Tuesday, January 03, 2012

'Jane By Design'

I think a lot of people still have the image of ABC Family as a wholesome network for tween girls, and, well, that's still probably mostly right, but over the years the network has featured several criminally underrated shows with smart writing, well-rounded characters and charismatic stars. Not a lot of people watched The Middleman or Huge or 10 Things I Hate About You, but they were all entertaining, well-crafted shows that deserved larger audiences (and probably would have found them if they had aired on a different network). I've missed the last few big ABC Family premieres (although I know Switched at Birth has gotten strong reviews, and I'm curious to catch up with it), so I wanted to give the network's new teen drama, Jane By Design, a chance to see if it could live up to the legacy of the best ABC Family programming.

Does it? No, not at all, although star Erica Dasher is charming and could certainly have a bright future on TV, either here or elsewhere. The concept is a total silly contrivance, with Dasher's high school outcast Jane scoring a job as the assistant to a high-powered fashion designer (Andie MacDowell) via a mix-up that requires her to pretend to be an adult (not difficult, since Dasher herself is in her 20s). So for half the day Jane goes to high school, where she is a friendless loser despite being incredibly beautiful and stylish, and then for the rest of the day she deals with the Devil Wears Prada-style office politics at her fashion job. Everything plays out with maximum predictability: Jane has a male best friend who's clearly going to fall in love with her, although she already has the sensitive high school jock and the (somehow not gay) British fashion designer chasing after her. She panics that she won't be able to pull off her impossible work assignments plus keep her grades up, but somehow she does. The second episode even pulls out the whole "main character has to be in two places at once" cliche, which is about the oldest TV plot device around.

Dasher aside, most of the cast is pretty bland (and blandly pretty), and MacDowell somehow manages to play almost all of her scenes via video conference, like her contract stipulated she wouldn't actually interact with any of the other actors. The show has a nice sense of fun, and the smart, independent, creative Jane is a solid female lead, but it's more of a passable time-waster for tweens than the next great unheralded series.

Premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on ABC Family.

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