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Laura Reviews: State of Grace

I've seen a couple of episodes of this show on the ABC Family Channel because it comes on before Braceface. No, it's not S Club 7. I haven't yet sunk low enough to watch the show about the adventures of a seven-member teen pop group who wander around L.A. and Hawaii mumbling in fake- sounding Austro-British accents. Nor do I allow myself to watch any sit-com starring Mary Kate and Ashley (although I did watch Sister, Sister the other day). The show in question is, however, State of Grace, which is nearly as bad.

          S of G is produced by Stan Rogow, the same entity that brought you Lizzie McGuire, so you know it's got to be, um, stuff. It's about a Jewish girl named Hannah who goes to a Catholic school. Her best friend is Grace, the purportedly brilliant, eccentric daughter of a rich Southern belle type (I guess it takes place in the South). It's not a terrible premise, though the execution, while also not terrible, leaves something to be desired.

          Like Lizzie, Grace is aimed at individuals of the female persuasion, and it is a kids' show, although it seems to have sappy sentimental adults in mind. It takes place in what appears to be the early 60s, and they never let you forget it. I swear to God there was one episode where Grace and Hannah were depressed about not seeing Sonny and Cher so they instead listened to Martin Luther King speak.

          Further proof of the time period is provided, annoyingly, in a score of gratuitous of oldies-pop. Usually, the songs have nothing to do with the scene at hand, they're just tossed in willy-nilly for atmosphere.

          My big problem with their use of 60s pop is their willingness to be unremarkable in both their timing and choice of songs. They seem to do nothing to expand the genre, taking only the old standards ("My Girl", "My Guy", etc.) that have been retread a thousand times by other shows and by advertising. (Or maybe I'm just sick of them because I have them all downloaded off of KaZaA and play them at an alarming frequency. It's just disconcerting to watch a show scored exclusively by songs I hear about twice a day.) The point is, I know what's considered oldies now; I've heard about as much Monkees and "I Got You Babe" as I can stand. I know there was more music than that out there, so why not play some of it?

          The musical choice is just one symptom of the show's entire attitude, which seems to be "Just Another Growing-Up-in-the- Sixties Nostalgia Fest." The much-overused time period and music are only part of the larger problem, which I think can be summed up by revealing the following fact: The show is unnecessarily narrated by the unseen Adult Hannah (voice of Frances MacDormand). Unlike Kevin Arnold's adult voiceover incarnation, Frances never says anything useful, like Hannah's unspoken thoughts, intentions or perceptions at the time. Instead, she attempts to smooth over scene transitions by saying things like "And while Grace grew up a little that day, I also learned the ropes of adulthood." Generally, the transitions are forced and punny (the preceding statement, for example, would be said while Hannah was trying to climb a rope, or make a rope-ladder, or chew through the ropes that bound her hands as she lay tied up on the cavern floor at Pirates' Cove). I wouldn't object to a narrator that added something to show, but I don't need the scene changes explained to me; I've seen TV before! I know that sometimes you go to a different scene. And you know what? It doesn't need to have anything to do with the previous scene. You don't have to make up a way to connect them. If there is a connection to be drawn, I can make it myself. It might be good for me to fire up the old synapses.

          That said, I'm not saying there's not a niche for another Wonder Years. But State of Grace imitates only the most obvious, superficial elements its classic idol. The show does have some originality, but it's too quick to drown those things in derivative soup. That, plus the fact that I'm pretty sure it's already over, don't bode well for the show's future.


- Laura