Today, Freeform launches replacing the decade-and-a-half-old ABC Family moniker. Many assumed this day would never come as rumors persisted that, due to a clause in the sale contract, the word "Family" needed to remain in the name of the channel. Perhaps the evolution of the network from feel-good sitcoms you could watch with your parents to teen shows that intentionally pushed the envelope (or just ripped off Degrassi) was enough for Pat Robertson's people to make a deal and let the whole "Family" thing slide. Given the "new" direction of the network, is it really any surprise that one of their first programs would be about teen alcohol and drug abuse? That's exactly what Recovery Road is.
I had no idea what to think of Recovery Road when I assigned this review. The only time I can remember watching ABC Family aside from movies and Boy Meets World reruns was when my former roommate would turn on Secret Life of the American Teenager — a show I've maintained has to be one of the worst I've ever seen. Although I did have a feeling what the show might be about given the "recovery" in the title, I was even less excited once my hunches were confirmed.
Let me say this: the first few minutes of Recovery Road aren't bad, they're just not my favorite. The show opens with a high schooler named Maddie Grahm (played by Jessica Sula) passed out on her lawn. Flashbacks to the night before give a quick look at what we already know — Maddie had a lot to drink the night before. Despite what is likely a wicked hangover, she heads to school like normal. However, later that day she is called into the guidance counselor's office where her mom (Sharon Leal) is already waiting. It turns out that a random search of her locker has uncovered a water bottle filled with vodka. Forced to give a breathalyzer test or face expulsion, Maddie submits to the test which registers her blood alcohol at double what the legal driving limit is. From there, her choices are to get kicked out of school or to complete a 24-hour detox and spend 90 days living in a sober home.
Following some rather cliche beats such as a teen version of the stages of grief, Maddie completes her detox and arrives at her new home. This is where the show starts to really take off. Plenty of familiar faces reside in the sober home including Kyla Pratt (The Proud Family), Daniel Franzese (Damian from Mean Girls — "Oh my God, Danny DeVito! I love your work!"), and Lindsay Pearce (The Glee Project). Off the bat, I have to note that, while she hardly looks a day older than her One on One days, Pratt plays a mother on the show and apparently is one in real life as well (how old am I?). David Witts (who I was not familiar with before this show) is also fantastic in his role as Craig, the director of the home, as are many of the other actors in the ensamble.
I think the most apt description for this show is that it's kind of like Orange is the New Black for teens and that's not a bad thing. Like the Netflix hit, Recovery Road can be funny, heartbreaking, and eye-opening all at once as a women who's found herself in trouble is forced to adapt the new realities of her situation. However, and to its credit, Road might actually feel a little more grounded and, dare I say, realistic than Orange — a huge surprise given how over the top the premise may seem. Granted, I have only seen the first three episodes, but I enjoyed them all.
Maybe it's unfair to say having not seen any of the other ABC Family shows since Secret Life, but Recovery Road seems like a big step up for the newly-named network. While it deals with a serious topic, it does so in a way that neither glorifies it or turns it into a "very special episode" ("I'm so excited... I'm so... scared!"). While I still don't quite know what Freeform means, let me say this: feel Free to check out Recovery Road and Form your own opinion about if it's really just for teens or not.
Recovery Road debuts January 25th at 9 p.m. on
ABC Family Freeform.