Freaks and Greeks

Friday, June 29, 2007

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Prime-time broadcast network television is littered with the corpses of college-set TV shows ("Class of '96," anyone?). With the exception of "Felicity," these types of series never seem to make the grade.

But cable is another matter and two networks will unveil college-set series in the next two weeks that stand a better shot at success by virtue of lower ratings expectations.

Brooke Palmer/The N
Devon (Brandon Jay McLaren) and Sam (Charity Shea) meet cute and cliched in "The Best Years."  

First up, The N's "The Best Years" (8:30 tonight), which is a fairly traditional melodrama. Samantha Best (Charity Shea) is a foster kid with no money who earns an academic scholarship to Boston's Charles University where her roommate is pink-clad, bubbly Kathryn (Jennifer Miller). By the end of the first hour, these two are at odds over their different reactions to a tragedy that sends "The Best Years" careening down a high-stakes drama path. It's impossible for the show to live up to its title with such a downer story arc.

Writer/creator Aaron Martin ("Degrassi: The Next Generation") gets the general unease about early days at college right, but he mistakenly allows both Sam and Kathryn to have majors defined on their first night at school, a rarity in the real world.

Tonally, the show is mostly super-serious, the same tone as in "Degrassi," which would probably not matter if ABC Family's "Greek" (9 p.m. July 9) didn't feel so fresh by comparison.

Where "Best Years" cycles through the standard teen melodrama tropes one by one, "Greek" is a more light-hearted and, perhaps, more realistic depiction of college life.

Rusty (Jacob Zachar) gets welcomed into a frat by Cappie (Scott Michael Foster) in "Greek."

Rusty (Jacob Zachar) just wants to fit in at Cyprus-Rhodes University where his older sister, Casey (Spencer Grammer), is a sorority big wig. When she convinces a senator's daughter to rush her house, another girl declares, "That's as good as a Bush twin -- without the whole war thing!"

There are plenty of soapy twists to "Greek" with competing frat boys after Casey's affection, the outta-nowhere, down-low life of a freshman frat pledge and Rusty's attempts to protect Casey's honor, but writer/creator Patrick Sean Smith ("Everwood," "Wildfire") gives "Greek" a greater sense of light-hearted fun that seems more authentic to the real-world experience of college as "the best years."


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