Monday, January 25, 2016

'Recovery Road'

ABC Family may have changed its name to Freeform, but the new drama Recovery Road represents the same old approach for the channel that has built its success around earnest teen-focused dramas. While that has produced some unexpected gems (Bunheads and 10 Things I Hate About You among them), it's also produced plenty of unremarkable cheese like Recovery Road, a very Afterschool Special-level drama about a reckless teenager forced to face up to her addictions when she's put in a sober living house. The drinking and partying that Maddie (Jessica Sula) engages in is pretty mild even by basic-cable standards, but it's enough to get her expelled from school (it's not clear whether this is private or public school) if she doesn't agree to spend 90 days sobering up.

Cue the motley crew of recovering addicts, all adults since the teenage Maddie has been allowed to move to an adult facility. Of course Maddie has a chip on her shoulder and is in complete denial about her problems when she first moves to the house, and of course over time she will come to realize that these annoying, overbearing people really have her best interests at heart. It's an evolution that might be tolerable over the course of a 90-minute movie (or a single novel, like the series' source material), but drawn out over an entire TV season (or more), it's going to get repetitive, and the 90-day time frame gives the concept a limited shelf life. Already Maddie goes through essentially the same emotional arc in each of the first two episodes, handled with the absolute minimum of subtlety.

There's no genuine darkness in the show's portrayal of addiction, and its portrayal of teen life is similarly toothless. Sula is appealing as Maddie, bringing more shades to the character than the writing provides her, and there are some solid veterans in the supporting cast, including Sharon Leal, Kyla Pratt and Looking's Daniel Franzese. But the overall vibe is clunky and out of touch, not the kind of launch that a channel looking to rebrand as adventurous and youthful should be starting out with.

Premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on Freeform (fka ABC Family).

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