Hit or Sh**: Freeform’s RECOVERY ROAD

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

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Freeform is not unlike the moody protagonists of its many teen dramas; you can dye your hair, change your name, and tell everyone you’re all grown up and ready to be taken seriously, but we all watched you eat crayons and air THE 700 CLUB three times a day. You can’t fool us. RECOVERY ROAD is the inaugural teen drama from the newly-dubbed “Freeform,” but is nothing more than a scrapbook of teen drama cliches and a frustrated attempt to be edgy and dark.

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“UGH, MOM, DON’T SHOW THEM MY BABY PICTURES”

How could a pilot with a plot worthy of any semi-autobiographical student film possibly go wrong? 17-year-old Maddie gets caught slamming vodka at her high school and is sent to a 90-day residential outpatient program for recovering alcoholics. At first, she kicks and screams and insists that she isn’t an addict, but eventually she recognizes that she has a problem and in the end decides to stay at the facility after being presented with an opportunity to leave. There’s a slow motion montage of her new housemates teaching her how to ride a bicycle and she writes a hopeful entry in her journal ‒ that tells you pretty much everything you need to know.

I would be a little more sympathetic for a 30-minute pilot for being completely devoid of nuance, but this sucker is 48 minutes long. It has plenty of time to set up dominoes to knock down later. But instead, when Maddie’s roommate makes a grab for a trinket in her suitcase, Maddie barks at her, “My dad gave that to me. He’s dead.” Now that’s character development! Oh, but it gets better. Maddie clarifies, “He was killed by a drunk driver. The irony is not lost on me.” Of course, Maddie immediately strikes up a burgeoning romance with the token hunky/brooding character whose name I didn’t bother to learn, so we’ll just call him Hot But Troubled (HBT). HBT asks Maddie about some preexisting bad blood she has with another girl in the house and Maddie literally describes it as “too angsty to go into.” This is surprising considering what the show does choose to go into, namely HBT’s devastation regarding the house policy that prevents him from dating for a year while in the program, which includes getting that sweet sober freak on with Maddie.

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This is a real promotional image of HBT and I present it without comment

As our protagonist, Maddie doesn’t necessarily need to be “likable” 100 percent of the time, but she at least needs to be “rootable.” She makes this nearly impossible, because like most teenagers her attempts to be witty and disconnected merely come across as bitchy. When her phone is confiscated as she goes into 24-hour detox, she delivers the Line of the Episode: “The withdrawal I’ll experience from not using my phone is far greater than what you’re expecting from my so-called addiction.” Later, at an AA meeting where she runs into the school counselor who sent her to rehab, Maddie threatens to out her to the entire school if word gets out about Maddie’s recovery. I really don’t get it. Are teenagers supposed to identify with her? Is she supposed to be funny? How on earth is this sympathetic?

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“LOL BEEN THERE!” – teens, according to Freeform

The writer seems to have realized this halfway through, because the show completely derails from petty drama to full-on rape and assault in the last 15 minutes. In one scene, Maddie is sneaking out after curfew with HBT to buy nail polish. Yawn. Minutes later, she’s weeping on the bathroom floor after someone found a condom wrapper in her car ‒ but as far as she knows, she’s still a virgin. She sobs and asks aloud if she was raped. Yet we breeze through Maddie’s mandatory 24-hour detox in a BREAKING BAD-esque montage set to an upbeat rock song. That moment was our biggest opportunity to see some real vulnerability and growth, and it’s completely ruined. But please, dump more information on me about your dead dad.

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Look at those angry pointy fingers… Real conflict happening here, folks

I could forgive RECOVERY ROAD if it was complex enough to start a dialogue among younger viewers who might be dealing with these issues, but it feels so much like an after school special that I doubt teenagers will even have the patience to watch it. I do give this show an A+ for diversity ‒ by far the best part of Freeform’s rebranding initiative even if it’s just so Disney can quietly support the LGBT community that all but keeps their theme parks in business. (Sorry, girls, those adorable chimney sweeps aren’t interested.) It’s a big step to see a mixed-race young woman with a single parent taking the lead on a major network, but if this level of content is the face of progress, TV still has a long way to go.

Verdict: SH**

RECOVERY ROAD airs on Mondays on Freeform

Kate Brogden is the Television Editor at Crossfader in addition to an aspiring screenwriter with a penchant for magical realism and romantic comedies. Her proudest achievement to date is getting a friend into Disneyland without a ticket.

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