TV Time: Secret Life Soap Drama

by d

I just finished watching Episode 4, Season 3, of Secret Life of the American Teenager. I was already resolved to write about this show, and this episode, but I’m having trouble getting started. I’m still reeling from the next-to-last encounter.

Essentially, a father just told his pregnant daughter that if she doesn’t have the baby, he’s going to divorce her mother and dismantle their family.

If you haven’t been watching, Secret Life is a show on ABC Family that insists its intention is to depict teen pregnancy in a realistic light. I have watched from the beginning, because I was curious. I like the mix of characters, the writing and acting aren’t terrible, and it’s fairly funny. I also have a sick fascination with Hollywood’s ongoing aversion to abortion. The obvious reason for this is that a baby creates more drama than not having a baby. But doing so both panders to anti-abortion opinion and strengthens the idea that babies are better in the audience.

Previously, Amy let smooth-talking Ricky have at her at band camp, and she got pregnant from the lone (unfulfilling) encounter. There was much Will She Won’t She, and she toyed with all three options–abortion, adoption, and parenthood. In the end, every single character showed up at her house to encourage her to have the baby. “We’ll all help you!” chirped Grace, the perky Christian. I burst out laughing.

Now in season three, Amy is holding up fairly well as a teen mom, and Ricky’s dedicated himself to being a father. Much too happy, lets screw with the other characters.

Amy’s post-Ricky boyfriend is Ben. He has believed since the moment he saw her that he loves and will one day marry her. Delusions aside, he’s a pretty good kid. Of course, they had an inevitable break-up.

Ricky is a player. And he had a long-standing fuck buddy/not really dating relationship with Adrian, the school slut. Ricky has a laundry list of offenses, and Adrian felt like lashing out at both Amy and Ricky. So she and Ben had sex in her car.

Cue Season Three: The Adrian Pregnancy. It’s about five or six weeks since conception. There’s been plenty of emotional turmoil, and we’re moving closer to the point where Adrian needs to act if she’s going to terminate. DRAMA!

I have high hopes for Adrian. If ever there were a character strong enough to break the anti-abortion TV veil, it’s her. She’s smart, with a bright future ahead of her. She’s tough as nails. She’s a little foolhardy (or she wouldn’t be in this mess) but she’s not stupid. She has always taken full precaution when having sex–she’s on the pill and she uses condoms, etc. (When is someone going to use the word ‘spermicide’ on TV?) If she’s so smart, why is she in this mess? Well, she lost her mind over Ricky (sigh), and when she shacked up with Ben the condom broke and she forgot she was between birth control pills, so she wasn’t fully protected.

Adrian doesn’t have to have a baby. For all that most people on this show insist that it is HER decision, everyone has an opinion.

Episode Analysis: “Goodbye, Amy Juergens

Ben speaks for the conservative.

In the first scene, Ben is freaking out. It’s his baby, and he’s already in love with Amy. Adrian insists he should butt out of HER choice. (I do happen to think fathers deserve to be part of these choices, btw.) Somehow, Ben and Ricky have become friends, so Ben hits Ricky up so they can talk.

Ben
Here’s the thing. I’m in a classic no-win situation, right? If Adrian has the baby, that’s not good. If Adrian doesn’t have the baby, that’s even horrible.

Scene one, and abortion has already been cast as worse than anything else. Adrian giving birth classifies as “not good” but abortion is, well, “horrible!”

Ben
I don’t want an abortion, but I don’t want a baby.

Yes, Ben, this is the devil’s choice.

Ben
She’s too selfish to have a baby. And so am I… Yet I’m too scared of her having an abortion.

So not having a baby is cast as being selfish. There is a certain selfishness to it, but everyone’s been pretty ok with Amy taking time to look after herself–now that the baby’s here. You can rest when the child stops squalling, it seems.

Also, no one called Amy selfish when she was considering abortion and adoption.

Adrian and her mom finally talk.

Adrian’s mom works for an airline, so she’s often away from home. A lot of the drama’s been drawn out while Adrian waits to talk to her. Adrian has pretty much already made up her mind, but she wants to talk to her mother. This is the closest the two of them have ever been during the series. In fact, this conversation is pretty damn exemplary and the highlight of today’s show.

They talk about a lot, including her mom, Cindy’s decision to have a baby in her late teens. She explains to Adrian what it was like for her. Her parents constantly harped on her for ‘shaming’ the family, etc. The father, Ruben, “offered to marry” her, a phrase that Cindy rejects and I do, too. She got him to pay child support and made him keep away from their baby girl. This strained situation has helped to make Adrian the person she is. Cindy insists she’s not telling her this to force her decision, just to show support. I think that’s true.

To my mind, her story shows that being a single mother is fucking hard. She was seventeen, had little family support, and took a job that kept her away from Adrian for huge portions of her childhood. Cindy admits to feeling like a bad mother for this. She also admits to resenting Adrian just as much as Adrian resented her.

Unfortunately, the moral of this story (Don’t have a kid if you can’t take care of it!) is undermined by the Cinderella ending. Back in season one, Adrian sought out her father, Ruben, and somehow this lead to love rekindled and a (hasty) marriage. The three of them have now bought a house, and are working on becoming a family unit.

Keep that in mind, it’s gonna come back to bitchslap someone later.

Adrian vs. Grace

As mentioned, Grace is The Christian Character. She’s blonde and sweet and thinks the world can be full of rainbows and puppies if we’re all just nice to each other, or something. It’s ironic, and sort of rewarding, that she and Adrian have become friends despite their differences. Grace is very pro-life, though, and so Adrian has been avoiding her.

