The N’s new series, South Of Nowhere, is the channel’s first original teen drama that isn’t from Canada. With a diverse cast, a gritty documentary-style look and a willingness to push boundaries, The N may have found the perfect companion series to Degrassi.
Created by Thomas Lynch, South Of Nowhere revolves around the Carlin family. They have just moved from small town Ohio to Los Angeles and are trying to adjust to city life in California. The father, Arthur Carlin (Rob Moran) is a social worker and his wife, Paula (Maeve Quinlan), is a doctor. They are raising three teenagers. Glen (Chris Hunter) is a jock who was a star at his old school and now has to adjust to competing with his new basketball team’s current star Aiden (Matt Cohen). Spencer (Gabrielle Christian) is a cheerleader who is struggling with her sexual orientation. She seems to have a crush on her new friend Ashley (Mandy Musgrave), a girl who is rumored to be a lesbian. Clay (Danso Gordon) is the Carlin’s African-American adopted son. He is very intelligent and doesn’t act “black.” A friendship (sort of) begins to develop between Clay and Sean (Austen Parros), a tough but also intelligent teen who is pretty much the opposite of Clay.
One of the things I like about South Of Nowhere is the realism depicted in the show. Most of the dialogue feels pretty natural and you don’t get the sense that things are being sanitized. Also, there are little things that helped make things seem more real. In one scene, the Carlin family sits down to dinner at the dinner table. They hold hands and say grace before eating. As I watched that, I realized how rare it is to see a family on television actually say grace before they eat.
The one thing this show thrives on, even more than Degrassi, is the clash of different cultures, different ideas and different ways of life. The burgeoning friend/relationship between Spencer and Ashley will have repercussions throughout the series. Aiden got Ashley pregnant, but she lost the baby. Now, Aiden (who is currently with Sherry, the captain of the cheerleading squad) looks to have a crush on Spencer. At the same time, Spencer’s brother Glen has the hots for Ashley. Sherry hates Ashley and all but outs Spencer at the school dance. Aiden is at odds with Glen because he (and more importantly, Sherry) is worried about losing his star status on the basketball team. Meanwhile, Clay comes faces how sheltered his life in Ohio was. He gets beat up for talking with a guy’s girlfriend and when he tries to defend her honor. Clay also experiences his first “driving while black” incident while riding with Sean. Finally, based on the dialogue, it’s clear that the parents have very different philosophies (think Sandy and Kirsten on The OC). If/when Spencer comes out of the closet, there is bound to be fireworks between the two.
The look of South Of Nowhere is another thing that sets it apart from Degrassi. The show is shot documentary-style with handheld cameras. This style, along with the slightly washed-out color palette, gives the show a grittier look compared to the polished Degrassi. Sometimes the shaky camera is a little annoying (especially in scene transitions), but the show is compelling enough that the shakiness doesn’t distract you for long.
Overall, South Of Nowhere is an entertaining, realistic and edgy teen drama. The writing is pretty strong, and the characters are appealing. There are some issues here and there. Spencer’s character development moved a little too fast for me in this first episode. One scene, she’s reserved; the next scene, she’s openly giving Ashley longing looks. Also, this first episode seemed like it was more about setting up the various conflicts than really establishing characters. We don’t even know how Clay became part of the Carlin household yet. I hope that future episodes will have more character development. It remains to be seen if South Of Nowhere will be as revered as Degrassi. However, I’m very glad that it is not a Degrassi clone. Even though the shows are kindred spirits, they are very different. I hope that The N will continue to invest in original, homegrown scripted shows.