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‘In a Heartbeat’ Gives Disney a Lifeline to Older Teens

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Can a show about brainy, athletic, altruistic teenagers--who also drive ambulances and rescue people--succeed?

Maybe. The Disney Channel’s new drama series, “In a Heartbeat,” about high-achieving high school students who are volunteer EMTs (emergency medical technicians) is canny enough, judgingfrom tonight’s hourlong series premiere, to give viewers more than earnest idealism.

This fact-based show--there really are teenage volunteer EMTs in service all over the country--doesn’t dig deeply, but it does give the students some emotional dimension. The traumas they deal with affect them in various ways, and the rescue missions are interwoven with family complications, love lives and sexual tension (very mild stuff, however, compared with “Dawson’s Creek,” say).

The result is surprisingly watchable. The attractive, likable cast and continuing soap opera plot lines just may hook the somewhat older youth audience that the Disney Channel is clearly targeting.

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In the opener, Reagan Pasternak as cheerleader Val and Shawn Ashmore, who plays football star Tyler, find a growing mutual attraction as they deal with crises at accident sites and Val’s dad’s heart attack. Shared confidences about Tyler’s abusive stepfather and Val’s parents’ shaky marriage help cement the bond.

Deeply compassionate Hank (Danso Gordon), another star athlete and the senior member of the EMT group, struggles with his emotional involvement with a young accident victim. Jamie (Christopher Ralph), sentenced by a judge to join the team as community service, is the prerequisite bad boy-with-a-heart-of-gold.

Rounding out the youth cast are Val’s sweet little sister Brooke (perky Lauren Collins) and annoying Caitie (Jackie Rosenbaum), a non-EMT and Val’s best friend from childhood with a Goth look and a sneering attitude toward “overachievers.”

* “In a Heartbeat” appears tonight at 7 on Disney Channel; repeats Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Regular half-hour episodes, beginning next Saturday, run Saturdays at 7 p.m. and repeat Sundays and Fridays at 7 p.m. The network has rated it TV-G (suitable for all ages).

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