MTV tries to tackle a serious subject but does so in an unsatisfying, once-over-lightly way in “16 & Pregnant” — a six-part series that even the channel’s press release compared with ABC Family drama “The Secret Life of an American Teenager.” Awkwardly crunching pregnancy, childbirth and the first few months of parenting into an hour, the documentary-style program eschews tough questions and works too hard at entertaining, turning a potential public service into a bit of a muddle.
By beginning the storytelling when the teenager is nearly ready to deliver, the program conveniently sidesteps any of the most controversial aspects inherent in the title: Did she consider abortion? How did her parents respond to discovering that their daughter was sexually active, much less pregnant? And where will this thrown-together couple be a few years from now?
Given the statistics, that last answer won’t be pretty, but it — like the rest of the drama — will have to occur offscreen. Hell, even her 30 hours of labor is dispatched in a few seconds of pencil animation, making the act of childbirth look about as difficult as an A-ha video.
So what’s left? Pretty much merely the “Duh” revelation that having a baby at 16 (or any age, for that matter) changes things. In the premiere, the featured girl (a different one will be in each episode) adjusts as best she can to her predicament, while her boyfriend sulks, gets new tattoos and does all he can to avoid changing diapers. Moreover, as constructed by producer Morgan J. Freeman (MTV’s “Taking the Stage”), she provides the voiceover narration — a way to spackle in the cinema verite approach by providing regular access to her innermost thoughts.
MTV has cited a desire to engage its youthful audience with more serious programming, but that will require more guts and commitment than this exercise in half-measures (conceived by MTV exec Lauren Dolgen) initially displays. Indeed, about all the show manages to do is reinforce the old adage that it’s impossible to be a little bit “Pregnant.”