Teen and sports drama clichés are embraced so gleefully that they become part of the attraction. There’s the likeable poor girl, Emily Kmetko (Chelsea Hobbs), who’s always cool to everyone and doesn’t know she’s pretty. There’s a spoiled blonde villainess (Lauren, played by Cassie Scerbo) who fixes competitions and says “daddy” a lot. And then there’s Sasha Beloff (played by Neil Jackson), an ex-coach who'd grown so disillusioned with the sport that he retreated to an actual cabin in the woods until the team inspired him to return to civilization.
I was sure my inner feminist would have at least a few things to cringe about, this being ABC Family after all. But they do a great job of focusing on the incredible dedication and physical endurance required for the sport, rather than glamorizing the more effeminate performance aspects. Even the leotards are just as dorky as anything you’d see in a real-life gym, right down to the matching scrunchies. (Girls being dorky is also awesome.) And while I'm almost always disturbed by the skinniness of teen actresses no matter how girl-powered their characters are, it seems okay here because gymnasts are thin. Plus, the show explicitly acknowledges that the main characters don't menstruate due to lack of body fat. So even if they meet an extreme physical standard, at least they experience weird shit as a result.
A surprisingly solid cast saves the mechanical elements of the script. Hobbs, Scerbo, Ayla Kell, and Josie Loren manage to make lines like “They sell leos off the rack now?” “I can’t believe Lauren ate mat on the beam,” and “Holy shizzle” come off as endearing. I'm also delighted to see Candace Cameron Bure in a recurring role as Summer, daddy's Christian girlfriend. (I’m sure she refused take the role unless she could talk about the Lord once per episode, and ABC Family was all, “Anything you want, Candace, we simply must have you for this minor part!”). I love the many teen boy love interests too, especially Nico Tortorella (also appearing on The Beautiful Life this Fall, which in my dreams is the next Model’s Inc.). He plays this dude named Razor, who sings in a punk band and likes gymnastics. It's fun to see a twist on the usual bad boy thing. Plus his even badder band-mate, Damon, is after Emily, and Razor's about to go out of town. What will happen?!
I can't possibly claim that Make It or Break It is the best TV has to offer. I'm desperate for quality programming right now and may be a little prone to settling. But even if it's just a summer fling, I'll have no regrets come fall (probably). If you're still not convinced of the strange wonders Make It or Break It has to offer, I give you tumble intimidation: