Residue from "Dawson's Creek" continues to thicken as last season's WB hit affirms that the road to popularity can be lined with teen angst.
So here comes Fox's new, clever-and-engaging-when-not-annoying "Get Real."
This drama is about the middle-class Green family, most of whose members are leaden with enough anxiety to give them hernias. You expect that from high schoolers--trauma, self-absorption and nervous dread heading their job description. But the hand-wringing this time extends to their frazzled, suffering annoyance of a mother, Mary (Debra Farentino), who wears victimhood like a diamond-studded truss. Her inattentive husband, Mitch (Jon Tenney), is hardly more endearing.
In addition, introduced tonight are Mary's all-knowing, recently widowed mother, Elizabeth (Christina Pickles), and the more prominent trio of Green teens: Meghan (Anne Hathaway), 17; Cameron (Eric Christian Olsen) 16; and Kenny (Jesse Eisenberg), 15.
The crises du jour here include Mary's coping quandaries; Meghan's resistance to college despite being a straight-A student; Kenny's encounter with a school bully; and Cameron's recklessness, which begins in the morning with Mary finding him in his bed in the buff with a girl. A credibility gap is opened right away when Mary reacts to this behavior almost with quizzical indifference, after which the girl wolfs down breakfast with the family as if she'd spent the night playing Scrabble with Cameron instead of having sex. Get real, indeed.
The two likable characters in the premiere are Meghan and Kenny, the gravity of their lives, and the actors' performances, ringing truest. The opening hour is at its wittiest when, in a nice bit of business from executive producer Clyde Phillips, these two speak directly to viewers. Meghan playfully to the camera concerning a tragedy befalling a family member: "Do you think we're going to kill [the victim] in the first episode?"
There's a troubling, unnatural smoothness to "Get Real," whose characters tonight often reduce life's nubby textures to wisecracks and continually see themselves in relation to other TV series, from "South Park" to "Cheers." Yet it's also a work in progress worth monitoring, to see if getting real entails getting consistently good.
* "Get Real" airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on Fox. The network has rated it TV-14-D (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with special advisories for suggestive dialogue).