Ah, High School
in the 1980ís. What a culturally vapid time it was! Madonna had launched a
million shapeless girls on a shameless course of wearing torn mesh,
lingerie, and ugly miniskirts, even as they clamored for bad dye jobs and
tied rags in their hair. Yet these, these were the popular kids of
the day. Even so it was, it seems, in the land of Ruben Carabajalís very
witty THE GIFTED PROGRAM, being presented by Ovo.
I had a lot of
fun at THE GIFTED PROGRAM. Set in 1986 Racine, WI, this is really Any
High School, USA in terms of the universal humor. The kids who play Dungeons
and Dragons, with few exceptions, are glaringly unable to integrate into
even the unhip cliques around school. The punk teens are moody or violent,
the stoners are burn outs, and the jocks are, well the jocks, and they hang
out with the cheerleaders. The assorted varieties of struggling teen species
are dressed appropriately here, and there is period music from The Violent
Femmes (the obligatory "Add it Up"), Bauhaus, and others, as well as an
all-out dance number choreographed to Gary Numanís "Cars" just to add an
extra layer of humor to the raucous proceedings. In terms of wrappings, it
makes a pleasant package.
Then there is the
story. It is so simple, but so essentially plausible at its core that the
interplay amongst the characters becomes credible when imbued with the
youthful dialogue and energy at work here. Basically, we meet a bunch of
guys who have been put into a regular public school after the termination of
the local "gifted" program. The foursome, played by Deron Bos, Sean Modica,
Brenton Popolizio and Aaron Yoo, spend free time plotting D&D in their
respective basements, but all play stops when it is time for their favorite
radio show, a local love song request program. It is on this show that a
mysterious character named P.W. has been making dedications to a lady simply
known as Cyndi. When one of the D&D club, Joey is basically assigned a new
friend, Steve (Jeffrey Emerson), the jig is up, and the former members of
the gifted program fear for their lives.
What really makes
THE GIFTED PROGRAM work is the coordinated group effort. Jeremy
Schwartz, as the local deejay, the coach, and a slew of other folks, has an
omnipresent, distinctive voice and manner that carries things a step above.
The kids at the core, the "gifted," are great. Be they dorks or nerds or
bookworms, or whatever, they play that stringy, greasy hair to the hilt.
Brenton Popolizio, as the lone punker of the quartet, plays Joey as the
giddy adolescent he should be when an anonymous girl (Hilary Ketchum) calls
him and announces that he sounds cute. In her dual role as a cool girl Ms.
Ketchum, along with Ari Vena, unleashes venom at our heroic P.W. just
because he is who he is. I donít know about you, but that sure sounds like
high school to me!
PROGRAM offers some great laughs, and some unfortunate truths in
humor-coated packaging. If you donít smile at this show, it may be time to
see about getting some medication!
- Kessa De Santis