.

A public service announcement campaign, though, planned to follow each series, could potentially sabotage some of the messages that are so subtly placed in "Edgemont."

Watching the characters make good decisions on screen will surely have a much stronger impact on its target audience than commercials that boil that message down to a blunt point.

The absence of adults likewise is both a plus and a minus. It allows the audience to focus exclusively on the lives of the teens, but this also takes away again from the realism the show tries to achieve — children interact with adults all day, at least in school, and the complexities of these relationships are surely worth examining.

Teen-agers are not adults, but they also are not one-dimensional cardboard cutouts either, a fact that the creators of "Edgemont" are certainly taking into account.

Whether the series stays true to its intended vision will be the mark of its success, but it's off to a good start.

{*}{*}{*}WHAT: "Edgemont"WHERE: Fox Family ChannelWHEN: 12:30 p.m. Jan. 13

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