STUDIO: Buena Vista Home Video
MSRP: $39.99

RUNNING TIME: 558 Minutes
Audio commentaries on select episodes
Outtake reel
Deleted scenes
Photo gallery

The world is littered with the fallen bodies of cancelled teen dramas. For every Dawson’s Creek or The OC, there’s a million Grosse Points and Time Of Your Lifes. Most of the time these shows deserved their cancellation and did nothing to differentiate themselves from the dozens of similar shows competing for the same limited audience. However, in rare cases the show can do everything right but just fail to find an audience due to timeslot issues or poor advertising.

Life As We Know It isn’t the most original teen drama to come along. It’s certainly not as ambitious as Freaks And Geeks or My So Called Life, but it tries to be. The show isn’t content to pander down to its target audience and strive for mediocrity. Predictably, the show’s positive merits and attempt to bring an original drama to television meant that it was doomed to cancellation and stranded in a hopelessly awful Thursday timeslot. Fans of the show have at least been offered some consolation by the release of the show on DVD, which includes a final two episodes aired only in the UK.

Scientific progress goes "boiiiiing"

The Show

Based on the book Doing It by Melvin Burgess, Life As We Know It is a teen drama told through the eyes of a group of male friends. Dino is the popular, good looking friend whose only real concern is pressuring his girlfriend into having sex with him. His easy going life is shattered when he discovers his mom is having an affair with his hockey coach. Almost immediately his life begins to fall apart as he is wracked with guilt over trying to keep the secret of the affair buried inside of him. His guilt causes him to push his girlfriend away and jeopardize their relationship.

Ben is the shyer, more intelligent member of the group. Ben isn’t very smooth with the ladies and seems disinterested in high school girls. He begins to have feelings for one of the younger teachers in his school and is both excited and scared by the fact that she begins returning the feelings. As their relationship progresses, both find it more and more difficult to keep their taboo relationship a secret. Ben agonizes over being unable to tell his friends about his relationship, especially when they begin to suspect that he might be gay.

Jonathan is the nerdy fall guy in the group who has to deal with constant teasing from the other two. His status as the pincushion isn’t helped by the fact that he has recently started dating his best friend since childhood. Her weight is a constant source of amusement for Dino and Ben but Jonathan could care less. He also has to hide the fact that he isn’t having sex with his girlfriend because he feels unready for it, not because she’s unwilling to do so. Jonathan finds himself unable to ever really open up to his friends for fear of further ribbing and grows weary of them at times.

Please do not wave at the Kelly Osbourne. She has been placed in a glass cell for the betterment of society.

The show initially keeps itself focused on the intertwining storylines of the three friends, but came to focus on the supporting cast more as the stories developed. A threesome of girls provides a good contrast to the stories of the males. Jackie is Dino’s girlfriend and finds herself being stretched too thin. She just wants to enjoy time with Dino but he’s never satisfied with anything less than sex. There’s no one to go home to either, as her dad is an alcoholic who has reduced her mother into a sobbing wreck.

Sue is the typical overachiever who spends so much time involving herself in school activities so that she can get into an ivy league school that she has no time left for herself. Deborah is Jonathan’s overweight girlfriend who has a rocky relationship with her mother. Her father abandoned her at an early age and when he rolls back into town she finds that the stories her mother told her about him don’t match up to the person he is now.

Dino’s mother and father each receive ample amounts of screen time as well. The stories of two adult characters add an interesting dynamic to the show as the experiences they go through provide interesting parallels with the experiences of their children. Most teen dramas shy away from focusing any time at all on the adult characters and have the teens exist in a bizarre adult free void. Life As We Know It chooses to present the adult characters are real people and not just two dimensional authoritarian figures.

Welcome to Harsh Realm, punk.

In the first few episodes of the series, the show employs a fourth-wall breaking gimmick to try and set itself apart from other shows. From time to time, the male leads will address the camera while action is still occurring in the background. This technique is overused in the first few episodes and quickly becomes grating. These scenes were the most heavily featured in the advertising for the show and probably played a part in keeping audiences away. The writers become much more adept at using this technique as the show progresses, only resorting to it when it’s absolutely necessary in order to show what the boys are thinking.

The show’s plotlines try to stay as grounded in reality as possible. The teens deal with many heavy issues such as the divorce of their parents, sex and alcoholism. They also deal with the more mundane issues of curfew times, getting part-time jobs, and setting up the perfect date. In today’s society, a student having sex with his teacher can hardly be considered outlandish, but that particular plotline still stands out as being rather ridiculous in the context of the show.

The show also gets rather predictable in points. The show focuses so squarely on the three boys and the three girls that it’s hardly surprising when all six of them pair off and date. The adult plotlines also drag on at times and the characters take several episodes to do things that could easily be foreseen long in advance.

Oh yeah, the book fair is my favorite part of the carnival too.

After seeing so many teen shows where the “teens” are played by thirty-year olds, it’s refreshing to see actors who look and talk like real high school students. They’re still a little too old (the characters in the show are sophomores while the actors look like seniors), but much more believable than Luke Perry as a teenager. The young actors do well in their roles for the most part, although most of them aren’t asked to do more than yell and whine.

Since the show was axed midseason, the story isn’t wrapped up in a completely satisfying manner. Some of the show’s smaller ongoing story arcs are wrapped up in a good fashion, but the show ends on a very large cliffhanger that would have had major implications for one of the characters. The writers did an amicable job of tying up a lot of relationship problems between the characters before the axe was dropped on the program. The cliffhanger was a bad move, but it’s hard to fault the writers for holding out hope of renewal or just keeping it in as a “screw you” to the network.

Life As We Know It is a down to earth portrayal of life for a group of teenaged friends. These types of shows don’t typically play well to an older crowd, mostly because they make big deals out of problems that seem rather trivial to adults. It’s not a terribly compelling drama, but for the type of audience its aiming for it provides some solid entertainment that never talks down to anyone and tries to show all the sides of its characters. There’s no such thing as an “evil” character in this show, just a misunderstood one. As far as teen dramas go, most are not as sincere, understanding and honest as this one.

7.0 out of 10

Laundry, dinner and wine. Every woman’s idea of the perfect date.

The Look

Life As We Know It is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen. The decision to present the show in fullscreen is a real disappointment since it was originally aired in widescreen. The only possible reason for this change would be to appeal to more viewers but it still seems misguided. Cancelled television show DVDs don’t exactly fly off the shelves. The only people likely to buy the set are big fans of the show and they would want it to be presented in the original aspect ratio. The transfer itself is excellent though and looks as good as a 2004 show should.

5.0 out of 10

The fans certainly flocked back to the NHL in droves.

The Noise

The audio on the set is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The show uses contemporary music throughout the series to great effect so the mix is put to good use. Audio levels remain consistent throughout each episode and the music never drowns out the dialogue. A solid surround sound track is an unexpected feature for a teen drama but definitely a welcomed one.

8.0 out of 10

Sorry Dad, but I’m not about to be lectured by the star of The Pitts.

The Goodies

Several episodes on each of the set’s three discs contain commentaries. The commentary participants are different on each one so you get a wide range of opinions weighing in on the show. Many of the principle actors are present along with the show’s writers, producers and episode directors. The commentaries aren’t information heavy and consist mostly of the young actors joking around with each other. When the other crew members chime in they tend to talk heavily about the locations used for filming and setting up shots. There’s no commentary for the last episode and no revelations over what might have happened had the show gone on. Six unproduced scripts were written for the show, so it might have been nice if the writers had given some indication as to what happened in them.

The extra features also include several small featurettes. The producer’s photo gallery is a short segment that displays candid photos of the actors set to the show’s theme song. “Life As We Blow It” is a blooper reel full of the actors laughing and forgetting their lines. The first disc includes several deleted scenes. None of them are material that needed to be included in the show, but it is interesting to see some of the half-finished scenes that involved green screen effects. All of these video segments are very short and not full of substantial content, but they’re just designed to be fun and they end before the novelty wears off. Fans of the show would appreciate some more substantial extras, perhaps even the show’s unproduced scripts. It’s the least that could be done for fans left hanging by the show’s finale.

5.0 out of 10

The hottest Green Lantern relaunch to date.

The Artwork

The slipcase cover for the set features a cast photo that includes all the teenage characters. The set itself is a tri-fold, with each outside flap featuring one of the three male leads. The inside artwork features an empty school hallway and the three female leads. This set does continue the recent trend of stacking discs on-top of each other which seems to annoy the more anal DVD collectors out there. It’s not that big of an inconvenience when there are only three discs in the set though. It’s an attractive DVD package that makes good use of publicity stills.

7.0 out of 10

Overall: 7.0 out of 10