Review: Senior Year

Tuned In: A Filmic Yearbook of 'Senior Year'

From the Los Angeles Times, 1/25/02
by Scott Sandell

When it comes to depicting teenagers, television tends to oversimplify, making them out to be rebellious, driven by hormones and obsessed with what's cool. But "Senior Year," a 13-part documentary series on PBS, deftly avoids those stereotypes by presenting a complex and intimate account of the lives of 15 students at Fairfax High in 1999-2000.

In just half an hour, tonight's installment (10 p.m., KCET) weaves together issues of death, love, acceptance and physical attraction, in an attention-grabbing, cinema verite style. There is no narration, nor is there a need for any, because the filmmakers have done an excellent job in letting the students tell their own stories.

The show begins tonight with news that 18-year-old Yevgeniy Risis has been hit by a car and killed. As one might expect, we see how his acquaintances deal with their grief. More surprisingly, we also see how some express remorse over mistreating this special-needs student.

Indeed, this is just one of the many candid moments that are "Senior Year's" main strength. Jen, who says she's never had a boyfriend for longer than one month, admits that she's always chasing after people she can't have. On the other hand, Jean and his longtime girlfriend, Maria, struggle with keeping their relationship going through tough times. And Jet, a gay youth in the Junior ROTC, fears that his big plans in life will be cut short if he meets someone and ends up with AIDS.

One drawback to tonight's episode, the fourth in the series, is that some of the context is missing if you haven't seen the previous three installments. For example, Jean and Maria talk about his father's problems and how they affect their relationship in a very general sense tonight; yet it's important to know that Jean's father had just recently attempted suicide and, Jean says, has been blaming his children for it.