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Sweet Valley High: The Complete First Season (March 3/05)

The most perplexing aspect of Sweet Valley High involves the twins that the show revolves around. Played by Brittany and Cynthia Daniel, the two are purportedly identical twins - even though they certainly don't look it. More troublesome is the fact that the majority of their classmates and teachers can't tell them apart, a plot device that just isn't believable.

Aside from that, though, Sweet Valley High is a silly yet oddly compelling little show set mostly within the halls of the titular high school. Brittany and Cynthia play, respectively, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield - so-called identical twins who aren't terribly similar apart from their looks. Jessica is flirtatious and easy-going, while Elizabeth is studious and hard-working. The two seem to get along well enough, despite the occasional battle that emerges from their opposing world views. The show also features several recurring characters, most notably Elizabeth's best friend Enid (played by Amy Danles) and boyfriend (Ryan James Bittle), and Jessica's snobby cohort Lila (Bridget Flanery).

Sweet Valley High, with its emphasis on wacky mixups, could almost be considered a distant cousin of Saved by the Bell - minus the laugh track and overly comedic supporting characters. All the requisite high school characters are present and accounted for - ie the jock, the nerd, the slut, etc - while the storylines generally tend to revolve around fairly trivial issues (Degrassi Junior High this is not). A good example would be the third episode in the season, which finds Jessica agreeing to pose for a hunky artist - only to find out later that he painted her nude (even though she was dressed in a bikini).

Despite the fact that the majority of the series' episodes play out exactly the same way (comedic build-up, dramatic pay-off), the show never feels as repetitive as it rightly should - primarily thanks to the bubblier-than-bubbly performances. Cynthia and Brittany Daniel (the latter of whom has gone onto a reasonably successful film career) are cute and engaging in their respective roles, though they're not given a whole lot of support from the periphery characters (the majority of whom are essentially walking cliches).

Sweet Valley High is the sort of show that probably works best when played in the background, ie while doing the dishes or ironing. It's fluffy and entertaining, but not much more than that.

 

About the DVD: Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents all 22 episodes of Sweet Valley High's first season in this three-disc collection. The show looks great, although there are no bonus features included.
© David Nusair