Published by TheWrap.com July 6, 2009.
Just last week, I stumbled upon an email invitation from my high school reunion committee. It has been 10 years since I departed Saugus High, a mostly white-bred school in an innocuous Los Angeles suburb. I’ve yet to decide if I’ll be making a trip back to California for this little shindig. There isn’t much about high school that I’m yearning to relive. It’s not that I had a bad experience. In fact, I had a pretty lackluster time. I didn’t belong to any one clique, nor did I participate in any extracurricular activities. I came, I saw, I went. Most of my memories are linked to pop culture happenings that coincided with my time at Saugus. Highlights include sleeping outside a theater to see “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” (George Lucas still owes me a refund), seeing U2’s Popmart Tour, getting addicted to Broadway’s “Rent,” following NBC’s “Friends” and being swept away by “Titanic.” Then, just before graduation, a little movie struck a chord for me. “10 Things I Hate About You” made high school angst and confusion entertaining. Mind you, the film came out a few months before the quintessential teen flick, “American Pie.” “10 Things” starred a then unknown Heath Ledger, playing the mysterious stranger, Patrick Verona. Who knew that boy could carry a tune? Actress Julia Stiles broke out as a bitchy post-feminist leader. Larisa Oleynik, a crush of mine from her days on Nickelodeon’s “Secret World of Alex Mack,” played Stiles’ rebellious sister. And David Krumholtz, Larry Miller and Allison Janney give the film a potent youthful ensemble. Yet, it was the role of Cameron Jones, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, that resonated most for me. Here was a kid that floated between social cliques, albeit gravitating more towards the nerdy side of things. He had a crush on the “hot chick,” and befriended the troublesome Verona to get the girl. This character embodied everything I was feeling throughout high school. Simply put, he was relatable. Creating a teenager on screen that I could identify with was no easy task. Screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith made their feature film debut writing “10 Things.” The movie also started director Gil Jungers’ career. Three Hollywood newbies found a way to capture the late ’90s teenage experience in a way that the average kid could completely relate to. As far as I can remember, no other film stirred such emotion in me, during that time. Unlike its 1999 counterpart, “American Pie,” “10 Things” was without the raunch and exploitation that is once again standard fare in teen entertainment. Instead, the creative trio focused on honest emotions and realistic experiences. William Shakespeare is also owed some credit, as the movie is a loose adaptation of his tale, “The Taming of the Shrew.” Ten years later, writer/producer Carter Convington is hoping to re-create the magic of that popular film. His new television series, “10 Things I Hate About You,” will premiere July 7 on ABC Family. And Junger has returned to direct the pilot episode. The big question is, will success happen twice to this teen tale? The film took in nearly $53 million, earning far more than its $16 million budget. But, with prime-time overrun with high school dramas, like the CW’s “Gossip Girl” and “90210,” there is no telling if kids will flip away from the networks for a cable offering of this kind. ABC made a wise decision launching the series on its Family channel, as ratings pressure is much less stressful that high up the dial. Yet, if the TV show is anywhere near as influential as the big screen version, network television could benefit from such quality programming. The Julia Stiles character, Kat Stratford, is a girl that would make Gloria Steinem proud. Think less Leighton Meester with her sex tape debacle and more a young Eve Ensler on her way to writing “The Vagina Monologues.” Kat embodies the empowerment of teenage girls. Something programming executives should at least tempt viewers with now and again. There is room on the playground for both sex crazed socialites and strong independent women. While I plan to continue feeding my “Gossip Girl” addiction, and soon will add “Melrose Place” to the DVR schedule, I’ll happily add “10 Things I Hate About You” to the list. Who knows, if the show is on par with the original movie, it might just inspire me to make the trek back to California so that I can relive my real-life high school experience. The ball is in your court, Covington.