As we learned literally from the three clones of Michael Keaton in Harold Ramis' hilarious Multiplicity, “when you make a copy of a copy, it isn't quite as sharp” as the original. This same truism can also be applied to remakes, whether we're adapting a British TV series, filming feature-length movie remakes of old television shows, or embarking on yet another traditional movie remake.
Yet every once in awhile, Hollywood uses film as fodder for television series such as in the underrated Karen Sisco (based on Out of Sight) or in the rather disastrous spin-offs of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Fortunately, ABC Family Channel's 10 Things I Hate About You is nowhere near as bad as the overly broad painful sitcom version of Greek Wedding. However, when you settle in with the admirably whip-smart yet still remarkably uneven opening ten episodes recently transferred to disc for Volume 1, you still get the sense that it wasn't quite ready for its original broadcast debut.
Considering the source material, 10 Things has a lot of potential but there's a rushed, unsure approach to the finished result that makes us feel a sense of unease as we struggle to pinpoint exactly what's wrong. Luckily, in the mean time, the young, energetic and attractive cast eagerly give it everything they've got to keep us entertained enough so we won't stop to dwell on what doesn't work. Unfortunately, after a few episodes, the truth comes tumbling down with the realization that a majority of the male roles were in dire need of both crucial recasting and critical rewrites to be as effective as other ABC Family series.
While on the one hand, we realized exactly what went wrong with 10 Things, it's in the same turn that we realized exactly what went right. Essentially, ABC Family couldn't have wished for a more pitch-perfect lead than our new version of the fiercely independent Kat as played by the talented Lindsey Shaw, who possesses a verbal dexterity, which rivals both Rocket Science and Up in the Air's Anna Kendrick and Gilmore Girls' Lauren Graham. And similarly, I was pleased with Meaghan Jette Martin's sensitive turn as Kat's sister Bianca who longs to become part of the in crowd at the fictitious Padua High School.
Despite this, there's no getting past the fact that it's based on a romantic comedy after all and we can't really have a battle of the sexes with only one side doing all of the battling. The series is unbalanced by gender right from the start as series creator Carter Covington gave Chris Zylka's character Joey a new personality makeover, which was an interesting and fun risk for about two episodes before we gather that Covington simply turned Joey into someone even dumber than Joey on Friends.
Formerly the embodiment of John Hughes-esque pretty boy evil as a male model just out to transform Bianca into his next sexual conquest in the movie, here we discover that he's still a male model but he's been neutered into submission by his catty girlfriend who frowns on his role as a football player who lives to catwalk.
Thus, predictably the male villain becomes a stereotypical female one via Joey's wicked witch girlfriend, Chastity (Dana Davis) who instantly reminds you of a cross between Gossip Girl's Blair Waldorf and Rachel McAdams from Mean Girls, losing the series some originality points by treading into familiar territory.
Yet given the intimidating task of stepping into the shoes originally worn by Heath Ledger who'd first portrayed the role of the sexy bad boy Patrick Verona in the original film, Ethan Peck proves to be an impressive and capably swoon-worthy lead, complete with references to the Twilight franchise as he's often framed off the side while shooting Kat smoldering looks.
Furthermore, the writers made the wise decision to leave the romantic bribery plot of the film behind-- which found an ensemble of characters hiring hire him to date Kat, thereby enabling her younger sister to date as well according to house rules. Instead, and far more believable for their age group, the current version finds Patrick simply but magnetically attracted to Kat early on and, in another change for the better since the lady “doth protest too much,” we likewise gather that Kat secretly feels the same way about him.
In order to maximize the potential for plot, in the 2009 Disney produced series helmed by the film's original director Gil Junger, the writers used a classic approach to endear the characters to us by transforming Kat and Bianca into the new students in their California school. By ditching the abandoned mom plot for a more straightforward one of a deceased mother to help explain Kat's mature and no-nonsense exterior, the television pilot focuses on the girls during their relocation from Ohio alongside with their over-protective gynecologist father, played by Larry Miller, who reprises his original film role.
Nonetheless while Kat is as feisty as ever as evidenced in one terrific episode by going as far as transforming her gas guzzling lemon into a green bio diesel machine, aside from Patrick and their father, there's just no “there there” when it comes to the way the male characters are written.
And as opposed to the cool, masculine yet sensitive take on Bianca's ardent admirer Cameron employed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in '99, the woefully miscast Nicholas Braun tries his hardest to make us believe his character is genuine, but is given zero favors by the writers who seem to have envisioned him as the long lost gay second cousin to the men on The Big Bang Theory... to the point where even Bianca assumes he's gay.
While obviously, as a girl who hung around the art crowd in high school, I'll admit that it was awful hard to tell whether or not a new guy friend was interested in me or the guy sitting next to me but when it comes to 10 Things, every single one of the male characters aside from Patrick give off the same air of sexual confusion. Whether it's the football quarterback obsessive dream to become a runway model complete with a fragrance line or Cameron's addiction to Project Runway, it's no wonder that even the street smart Kat gets confused, sizing up a stranger with the wild line of, “not that you're not a guy; you could be a butch lesbian or a transgendered male," along with the fact that aside from Patrick and Kat, the romantic plots just don't work at all.
Obviously, all subplots are valid, fascinating and would no doubt make for a great, timely show since tolerance and diversity is always important onscreen. But sadly in this case, there is nothing remotely authentic about any of the straight (or possibly gay characters) on 10 Things I Hate About You.
Again, despite the fact that a majority of the male characters crash and burn right on the page, there's nothing at all you'll Hate About the unconventional program. For, quite the contrary, along with a wonderful turn by our new capable lead actress, the best Thing about Covington's creation is it's ingenious dialogue that references everything from pop culture to politics for a purpose and a dare-you-to-think approach rather than the clunky subtlety-is-for-suckers routine of Diablo Cody.
An uneven but fresh and brightly colored tween confection, often 10 Things manages to dazzle with the interplay between Kat and her father as they fire off Aaron Sorkin level screwball banter at His Girl Friday speed, challenging us to catch all the references a la Cody and Gilmore scribe Amy Sherman-Palladino. Unfortunately, as a series, it doesn't compel nearly as much as 2009's other ABC Family freshman creation Make It or Break It, which Disney introduces you to via the pilot included in this two disc set. Yet, from a writer's standpoint, it's safe to say that you'll wish there were more than just a few Things to love about 10 Things I Hate About You as a series rather than the cleverly witty film.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
Labels: TV on DVD