FAMOUS IN LOVE: Tuesday 9PM on Freeform (full season also available via online/VOD) – Change the Channel
On the basis of its opening hour, Freeform’s new FAMOUS IN LOVE is pretty woeful stuff. It’s the latest version of America’s contribution to the fairy tale template, the one that tells of the gleam and oh-so-naughty dangers of instant stardom. That tale is so ragged at this point that it takes real ingenuity or insight to make it feel fresh in any way, and neither Pretty Little Liars creator I. Marlene King nor novelist Rebecca Serle, who share series authorship credit, seem to have any on hand.
The credits of the Famous In Love pilot indicate some backstory: although King and Serle are both credited with the script, they didn’t work as a team, and while King is an Executive Producer of the project, Serle is merely a Co-EP. In addition, and unusually, both Miguel Arteta and Tawnia McTiernan are credited as directors of the hour, which suggests some heavy reshoots were needed along the way. Whatever may have happened behind the scenes, what emerges in front of the camera is flat and ordinary. Paige Townsen (Bella Thorne) is an LA college student whose parents don’t know she yearns to act. She rooms with two other actors, sassy sidekick Cassandra (Georgie Flores) and Jake (Charlie DePew), a nice guy whose frequently shirtless chest has Paige in a perpetual daze Almost immediately, Cassandra convinces Paige to audition for a Twilight-type mega-franchise, and quicker than you can say “A Star Is Born,” Paige has knocked out all concerned, including bad-boy star Rainer Devon (Carter Jenkins), and Rainer’s powerful producer mom Nina (Entourage‘s Perrey Reeves).
Since this thing needs to go on for 10 hours, there are a few other plot pieces: Nina is sleeping with Jordan (Keith Powers), Rainer’s BFF when they’re not punching each other, and two other actresses up for Paige’s role are a closeted couple. Mostly, though, Famous is built around Paige and her aw-shucks, golly-gee attitude toward Hollywood. (The only piece of characterization the pilot gives her is the need to tell virtually every human she meets that her last name doesn’t end with a “d”.) Thorne, who at the age of 19 already has 50 credits on IMDB, puts a lot of visible effort into making Paige seem naive, untried, and overwhelmed, so much so that one half expects her to be brushing bits of wheat out of her hair. Thorne has a certain rom-com charm, but her Paige indulges in so many stammers and uncomprehending stares that she seems a little backwards.
The rest of the cast fare much worse, thanks largely to the King/Serle script. A sample scene after Paige’s big audition for the role of August has Nina saying wonderingly, “That girl has something,” and the movie’s writer contributing “When she says the words, I believe her,” to which Nina responds, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but did we just find our August?” They’re the kind of lines characters in mediocre musicals deliver before they break into song, but alas, there are no musical numbers here. Neither of the directors can do much to rescue dialogue like this.
Freeform has given Famous In Love the showcase slot on its schedule, airing after the final episodes of King’s Pretty Little Liars, and further insulated it from ratings pressure by simultaneously releasing the entire season online and via VOD. So the show is being given every chance to have some kind of future. Its own audition, though, is hardly worthy of a callback.