ABC Family launched their new hour-long Beautiful People, about a not-so-wealthy teen faced with the wealthy world (not unlike their other Monday drama, Wildfire.) In this case, it’s a three woman family who just left Mexico (New) to move to York (New). Daphne Zuniga (of The Sure Thing and Spaceballs, and more recently American Dreams) is the only recognizable actress in the batch. She plays the mom, who finds herself taking a job less than what she’s qualified for, to keep ends together now that her husband has left her (ah, but who is that rich old college interest who is reemerging?) She’s got an elder daughter who worked as a model back home, but is finding that modeling success in the big city may require living the uglier parts of the would-be model lifestyle.
But the real lead of the piece is the younger daughter, who finds herself at a new school where she is torn between two groups, the ultrarich, snobbish “beautiful people” clique and the more awkward youth who despise them. Its a conflict that, if you’re over 25, you’ve seen repeated endlessly in school-oriented drama and comedy. And so far, the players aren’t any more interesting than in the typical earlier take. All in all, if you’re clearly a grown-up, this series probably won’t have much for you.
But it is smoothly made. It doesn’t look particlarly cheap. And that just leaves me reflecting in amazement on how much more effective the TV business has become at making money. There can be reasonable expectations of profit for live action fiction series (and not cheap, cheesy-looking things) not only on the three old-time networks and the three johnny-come-last-couple-decades networks, and on HBO and Showtime, but also on myriad basic cable nets. FX is doing some amazing stuff, USANetwork has quite respectable attempts, TNT makes some real stabs, SciFi channel has done some programming that I’m told is riveting (I still have the problem of not wanting to support a network that chose to air a dangerous, twisted con man claiming to speak to the dead, but will have to decide whether to catch things like Farscape and Battlestar Galactica via DVD), and there’s scattered shows on places you wouldn’t expect them, like ESPN. Truly, an age of opportunity; I’d still like to see a little more breadth out of it all. There’s still little that I can’t conceive of being (although often not succeeding) on a network… but there’s much to be said for this state of affairs. And at this point, it’s balancing out the rerun-and-reality slates of the networks.