Make It Or Break It

As the producers of Make It or Break It now know, there can be an inherent danger involved when using older actors to portray teenagers on television. Yes, they can work longer hours and often have the acting experience younger performers lack, but the downside is they sometimes go and do something crazy like allow themselves to get knocked up by their husbands. Chelsea Hobbs (who plays lead Emily Kmetko) did just that this season, forcing the producers to scramble for a realistic way to deal with a character who is in a leotard for 80 percent of her screen time suddenly having a very obvious situation in the torso region. Since sticking her behind lampshades or having her hold a grocery bag would not really be feasible while doing back handsprings perched four feet in the air on the balance beam, they went the more obvious route: Have the character become pregnant as well.

The problem with this tactic was it really made no sense, as far as Emily’s character was concerned. It took a chain reaction of astoundingly moronic decisions in order to twist her story into the contorted conclusion of an unplanned pregnancy, and the entire show around her suffered for it. Finally, four episodes from the end of the season the series shipped her off to see “family” and promptly sort of forgot about both the character and the story. Emily was originally the point-of-view character for the audience, joining the world of the show in the pilot and, therefore, allowing us to learn about it through her eyes, so to summarily dismiss her with barely a backwards glance was almost unthinkable.

The funny thing is, ever since the show exiled her to Las Vegas to Learn an Important Lesson about Life through the Fetus Growing Inside Her, the overall storytelling has improved immensely. Even before her pregnancy Emily had become somewhat of an insufferable character, railing against all of the supposed injustices in her life (like a Mom who works as a bartender at a strip club, or a super-cute rock star boyfriend she wasn’t allowed to see lest she lose her scholarships—HER LIFE IS SO HARD) and generally being an entirely unpleasant presence on the show. Sending her away allowed the rest of the ensemble, whose stories are all much more compelling, a chance to shine.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Make It or Break It is not high art. It’s not even really middle art. More than anything, it’s probably what one would call a guilty pleasure, if one was predisposed towards feeling guilt over their entertainment choices. At its core, the show is a somewhat soapy teenage drama about a group of elite gymnasts and their quest to make the next Olympics. Over time, with its strange mixture of self-discovery, earnest friendships, unsubtle proselytizing, and secret scheming, it’s become more of a really weird PSA for striving to be the best you can be while always doing the right thing, believing in God, and also being kind of a slutty liar at the same time. It’s not the most harmonious of combinations and some aspects work better than others, but the show manages to achieve exactly what it seems to want to be: a likable, mildly engaging trifle featuring a few life-lessons (and some juicier, less savory storylines thrown in just for fun).

As for the finale itself, the two-hour episode was probably the strongest of the season. Following a group of competitive athletes is an easy way to create strong season enders (which is why shows like Glee frame their finales around competitions), and the high stakes of the World Championships in particular allowed all storylines from throughout the season to have their climax in the finale. (Well, all except for Emily’s, but more about that in a bit.) Obstacles were overcome, long-time secrets revealed, and long-simmering crushes ignited. And sure, even though the ending was probably a bit too treacly by half it was an effective sort of treacly. There might have been a tear or two shed in someone's living room. Not mine, of course. But someone's.

What I couldn’t help feeling as the two-hour episode came to a close was that this almost felt like a series finale. As far as I know, the show hasn’t been picked up for another season, so if by chance this ends up being the series ender it couldn’t have gone out in a better way for our characters: Kaylie is out from under the shadow of her eating disorder and has a new romance with Austin, Payson finally gets together with Max, Lauren gets forgiveness for her most egregious sins, and the team wins a gold medal. There probably isn’t a more satisfying way to end things, except for one little problem: Emily was still nowhere to be found. Granted, I just got finished mentioning all the ways the show is better since she left, but it would feel strange to end the show without knowing her fate. Heck, it felt strange to just end the season that way. I, for one, am hopeful we will get another season just to see how they will incorporate her baby into what I’m sure will inevitably be her return to training for the Olympics. I can’t be the only one hoping for a newborn gymnast prodigy, can I? Acrobat baby!

Stray observations:

  • Max is bisexual! That came completely out of nowhere and was also completely awesome. We need a season three just to see more of Max the hot bisexual who is in love with Payson, but Payson doesn’t know about his bisexuality. DRAMA!
  • This is The A.V. Club, so I think it’s mandatory to mention Sean Maher’s arc as the head of the NGO, and then anger everyone who realizes this show is on the air while Firefly remains canceled.
  • A total Kerri Strug rip-off? Really? Ayla Kell as Payson is so likable already, I’m not sure she needed the superhero story to have the audience rooting for her.
  • I love Payson’s invisible sister—lost sometime in the early days of season two—most likely due to lack of story and budget. At least they still pretend she exists, which is more than I can say for Emily’s invisible brother.