Review: The Secret Life of the American Teenager

Back in the summer of 2008, I began watching The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

Linda Braun’s post over at the YALSA Blog, Secrets and Confessions, has inspired me to explain just what it is about this show I find so darn compelling even though it has its faults.

As a brief recap, The Secret Life of the American Teenager is a show on ABC Family. It’s about the “secret life” of a group of teenagers. The main storyline is a about Amy, a teenaged mother; Ricky, the father of her child; and their friends and family. The big “secret” is the sex lives of the teens; as a matter of fact, the original title of this show was The Sex Life of the American Teenager.

Secret Life has mastered the art form of telling, not showing. It’s like a teen version of My Dinner with Andre, in that almost all the action is told via conversation. Half of this is Amy and Ricky talking about something that happened off screen, and Madison overhearing, then Madison telling Grace, then Grace and Ben talking about it, and by this time you almost forget that half the time you didn’t see the original thing being talked about. I find this both infuriating yet oddly realistic, because people do have these gossipy conversations that take on a life of their own.

Part of what is great about Secret Life is just how conversation-driven this show is. The teenagers don’t just talk to each other, they also talk to their parents. Some of that talk includes talk about sex; as Braun says, “In every episode there are lots of conversations between teens and adults and the adults talk with the teens directly about sex (the show really does revolve around sex), making good decisions, and personal responsibility. While at times the conversations seem forced and too didactic, they are conversations nonetheless.”

One of my favorite scenes involved a teenage boy going to buy his girlfriend tampons; when friends reacted with an “eww” and the girlfriend also acted surprised, his response was along the lines, of “we’re talking about having sex. If I cannot go into a store and buy this for you, then I’m not mature enough to be talking about having sex with you.” Another one of my favorite things is that the parents, even when they disagree with their teenage children, do not shut down the conversation. Oh, they’re not pushovers; and punishments abound for behaviour they don’t like. But, regardless, the communication remains open.

As for its faults, while I love Adrian, I just cannot stand Amy! Yet everyone on the show acts as if she’s wonderful, when she’s selfish, self-centered, and whiny. Realistic behaviour? Perhaps; but it’s not realistic that she’s never seriously called out for it. Meanwhile, other flawed characters, like Adrian, do get taken to task for their flaws.

So, who else is willing to confess to watching Secret Life?

3 thoughts on “Review: The Secret Life of the American Teenager

  1. No surprise that I watch it, too, Liz. We are tv twins, I think. I’m about 14 episodes behind right now, but I agree with your assessment. Sometimes the “talk, talk, talk” gets annoying, but I find the show oddly compelling anyway. And like you, I can’t stand Amy.


  2. I want to like this show. I really do. It’s like crack in that it was so hard to quit. I stopped watching this show last year, but every now and then I find myself tuning back in without thinking about it. The main reason I hate this show is Amy. Liz, you are spot on with how horrible she is. I don’t know if that’s just the way she’s written or because of how the actress plays it. How anyone continues to like her is beyond me. How old is she now? I saw a commercial that made it look like Amy and John were going to move in with Ricky. Has that happened? I don’t like Amy’s family either, but maybe if they got rid of her they’d be more likeable. Putting up with Amy has to be taxing and it is probably making them cranky.


  3. Jen, there is just something about the show. Plus, it’s got a fairly diverse cast — for example, the brother with Downs, who has his own full, complete storylines.

    Lindsay, yes, Ricky and Amy have gotten together! It’s so bizarre! And they are talking about marriage, even if down the ride. Honestly, I have never met teenagers as marriage obsessed as this crew is.


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