By Stacey Harrison
I’ll readily admit that even though I regularly cover the network, I’m not in the target audience for much of the programming on ABC Family. That said, I’ve been able to find elements I enjoy in plenty of its shows, whether it’s the catty drama mixed with sports on Make It or Break It, the crushing honesty of the dearly departed Huge, or the myriad twists and turns on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the shows have a way of sneaking up on you and turning viewers into addicts.
With The Nine Lives of Chloe King, which debuts Tuesday night, the winning combination turns out to be an intriguing mythology a truly charming leading lady. The premise of a normal kid who discovers that he/she has an extraordinary gift they knew nothing about isn’t exactly original — I hear there’s some wizard-boy movie that’s going to be big this summer — but it’s executed well in this adaptation of Liz Braswell’s teen book series. Chloe King (Skyler Samuels) is a happy-go-lucky teen living in San Francisco with her adoptive mother (Amy Pietz), but as her 16th birthday approaches, Chloe can’t help but wonder if there’s more to life than just the everyday stuff, and whether she’s missing out by always playing it safe.
She gets more excitement than she ever dreamed of, though, when she notices some latent superpowers developing. Sometimes this is just neato, like when she casually walks on the back of a park bench, and other times it’s just freaky, like when she’s able to grow long Wolverine-style fingernails. Oh, and there’s the ability to come back from the dead thing. Turns out Chloe is a member of an ancient race known as the Mai, a human-feline hybrid species, and that she just might be their savior.
Despite all the action set pieces, which are certainly well done by basic-cable standards, it’s pretty clear that much of Chloe King is going to be concerned with the heroine fulfilling her extraordinary destiny while also navigating the treacherous world of high school. This has huge eye-rolling potential (I fully expect an episode at some point that has Chloe fighting off would-be assassins while wearing a prom dress she’s worried about ripping), but if it sticks to the strong writing featured in the pilot, the series might just find the right balance.
Samuels is a natural in the lead, possessing an immediately warm presence that makes you root for her. Her relationship with Pietz’s character is also refreshing in that it’s a somewhat rare positive portrayal of a teen girl getting along with her mom. Yes, they have secrets between them, mainly involving Chloe’s real father and the circumstances surrounding her adoption, but there’s a basis of respect there that seems to ensure that mother and daughter will treat each other as human beings and not merely tawdry afterschool-special cliches.
The pilot also sets up a lot of juicy loose threads that will get pulled throughout the season, and part of the tension will come knowing that given the nature of Chloe’s existence, a few of her adventures probably will result in her death. Yes, she’ll presumably come right back to life, but my goodness, just how important will third-hour algebra be after you’ve visited the great beyond?
Photo: © ABC Family/Eric McCandless