Hey all! I come bearing an English-language recommendation. Sure, I may be addicted to dramas, but I’m always up for anything that makes me feel just as many Emotions (yes, with a capital E).
18 To Life is my current obsession, although I want to say straight up that it got cancelled after two seasons. It’s a Canadian sitcom that ran from 2010-2011. I found it on Netfix and despite the hugely low ratings on there, the concept intrigued me (and there were some particularly convincing reviews) Here’s the synopsis:
Opposites really do attract in this sitcom, which follows the domestic adventures of Jessie and Tom, high school sweethearts and next-door neighbors in Montreal who decide to get married at 18 years of age — and live with Tom’s conservative family.
Yeah, it sounds cheesy and it was — a little. But that’s what made it work. It reminded me of watching a Korean sitcom because of the zany family antics and the general style of each episode. My favorite part was the focus on the young couple, Jessie and Tom, because they are actually very devoted to each other. You’d this that with a concept like this, they’d be out to show you that failure is around every corner. Yes, they are young, and maybe it was too soon to get married, but they show them working through it in a mostly healthy and realistic manner (of course, the “mostly” comes from the whole “antics” aspect of the show, but that’s fine with me). The show really seems to have the over arching them of committed, monogamous relationships. Each set of parents gets a side focus, with one side being very traditional and the other being less so (not married but the equivalent). These days there are so many series that show the build-up to a relationship without actually showing any that work from the get-go. 18 To Life goes down that road and stays there, which is an interesting change of pace.
The acting wasn’t particularly remarkable, but I did like the actors very much. I felt they were completely real choices, and I loved that. Jessie (Stacey Farber) and Tom (Michael Seater) were in other Canadian shows that syndicated in the US (Degrassi and Life with Derek, respectively), so you might already be familiar with their faces. Life with Derek aired on Disney Channel forever ago and I remember seeing a few episodes and I actually liked the actor who played Derek a lot even though the show was pretty annoying to me. I was glad to see him play a likable character in 18 To Life and DANG, they styled him so well — which may have also made me make the small connection to Korean media. This world lacks well-dressed young guys! The cuffed shirts! The hair! Swoon. Plus, it was refreshing to see a young male character giving responsibility a shot. I feel like a lot of North American TV has guys of the same age being as irresponsible as possible, which may be how things are more often than not but I grew up with a lot of friends and family that were more like the character of Tom than somebody on Gossip Girl or whatever. I have cousins that have married just as young as Jessie and Tom so this is part of my world in a way.
There wasn’t ever anything on 18 To Life that made me go to bed thinking, “OH MAN, WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT?” which definitely could have been from the fact that I blazed through this series in less than 36 hours. Still, it’s true that there wasn’t any big plot other than basic living. However, you can see from how fast I watched it that this wasn’t really a problem. It had enough of something special that I simply enjoyed it existing. It’s kind of different to watch a show without huge drama around every corner. Sometimes I’d be mid-episode wondering why I even liked the show, but undoubtedly by the end I’d be excited and happy and ready to watch another. There was just something earnest and lovely about this series.
Interestingly enough, the show got huge criticism for its concept. Apparently the whole “married at 18″ was received more shockingly than “hooking up randomly at 18″ or “moving in together at 18″ would have been. There is a really interesting article that delves into this reaction here. Personally, I feel that the marriage topic was completely refreshing and really what made this show what it was.
While I don’t believe anyone should rush into big decisions quickly or lightly, I find it unfortunate that marriage has become a touchy topic for a lot of people. I understand that marriage has fallen out of vogue in Western culture, but have we really come to this? Most people don’t even consider it an option until they’re in their mid-late twenties or thirties, and even then statistics show that most of those marriages don’t even last. I think a lot of people have adopted the idea of “what’s the point,” and choose to force this marriage-malaise onto with everyone whom they come in contact. Yes, it is unusual for anyone with the word “teen” still on their age to get married just for the sake of getting married, but that’s what makes the show intriguing. I find it sad that critics chose to bash it for shining a light on the shift in Western cultural norms. Half a century ago it would have been the reverse, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people didn’t feel the same. In 18 To Life, the young couple chooses marriage as a public declaration of their commitment to each other, but not in a preachy or annoying way. They simply show that it’s right for them, despite the backlash they receive.
Anyway, although I’m not sure about the exact reason it got cancelled, the fact of the matter is that it did. I can see why in a small way; it wasn’t exciting or flashy and it definitely wasn’t perfect, but it still makes me sad that it was. It has so many good qualities. I was worried that it would end its last season in an unsatisfactory way, but watching the last episode was totally fine. It ends leaving you feeling that they wrapped it up just enough. You do wonder what they’re still doing (in a fictional sense), but you have a sense of closure as well.
I think it’s worth quickly noting that while this show did cause me to draw similarities between it and Korean television, 18 to Life wasn’t very conservative in the way of romance. It was rated TV-14 and I can see why. To be honest, sex is a natural part of the show, although it isn’t obscene or explicit in any way. This was another reason the show got criticism (because the characters are so young), which I find absolutely ridiculous because almost every modern Western television show is 80% sex these days and at least 18 To Life focused on healthy relationships. Of course I don’t say this to condemn any lifestyle, but I’m more saying, hey, what is more tame than a committed monogamous couples of legal age?! Really. What is there to offend? Still, it might not be something every person would be comfortable watching so I wanted to hand out a warning.
Overall, this was a really good show to watch for a number of reasons. It was a break from the norm, it was light-hearted and undramatic, and it felt a lot like reading a light novel. You respect the characters and their decisions, laugh a little along the way, and feel better for having enjoyed them. I’m sure there is a group of people that would not meld with this concept, but I felt they kept a lot of ideas open and they weren’t pushy in any way. I felt like they simply wanted to show a new side of an old idea, and it worked for me.