Review: lose-Up on Teen Life: American High
teenage reality show, “American High,” is a few weeks into its13-part
run on PBS. The critically acclaimed program that aired briefly
on the edgier Fox network was created by documentary-film maker
R.J. Cutler (“The War Room,” a behind the scenes look at the 1992
Clinton Campaign). “High” is a little more explicit than PBS’s
usual fare and no competition for the steamier teen fictional
shows on other channels, but it is far less contrived and completely
realistic. It’s life.
In an early scene a hyper-teen, Morgan, runs through his home,
seeking a little peace and quiet. His mother yells at him to “clean
his room,” his dad calls him a “lousy student,” he fights with
his brother, slams the door to his room and utters a popular expletive.
The short sequence is shot entirely from Morgan’s point of view.
Footage like this is what makes “High” special; when camera crews
are not following the students, their self-made video diaries
take over and pack the program with the roller-coaster game of
daily teen life.
Cutler and his production crew spent the entire 1999-2000 school
year with the 14 juniors and seniors at the predominately upper
middle class Highland Park High School, northwest of Chicago,
documenting their lives on 2,800 hours of film.
than 100 students volunteered for the program. Participants were
selected after extensive interviews and, in some cases, preliminary
filming,” said Cutler at the press screening.
By and large, the students confront typical teen problems, which
are mundane as well. Robby and Sarah, who have been dating for
two years, discuss the future and what will happen when he goes
away to school. In the most dramatic scene, Robby’s buddy Brad
reveals he is gay. Robby is surprised, but cool about it.
Channel 13, Wednesdays, 10-11/ET. A website, pbs.org/americanhigh,
offers further help and information..)
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