By now it's old news that I'm a fan of 10 Things I Hate About You; twice before on this site, I've praised its refreshing wit and its unique serial take on the teen movie. But every comedy has its dramatic moments, and 10 Things got a little more serious last night. In "Dance Little Sister," the Stratford sibs experienced real heartache for the first time, thanks to the first high school dance of the year. Kat (Lindsey Shaw) thought Patrick (Ethan Peck) blew her off in the middle of the dance -- and left in a huff, unaware that Patrick walked into a pot-smoke-filled bathroom right before the cops did. And Bianca (Meaghan Jette Martin thought her date Beau blew her off, only to discover that Cameron (Nicholas Braun) had stolen Beau's phone and drained his tires so Cameron could take Bianca instead. The girls ended up at home, disappointed but comforted by each other, and the episode ended with an unfamiliar but surprisingly touching image: the two polar opposites falling asleep together in Kat's bed.
Turning Points like these happen all the time on television and in the movies -- when a smart kid fails a test or an athlete accidentally lands the starring role in the school play. In the movies, these Turning Points usually lead to happily ever after for the good kids and to somewhere decidedly less pleasant for the bad kids. That's how everything happens in the movie version of 10 Things -- Bianca and Cameron wind up together and Joey Donner gets socked where it hurts. But television can't resolve issues this quickly -- that's why the TV version of 10 Things took some liberties with the movie script and made the project into something unique (and serial). Bianca and Cameron have to struggle. So do Kat and Patrick. There'd be no series without that unbearable teenage URST. (I use the quotes because the show is on ABC family, and none of the characters will actually have sex. They'll just make out a lot.)
10 Things started out much like The Office did. It had a familiar precedent, an obvious romantic arc, and a brand of humor that could stand on its own. Now, The Office took 3 seasons to fix the URST. The URST was part of the comedy. And the minute the URST was resolved, the show slathered on the drama a little too thick. Remember the Andy-Dwight-Angela love triangle? The Jan pregnancy? It was absurd -- and it wasn't that funny, even when it was supposed to be.
10 Things, even in its first season, recognized that a comedy can have drama in it -- and, more importantly, that the drama doesn't have to contain quips or jibes or anything remotely funny. "Dance Little Sister" was significantly less humorous than previous episodes. Bianca made a single reference to Tina Fey's smart/sexy girl glasses, and that was it. They're teenagers, after all: Drama runs their lives, and it even changes their personalities. The quick-on-their-toes sisters dialed down the snark because they were genuinely heartbroken.
The writers at 10 Things were smart to include an episode like this. It wasn't overdone and it came at the right time. At eight episodes in, we know enough about the characters to understand what they've done, but not enough to anticipate what they'll do. And with that little bit of anguish, the writers added more dimension to Bianca and Kat -- and gave viewers more reasons to keep watching the show.