To say that a program is bad even by the standards of the WB network is nearly the ultimate insult. Typically, if the executives of the WB detect even a particle of intelligence in a series, they cancel it, sometimes before it gets on the air.
That’s what happened with “Young Americans,” a series that was originally to premiere on the WB months ago, during the regular season. WB honchos put it in a holding pattern that looked terminal. But when the Coca-Cola Co. showed interest in being a major sponsor, “Young Americans” came back from the dead.
It premieres tonight at 9, and if some of the scenes may make you want to retitle it “Young American Jerks,” the cast is so attractive that at least it’s got persistent visual appeal. The pilot also has enough provocative complications to sustain a modicum of interest.
How big, exactly, is a modicum? Well it’s bigger than a soupcon but much smaller than a heap.
Like all WB shows, “Young Americans” is about and is aimed at a youngish audience. It’s set at a rich boys’ prep school in New England, but, to avoid having an all-male cast, there just happens to be a girls’ school right across the lake. One of the first rites of the summer session depicted in the premiere has the girls and boys running toward each other and stripping off their clothes as they do.
Clearly, series creator and executive producer Steven Antin knows how and when to insert a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Antin is a Hollywood eclectic, a sometime actor who also wrote and starred in his own enjoyably peculiar independent film, “Inside Monkey Zetterland.”
After some splashing in the water, the show’s two heroes, a rich kid named Scout Calhoun (Mark Famiglietti) and a working-class “townie” named Will Krudski (Rodney Scott), who got into the pricey school on a scholarship, are the victims of gentle hazing. They’re kidnapped by older classmates and left in the center of town wearing only their boxer shorts. Imagine their chagrin.
Both Famiglietti and Scott appear to have the looks and personalities to become teen faves, although our culture is so crowded now with teen faves that squeezing in a few more would seem impossible. Similarly charismatic is Kate Bosworth as Bella Banks, certainly New England’s prettiest gas station employee (her father owns the station). She’s immediately smitten by Scout Calhoun, and the smiting is mutual.
But late in the show, Bella’s father tells Scout a Startling Secret that puts a considerable strain on the relationship.
Meanwhile, back at Rawley Academy, moody young intellectual Hamilton Fleming (Ian Somerhalder) makes pals with freshman Jake Pratt. Now Jake has a big secret, too, but you will know what it is the minute you see the character. One rather large hint: Jake is played by Katherine Moennig.
Yes, Jake is passing for a boy, fooling everybody. In fact, one can infer from the dialogue that she has even fooled her parents, which has to be the neatest trick of the week.
Some of the dialogue is laughably cool-cryptic. After Bella impulsively tells Scout she might want to spend the rest of her life with him, she gasps, “Oh God, I can’t believe I just said that,” and Scout replies, “No, I love that. That is awesome. I love that you said that.”
These are people who even when speaking in words of two or three syllables still seem to be speaking in words of one syllable. In fact they are pretty much leading one-syllable lives. Still, they’re cuties, and the school setting does allow for little peeps of thought to creep in.
Some scenes have been re-shot since the original pilot. That includes one of the first, in which Bella and Scout meet. Since Coca-Cola is picking up the tab, Scout buys them each a Coke. What a horrible note to begin on. But things get better as the premiere goes on. And as the series goes on, who knows? They might even get good.
* “Young Americans” premieres tonight at 9 on KTLA.