Two new reality shows about high school.
Failing to realize high ambitions, High School Confidential (WE, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET) skims across the lives of 12 teenage girls growing up in placid Kansas. Each of its eight episodes begins with an introduction to one or more high-school freshman and ends by waving goodbye to graduating seniors. None of them discovers anything new under the sun. The girls' lives involve friends, boys, grades, soccer, and partying. Their troubles include cliques, breakups, depression, pregnancy, illness, eating disorders, and partying too hard. When their parents aren't being proud and supportive, they are busy disapproving of boyfriends, career aspirations, and spaghetti-strap tank tops. As the years go by, we watch the girls develop confidence, grow independent, get better haircuts. They find themselves, but, as the directors never really located them in the first place, the viewer is forced to shrug a "so what?"
Still, one leaves High School Confidential feeling fondly about all its subjects and hoping that, 20 years on, they do not find themselves in a project so silly as High School Reunion (TV Land, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET). This one, constituting the resumption of a reality show that the WB squirted forth some time back, intends to play as The Big Chill-meets-The Real World. Its principals have convened at a house on Maui two decades after departing Dallas' J.J. Pearce High. The castmates helpfully answer to John Hughes archetypes; Matt is the Jock, Jason the Bully, Yvette the Girl Next Door. What has happened in the years since they collected their yearbooks? Did they stay sweet? Have things been rad?
The question the narrator asks is, "Will high school haunt them forever?" and, in search of an answer, High School Reunion blots out most references to adult life in the outside world. A space of 20 years passes almost in silence, and the participants hop straight back to adolescence so that the Pipsqueak can canoodle with the Popular Girl and the onetime New Wave girl might warm up to the cool kids. "Now I realize I may have missed out, and I'd like to get to know some people from high school," says Cheryl (the Outsider), ridiculously.
The most notable exception to the show's hermetic quality involves the reunion of Mike (the Rebel) with his awful ex-wife, Lana, who is taxonomized as the Drama Queen, which first struck me as a false note, as that sort of chick generally does not hatch until the first semester of college. Then Lana started articulating such sentiments as "Don't ask for more drama" and "If Mike doesn't think that I'm gonna bring drama to that, hmh, I will," and all became clear. Further, Lana, despite her Texas upbringing, has a real talent for spitting the plosive of Gaelic derision: pfft. As Lana keeps bringing the drama, Mike keeps repairing to the bar in order to keep being tanked. Elsewhere, the women are shocked to an unseemly degree when Kat discloses her status as the Lesbian, with Kirsten (the Spoiled Girl) thinking it "a little weird," but Rob (the Stud) declares Kat's sexual orientation "awesome," especially in light of the fact that she is seizing the opportunity High School Reunion provides to explore hooking up with guys.
This is a salad of the usual reality-TV stuff—crimes and recriminations; "dates" featuring back rubs and bathrobes, berries and cream; liquor quaffed from red Solo cups to keep everybody slippery-tongued; truth-or-dare in the Jacuzzi. Striking to see such behavior between commercial breaks urging viewers to purchase Claritin and Frosted Mini-Wheats for the kids and Beneful Prepared Meals for the dog. TV Land also ran a spot for a forthcoming program called The Big 4-0, which will document the birthday parties of vulgar quadragenerians. Forty is the new 16. Drama is the new comedy. Pfft.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.
Still of High School Reunion © 2008 Viacom International. All rights reserved.