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TV REVIEWS : Showtime Series Target Older Children

Showtime, praised for its “Familytime” programming block for younger viewers, now targets an older group, ages 8 to 14, with two new weekly half-hour shows.

Airing back-to-back, the shows begin at 11 a.m. today with “Chris Cross,” about two “hip” eighth-graders--one black, one white--in a boarding school. “Ready or Not,” at 11:30 a.m., is a buddy film about two girls and their odyssey through puberty.

The results are mixed.

“Chris Cross” begins as a romp, with young teen boys creating chaos in a moldering prep school (this Canadian-British co-production was filmed in England). In the first episode, supercool new student Chris (Simon Fenton of “Matinee”) threatens the top-dog position held by Cross (Eugene Byrd), and the school suddenly goes coed.

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Innocuous enough. Bright young people flaunting buffoonish authority figures: It’s a sitcom staple.

Gratuitous, pandering sexual content pollutes the fun, however. Walking across the campus, one of the eighth-grade girls lifts her skirt to give the goggling boys and the camera a good look at her derriere, encased in skin-tight short-shorts emblazoned with the lascivious Rolling Stones’ lips and tongue logo; later, we see a boy’s artistic effort immortalizing the moment on paper, giving his subject an exaggerated voluptuousness.

Considering skyrocketing teen pregnancies and increasingly casual, promiscuous sexual activity among young teens, this is conscienceless exploitation.

“Ready or Not,” although played for light laughs, has the kind of “DeGrassi Junior High” real-life honesty that strikes a resonant chord, but it walks a fine line between realism and exploitation.

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In “Thirty-Two, Double A,” the debut episode of this Canadian series created by executive producer Alyse Rosenberg, Amanda (Laura Bertram) doesn’t need a bra, but she figures it will give her the worldly look required to attract a cool seventh-grade boy.

Her sudden interest in boys--and bras--alienates her best friend Busy (Lani Billard) and leads to cruel taunting by classmates, before Amanda realizes she’s not comfortable growing up so fast.

The relationship between the two girls rings true. But downright odd is the scene where Dad reacts to Amanda wearing her new purchase. Meant to be a fatherly affirmation of her new womanhood, instead the moment is fraught with unintentional sexual tension as Dad gives her a long look, praises and caresses her.


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