Disney’s original high school drama series “In a Heartbeat” has characters every bit as appealing as anything you’d find on the WB, only a heck of a lot smarter. Focusing on the lives of young emergency medical technicians (EMTs), show combines the teen angst of “Dawson’s Creek” with the high voltage drama of “ER.” Although the concept of teenage EMTs sounds like some kind of “Doogie Howser” ripoff, the series, created by Emmy winner Patricia Green, is based on the lives of real volunteer EMT squads who divide their time between high school and work.
It’s a premise rich with possibilities, and the one-hour pilot of this half-hour series takes great advantage of the dramatic potential. Empowering these characters with responsibilities beyond anything seen in most teen shows is the obvious hook, but what makes the whole thing work is that these kids navigate adult territory still hampered by the wonder and insecurities of youth.
You won’t find any of the ridiculous hyperbole of Dawson Leery and his pals in Green’s script. You will find diverse characters who face their own believable hardships. Hank (Danso Gordon), the eldest and most responsible member of the squad, fights to get out of the shadow of his successful surgeon father.
The affable Tyler (Shawn Ashmore) is popular and capable, but oftentimes his demeanor is a defense to mask a difficult home life. Val (Reagan Pasternak) hopes to become a doctor someday, but her dedication is put to the test when her dad has a heart attack.
Jamie (Christopher Ralph) has been ordered by a judge to perform community service and is a reluctant member of the squad, but he realizes that this may be his last shot at staying out of trouble. Rounding out the cast is Val’s little sister Brooke (Lauren Collins) and Val’s on-again, off-again friend Caitie (Jackie Rosenbaum).
“In a Heartbeat” is edgier than most Disney Channel fare, which still leaves it on the tame side of the average TV show. Both Ashmore and Pasternak as the lovestruck Tyler and Val are pixie cute and perky, as if plucked from the Mickey Mouse Club. Luckily, their characters have been given some interesting back-stories designed to flesh out their parts. Gordon as the team leader and perfectionist bears the most emotional responsibility in the pilot, and proves the most capable of handling the load.
Production quality lives up to the pristine Disney brand, with director Shawn Levy working in tandem with editor Michael Todd to create a slick and action-packed show. Although not as immediately radio friendly as anything on the WB, Don Proulx’s music selection is a nice fit, incorporating tunes from the Moffats, Belle Perez and Sinead Lohan.