The high-pressure milieu of Olympic gymnastics is so ripe for a female-oriented network like ABC Family it’s a wonder we haven’t seen a show on the subject since Fox went the track-and-field route with “Push” in the ’90s. Beginning with a title that sounds like the similarly themed feature “Stick It,” nothing about “Make It or Break It” merits extra points for artistic expression; still, it’s such an efficiently executed routine that it scores pretty well, with a serialized storyline that should pull the judges who really count (and I’m certainly not in that demo) along into subsequent rotations.
Although Peri Gilpin, Candace Cameron Bure and Susan Ward occupy key adult roles, the focus appears pretty squarely on the kids. At the center is a trio of teenagers at “The Rock” gymnastics training center in Colorado — the springboard to the Olympics. Payson (Ayla Kell), Kaylie (Josie Loren) and Lauren (Cassie Scerbo) finished one-two-three in previous qualifying competitions, and there’s every expectation they’ll retain those rankings and move on to the next round in Boston.
“They’re not little girls; they’re big business,” Lauren’s oily father says, underscoring the stakes involved, which lead to cheating, blackmail and bulimia — and that’s all in the first hour.
Shaking up the status quo is Emily (Chelsea Hobbs), a wrong-side-of-the-tracks gal with her own Olympic ambitions. Shy and serious, Emily is nothing like her flaky mom (Ward), whose immodest attire inspires one of her peers to snippily ask, “Is that hooker her mother?”
Created by Holly Sorensen, the pilot directed by Steve Miner briskly establishes all these interlocking relationships and the lengths to which the ruthless Lauren will go to preserve her dreams. Casting the show’s “It” girls was probably half the battle, and they’re a good bunch who look convincing enough in leotards, with Hobbs and Scerbo proving niftily relatable and nastily “Mean Girls”-ish, respectively.
Not everything works — starting with the split-screen gymnastics footage — but there are enough juicy bits here to forge a solid foundation with plenty of plot tendrils. The show also zeroes in on stage-parent politicking and all the pressure big-time athletics can place even on such spindly little legs.
Whether “Make It or Break It” can avoid its own wobbles and slips remains to be seen. To use one more strained metaphor, though, in TV competition, hitting the board properly — as this show slickly does — is often every bit as challenging as sticking the landing.