It's been a while since I've watched the series premiere of a show and have been immediately turned off of continuing it on every conceivable level. But oh boy, is that the effect Famous In Love Season 1 Episode 1 had on me.
The pilot of the new Freeform series is such a dull drag, I honestly can't imagine how it can get much better.
As a reviewer who watches a lot (and I mean, a lot) of TV and prides herself on not being snooty about only watching so-called "prestige" shows, I try really hard to find the kernels of good in every show's beginning. So I'm going to do that (or at least do my best to do that) here, too.
Famous in Love centers on Paige Townsen, an ordinary young woman who is thrust into the spotlight when she auditions for the lead role in a major movie (at the behest of her friend/roommate) and (surprise!) lands it. Despite having no acting experience. Or ever having auditioned. For anything. Ever.
I can suspend my disbelief there – after all, this is a classic Cinderella story, rags-to-riches type deal. That's what we sign up for when we tune in to a show like this. What I can't buy is the idea that Bella Thorne is being sold to us as "just your average quirky college student."
Thorne isn't a bad actress, but she strikes me as woefully miscast in the role of Paige. Her Disney pedigree is still too prominent.
Immediately, it's clear that Paige is supposed to be slightly insecure, a little nerdy, and an unlikely object of romantic desire for three separate very attractive men. Thorne is none of those three things.
That's not at all to suggest that beautiful women can't be insecure or nerdy. It's just that Thorne feels completely inorganic when she's playing those qualities up like somebody who has only ever read about having an awkward adolescent stage.
Paige's nervous tics (her constantly correcting people who mistakenly add a "d" to the end of her last name and her incessant babbling) ring completely hollow. It's like watching someone do their best impression of an awkward person. Which itself is actually quite awkward, but not in the "loveable goof" kind of way that they're clearly going for.
Cassie: Locked is the biggest book series since Harry Potter!
Paige: That's exactly why 10,000 girls are auditioning.
The larger story surrounding Paige unfolds pretty much according to all expectations and clichés – her friend Cassie basically drags her to the audition because Paige, a dutiful daughter and student, wants to be an actress but is trying to convince herself to love econ instead.
Paige is so naturally gifted and charismatic (what?) that the jaded producers, casting directors, and most importantly, Hollywood heartthrob Rainer Devon, can't help but be charmed by her. She wins the role over other, more seasoned actresses.
If there's one trope I despise, it's the "love at first sight for literally no reason" trope. That one's on full display here. Everyone loves Paige at first sight, most notably Rainer.
It's too bad, because I was actually enjoying Jake and Paige for a second there. (What can I say? I like the underdog romances.) Given that those two have already kissed in the pilot (outside of an audition setting), I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this budding relationship won't last very long. Especially when Paige's star continues to rise and she continues to get cozy with Rainer.
Another issue is that the majority of characters feel like cardboard cut outs so far. Rainer is a handsome, damaged dude with swooshy hair, betrayed by his ex-best friend Jordan, who allegedly slept with his girlfriend Tangey... who Rainer's cheating on anyway, with some random girl he's making out with when we first meet him.
Nina: Does she need to sign a confidentiality agreement?
Rainer: Took care of that last night.
Ew. Are we supposed to care about this guy, or feel sympathy for him? I don't. At all.
Jordan is marginally more interesting, if only because we see less of him and his motivations are more obscured. Did he actually have sex with Rainer's girlfriend? Why would he do that and also have sex with Rainer's mom? Because oh, that's happening too – high-powered Hollywood producer Nina Devon is having sex with a young man her son's age.
Which is fine, but... Eh.
I'm not particularly titillated by this Mrs. Robinson twist. Mostly because I'm sure she's not actually into him – what we've seen of Nina so far establishes that she's cutthroat, ruthless, and will do whatever it takes to make things happen the way she wants. I'm not sure how doing Jordan factors into that, but I'm sure it's all part of some plan.
Elsewhere in Famous in Love sex scandals, Alexis, Rainer's friend, is in a lesbian relationship with another actress, Dakota. Both Dakota and Alexis auditioned for the role of August in Locked (the role Paige won).
While an LGBT subplot is always appreciated (and representation is always a good thing), the way it was revealed felt a little... tawdry and melodramatic, like it was done purely for shock value. Which feels slightly regressive.
Perhaps if we knew more about the two characters before this reveal, it would have felt more organic or intriguing. As it stands, I'm so far mostly enjoying Alexis for her ridiculous dialogue.
Alexis: Nice view.
Jordan: It's like a different city at night.
Alexis: I was talking about your ass.
Nina is like Jeopardy smart.Alexis
Oh, Alexis. Please remain mildly amusing.
Unfortunately, dialogue for other characters was a bit too on-the-nose for my liking. For example:
Paige, this is gonna change your life!Jake
Thanks, Jake. We all really needed someone to explicitly state the show's theme. Because it was so unclear.
Overall, my main issue with Famous in Love is the fact that it's trying to be fun, escapist TV, but it's not working.
As of yet, at least, it's not doing anything inventive enough to get me fully immersed in the characters or the world. Instead, it's coasting on old tropes and the appeal of bland, attractive people hooking up.
- The framing device is intriguing, but I find myself wishing there'd be more of a split between famous Paige and one-year-ago Paige. Maybe famous Paige would be less irritating.
- It was completely hilarious how Jake got progressively less clothed during the earlier scenes at the apartment.
- Paige's roommate Cassie also has some probably-tawdry secret life of her own. It seems to involve rich older men and code names (she announces herself as "Lacey"). It is a prostitution thing? That seems like a bit much, for Freeform.
- I could have done without Nina literally grabbing Barrett by the balls, thank you very much.
- Lest Paige be the only one to have her unrealistic Hollywood fantasies come true, Jake puts on one play and is promptly handed and agent's assistant's card and invited to submit a screenplay. Because that is indeed how that works.
- So far, my favorite character is Random Grandma In Laundromat Who Smiles At Paige and Cassie Singing "Exes and Oh's."
- Or maybe Rainer's girlfriend/ex-girlfriend, pop star Tangey. She hasn't appeared yet, so there's still a chance she could be interesting.
What did you think of the series premiere? Share your thoughts by commenting below – and remember that you can watch Famous In Love online here at TV Fanatic anytime.
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.