2006-05-21 15:44:30 UTC
BY VIRGINIA ROHAN
The Record (Hackensack N.J.)
From Eddie Haskell to A.J. Soprano - my, how TV adolescents havegrown in 50 years!
The term "difficult teen years" has undergone a dramatic evolution,
taking on different meanings over various television eras.
In the late '50s into the '60s, about the baddest a kid got was
two-faced young Haskell on "Leave It to Beaver." Unctuously polite to
adults, he was sarcastic and obnoxious to the Beaver and his peers.
Still, the Cleavers never really had to worry that he'd lead Wally into
a life of crime.
By the '70s, bad boys were definitely mischievous. The Sweat Hogs on
"Welcome Back, Kotter," for example, were underachieving, prank-playing
misfits. Still, they were good kids at heart.
In the '80s, Michael J. Fox's Alex P. Keaton broke his hippie-parents'
heart on "Family Ties" by being a Nixon-loving Republican. Sister
Mallory could also be a bit of a handful, but her transgressions -
such as that "Risky Business"-type party she and Alex threw - were
nothing to blot her permanent record.
The '90s dawned with some hard-living high-schoolers on "Twin Peaks."
For the most part, though, teenage rebelliousness was on a par with
that of surly daughter Darlene on "Roseanne" or Will Smith's fun-loving
"Fresh Prince of Bel Air."
And then we come to today - and the truly bad seeds of prime time.
While most contemporary TV teens, even the rambunctious kids on
"Malcolm in the Middle," are not truly terrible, two rich kids have
crossed the line into full-fledged hatefulness - A.J. Soprano and
Andrew Van de Kamp.
In terms of pure rottenness, no one tops the diabolical Andrew (Shawn
Pyfrom) on "Desperate Housewives." Andrew has accused his mom, Bree, of
abusing him, so that he can emancipate himself and get at his trust
fund. Andrew wants a new car, and he'll do anything to get it - even
bruising his own face and saying his mother did it in a drunken rage.
Doesn't the kid care at all about ruining her reputation and breaking
Are you kidding? He'd love to destroy her life.
True, Bree likes wine a little too much, and Andrew is entitled to some
anger about his father's death. He blames Bree for Rex Van de Kamp's
murder by Bree's psychotic friend and suitor, pharmacist George.
Clearly, perfectionista Bree did something really wrong in the rearing
of her boy, who last season ran down Carlos Solis' mother. She
subsequently died, and Bree helped Andrew cover up the hit-and-run. To
this day, Andrew has shown no remorse.
With no redeeming qualities, and not even a flicker of humanity, Andrew
is a one-dimensional characterization whose shallowness reflects poorly
on "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry and his writers.
Anthony Soprano Jr. (Robert Iler) doesn't have a whole lot of depth
either, but at least he's part of a larger, more compelling story line
involving his parents.
A.J. has been nothing but trouble for the overly indulgent Tony and
This kid vandalized his high school's swimming pool and is so dumb he
once got half his face glued to a hotel-room carpet. This season, among
other things, A.J. defied his mother and gave an interview to a TV
reporter while his father was fighting for life in the hospital. He
laughed when his bright, ambitious sister, Meadow, described the
heart-rending plight of an immigrant family she'd worked with at a
A.J. has no ambition, no responsibility, no respect for his parents or
the expensive things they've given him. He has flunked out of community
college, has no apparent interest in re-enrolling, takes drugs, goes
clubbing by night and sleeps the day away, and takes no pride in his
work at Blockbuster. Then, he defied his father and tried to retaliate
against demented Uncle Junior. But he failed at this as well, dropping
the knife before he could get near the man who shot his father. Were it
not for Tony's connections, A.J. would have been prosecuted for that
bungled murder attempt.
ROUGH ROAD AHEAD
Clearly, Tony and Carmela are going to have to fight hard to keep him
out of the mob - and prison. Maybe they should have gone through with
that plan to send him to military school.
I realize I should have some empathy for this poor little rich kid, who
had no say in what family he was born into. The odds against him
turning out well were great. His misanthropic grandmother Livia once
told him life was "all a big nothing!" And Anthony Jr. just suffered a
panic attack - just like his dad and his father's dad.
Still, I find it hard to muster much sympathy for the kid. About the
only time I felt even a little sorry for A.J. was when his parents
ordered him to clean the gutters of the house a few seasons back. He
obviously had no idea what that meant.
A.J. does at least manage to somehow elicit sympathy for the two people
who are most to blame for his sorry state - his parents. And their
reaction to how A.J. has turned out has been intriguing to watch this
Carmela is starting to realize she can no longer believe her pretense
that she insulated her kids from what their dad does for a living.
Tony's continuing denial, however, came through in his telling exchange
with Dr. Melfi. When she asked if he blamed Carmela for the way A.J.
turned out, he claimed not to. "Carmela's a good mother," he said. But
then Tony subtly pointed a finger by adding, "She did the best she
When will Tony face the fact that he, the big-shot mobster with the
"semester and a half of college," is his son's role model? Will he ever
see that the old parental edict "Do as I say, not as I do" never works?
Clearly, this "sins of the father" scenario is one of the big themes
"Sopranos" creator David Chase wants to pursue in the show's final
season. And this human tragedy seems destined to end badly.
Ditto, Andrew and A.J.