Bring it On which starred Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku, the studio attempted to lessen the gender divide when it comes to home entertainment for young adults. However, as tween girl friendly as those films are, the company's releases are still far more male-centric considering the blockbuster business generated by Universal's National Lampoon-esque American Pie franchise.
And despite the fact that NBC-Universal developed a steady following with their football series Friday Night Lights along with dance-themed reality programming, showcasing young female athletes in a recurring fictional series has been a largely unexplored and unprecedented topic for both network and cable television alike.
By tapping into this need of the under-served niche of female viewers who longed to root for an underdog of their own gender along with the ideal timing of premiering less than a year before the Olympics, series writer and creator Holly Sorensen offered us a fascinating twist on teen fare with Make It or Break It.
Produced by Disney and aired on ABC Family, the first half of the sleeper summer series morphed into the most watched cable program for women ages 12-34. Additionally, Sorensen's series proved it could do more than merely Make It by taking an old record out to Break It, earning the most viewers for the network in history, ranking just second to The Secret Life of an American Teenager.
Fully at home in its TV-14 rating, the series works as an all-important self-confidence boosting stepping stone for post-iCarly and Wizards of Waverly Place viewers whose parents aren't about to let them get schooled in on the secrets of Gossip Girl's "Upper East Siders" just yet. However and much to its credit, Make It or Break It doesn't turn a blind eye to the real world or issues facing teens today as it's unafraid to incorporate taboos like premarital sex, infidelity, drug abuse, class issues, and other topics in a believable yet more responsible manner.
With the envious technical precision of Olympic level choreographed gymnastics routines and movements serving as the backbone for a female-centric family drama, the series focuses on four teenage female athletes. Although most teens understand the importance of getting out of their house to develop a work ethic by obtaining an after-school job or earning extra cash babysitting, these talented girls find themselves in a strange situation.
By taking the tumbling classes suburban tots enrolled in for fun and developing the skills into an actual career, these maturing athletes could impact the rest of their lives whether financially or with one misstep that could be catastrophic. Voluntarily trading average high school experiences for rigorous training and home schooling, the characters strive for the ultimate goal to make the national squad and obtain Olympic glory.
As the series opens, we encounter a trio of veteran stars of the nationally renowned gymnastics Rocky Mountain, Colorado training facility dubbed "The Rock" in the form of three very different athletes that include the obsessive perfectionist Payson Keeler (Ayla Kell), the rich spoiled daddy's girl Lauren Tanner (Cassie Scerbo), and the beautiful, sweet gym poster girl Kaylie Cruz (Josie Loren).
But when the club's new street-wise scholarship athlete Emily Kmetko (Chelsea Hobbs) arrives at The Rock from Fresno, Califonia as the "playground prodigy" discovery of their coach Marty Walsh (Erik Palladino), the girls are divided by their loyalty to one another and fear of the unknown.
And after the active parents of the athletes including Lauren's unscrupulous blackmailing father (Anthony Starke), Kaylie's has-been one-hit wonder mother (Rosa Blasi) and hot-headed baseball player father (Jason Manuel Olazabal) intervene and Marty leaves the gym, his old foreign teammate and Olympic medalist Sasha Beloff (Neil Jackson) returns from hiding to coach the girls.
Yet when Sasha's methods border on dangerous rather than simply demanding, Payson's mother (Frasier's Peri Gilpin) goes to work at The Rock to handle the mountain sized egos of individuals of all ages that are eager to get their hands on the gold, whether literally on balance beams, uneven bars, or the vault or vicariously by any means necessary through their daughters.
Of course, it wouldn't be a teen series without at least one love triangle and some dirty little secrets added in for good measure, nor would it appeal as much to adults as it does with teens without some jaw-dropping plot points surrounding the parents as well. And although former child star in her own right Candace Cameron Bure (Full House) is given the thankless task of being the moral sounding board more often than not, Make It nonetheless keeps you watching past the preachy to sequences that pack quite a punch as the girls race towards the National's finishing line.
While it loses a few performance points for relying a bit too heavily on the "right place, wrong time" eavesdropping tactic for characters to acquire information, I was stunned to realize I'd finished up the first volume so quickly as Disney brilliantly timed it to coincide with the second half of the first season currently playing on ABC Family, that's sure to gain even more momentum as we get closer to the real-life Olympics.
Compulsively watchable, Sorensen's series is refreshing in its intelligent approach to not just teen programming but also breaking through the barrier of male dominated underdog sports stories. Likewise, I couldn't help but applaud its celebration of unsung female self-made heroes who aren't sitting on the sidelines hoping for a touchdown or fighting over pom-poms but rather running as fast as they can towards the vault in the hope that they Stick It in the landing, whether or not the cute boy is watching from the crowd.
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