Finally, Grace wrangles some time with her to show off her new car.

Grace
I know you don’t wanna have a baby, but–

Adrian
I KNEW a but was coming! And I knew I shouldn’t have come out here to see this stupid car.

Grace
Adrian, you act all tough but I know you. I know that deep down, you have a really big heart and a good conscience and you wanna do the right thing.

Adrian
And what is the right thing? Is it right to go ahead with something that was a mistake? Is it right to bring a baby into the world when I don’t want that baby and Ben doesn’t want that baby? Are we actually supposed to ruin two lives because a stupid condom broke and my birth control failed? That’s ridiculous, Grace. And I believe a baby is a baby when the baby is born. Oh, and you know what else? If you wanted to do the right thing, you shoulda bought a hybrid.

That’s Adrian being pissed off at the end. It’s a liberal slap in the face to a right-wing that will preach about babies and still destroy the environment. (I told you I liked Adrian.) It’s also girl-on-girl meanness. At some point, we need to talk about that more.

Adrian’s points are excellent, and I’m cheering for her. She’s a genuinely left-wing character, and she’s not kowtowing to so-called pro-family groups that are already wailing on ABC Family for letting the show run at all.

It’s a shame that Grace is so naiive. She isn’t trying to be preachy, she’s just ignorant of the real burdens associated with having a baby. She swore she’d help Amy, but she’s never helped with the day-to-day, or spent much time with her, seeing how she copes. Grace’s family has, until the damn show started, been pretty idyllic. Her parents stayed married, had no real conflicts, loved each other, and even adopted a boy with Downs Syndrome.

This speaks to the issue of white feminism vs. ‘ethnic’ womanism and similar movements. These groups by women of color accuse classic feminism of being the product of upper-middle class white women, who pursue issues important to them while neglecting those of other women. There’s some truth to this, and Grace personifies it. She has no point of reference to understand Adrian’s difficulties, and she blindly insists that everything can be overcome with God and faith and kindness.

It’s important that these girls find a way to work out their issues without either one caving to the other. TV very rarely depicts people who are so radically different carrying on a supportive friendship. Adrian and Grace have had some serious fights, but they’ve learned each time and come back together. That needs to happen again.

It especially needs to happen if Adrian does have an abortion. Grace says she’ll stay friends with her no matter what. Prove it, Gracie.

Ruben is a dick.

End of the episode, next-to-last scene. Ruben arrives home and has a talk with Adrian. Up to now, their relationship has been pretty damn good. But Ruben’s coming down against abortion. He insists that, yes, she is having this baby. Adrian insists that she’s an adult and this is her choice. “I respectfully disagree.”

When asked why he feels this way, he points out that he is a Catholic. Adrian counters with the obvious–he’s on his fourth marriage. “How Catholic is that?”

“One of those was an anullment.”

Uh huh. Adrian and I are not impressed.

Then Ruben brings out the big guns. Cindy is ok with whatever Adrian’s choice is, but Ruben is not. This is a huge difference of opinion, and, yes, something that hadn’t been aware of before. (You’d think they’d each have some idea of where the other stood on this, since he knocked Cindy up at 17…) Gosh, he just doesn’t know if they can be a family like this.

Ruben threatens to break up the family if Adrian doesn’t see the pregnancy through.

He tells his daughter, who grew up without him and has always wanted a family, who is still grasping at the straws of a ‘perfect’ life, that he’s going to take all of that away from her. Unless she does something that will destroy her chances of having a ‘perfect’ life for herself.

Ruben, I thought you were an ok guy before. Really shitty husband/boyfriend, but not a bad guy.

Now all I see is manipulation and cruelty.

The episode ends with Adrian crying on a friend’s shoulder while You Are So Beautiful To Me plays.

Final Thoughts

Adrian could become a landmark character. But I know exactly how they’re going to treat it if she does have an abortion. Ruben will leave her mother, and her. She will be crippled with guilt and regret. It won’t just be ‘not good’ it will be horrible. Her tough exterior will get harder still.

If she decides to put the child up for adoption, her father will no doubt continue to pressure her to keep it. She will go through the worst of everything–she will resent the baby, and Ben, and her father, and then regret giving the baby up. Because it’s a TV series, she just might decide to keep it anyway.

The way this has been handled is very different from how Amy’s pregnancy was handled–another white/color dichotomy. Worse, a slut/virgin dichotomy. Amy was the naive virgin who didn’t realize what she was getting into, and didn’t even know she was in a position to need protection. (And that’s a pretty shady story in and of itself.) Adrian has been having casual sex for years, she embraces her sexuality, and has always been well informed and taken care of itself. Her real lesson ought to be “I should not let my feelings for a shitty boyfriend cloud my judgment,” not “I should never, ever have sex again!”

Here’s hoping Adrian stays true to herself.

4 Responses to “TV Time: Secret Life Soap Drama”

  1. Wow, D —

    This is such an amazing and thoughtful review of this show. I feel for Adrian… it sounds like, whatever faults the show has, they’ve at least let abortion enter the conversation on television in a way that’s rarely been tried in the past.

    I look forward to hearing what happens next along with your continued impressions of the show.
    <3 F

  2. I’m still in shock over this. One reason I watch is to see how things turn out… to see if comeuppances actually fit the crimes. That’s my hook, and if it goes too far into Stupid Territory, I don’t know how much more I can stomach. Ruben needs a kick in the teeth.

    Making abortion such a prevalent topic IS groundbreaking. Unless you’re One Million Moms, then it’s just a social disease that NO ONE SHOULD EVER SPEAK OF.

    xoxo

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