Monday, 23 April 2012

'Make It or Break It' and Maintaining Balance (heh.)

This is a laudatory note to say that after a 7th Heaven-level awkward season premiere, I'm so happy to report that Make It or Break It has returned to form. I was seriously doubting my allegiance to the ABC Family fan favorite after its wonky season three premiere a few weeks ago, which followed the three main Rock girls as they checked into a college-like camp for Olympic hopefuls in Colorado Springs away from their meddling parental figures. It was uncomfortably awkward and laced with saccharin from start to finish. turns out that all the annoying squeeeees from our three leads was actually a kind of excellent way of setting up one of the central conflicts in this season's early episodes, namely, how the girls will go from BFFAEs to competitors on the Olympic team. Well played, show. MIOBI usually lets us live in the fantasy world that all of the main girls will be successful in their sport, so there's little reason to doubt that they'll all make the squad, but that's okay. The show is about the journey, the training, and how the dream effects the friendships.

I think this show really thrives when it's offering a balance between soapy intrigue and actual gymnastics, and the last three or so episodes have done that really well. When it gets too soapy, it's usually at the expense of showing the girls being athletes, which undermines the whole trajectory of the show. I like that the climax in the episode "Time is of the Essence" was the girls coming to an understanding with their clueless coach about his methods, rather than Payson's cute crush asking her to be his girlfriend (which is an adorable-in-every-way puppy love situation, but not the point of Payson [Ayla Kell] as a character). In fact, those of us who have been on semi-competitive teams with adolescent girls can attest to the drama that can develop naturally between athletes and other athletes, and athletes and their coach. I really like when MIOBI goes there, but manages makes the drama palpable.

I also really like all the character additions. It's nice to see Kelly Parker (Nichole Anderson) getting to do things other than backstabbing, and Chelsea Tavares is doing a fabulous job of keeping Jordan Randall interesting with a vulnerable glance here and there. For the record, I still think what happened with Emily Kmetko (Chelsea Hobbes) is uber-shady on the show's part, but I hate to admit that the new set-up has kept me from missing her.

All this is to say that I'm really liking Make It or Break It these days. It ain't gonna win any Emmys, but it knows how to please its audience. Well done, show!

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