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Higher Ground

Who knew that the life of at-risk teens at an "emotional growth" school could be so photogenic? The creators of Fox Family's new original drama "Higher Ground" have come up with a new spin on the old yarns about troubled youth and their concerned counselors. It's like putting the attractive cast of "Dawson's Creek" in a pristine woodsy setting and giving them all a lot of baggage and traumas.

Who knew that the life of at-risk teens at an “emotional growth” school could be so photogenic? The creators of Fox Family’s new original drama “Higher Ground” have come up with a new spin on the old yarns about troubled youth and their concerned counselors. It’s like putting the attractive cast of “Dawson’s Creek” in a pristine woodsy setting and giving them all a lot of baggage and traumas. They may be hooked on speed, but all they need is love. Really.

Exec produced by Michael Braverman (“Chicago Hope”) and Douglas Schwartz (“Baywatch”), series pilot introduces auds to Mount Horizon’s headmaster Peter Scarbrow, a recovering addict, who loves climbing treacherous mountains — a painfully obvious metaphor for his approach to helping his students.

The wilderness school is also seen through the eyes of new student Scott Barringer (Hayden Christensen), an athletic, pouting fellow whose life has turned into hell because of a family secret and a bad drug habit. Needless to say, the caring headmaster feels his pain and will go out of his way to exorcise the golden boy’s demons in the show’s first outing.

The other members of the multicultural student body suffer from one-note personalities. By the time we get to know the blonde bad girl, the sensitive ex-gangbanger, the bulimic beauty and the lovestruck nerd, older viewers may find themselves flashing back to “The Breakfast Club.” Maybe Molly Ringwald can do a guest spot in a future episode as a visiting counselor or somebody’s abusive mother.

The role of headmaster, however, fits actor Joe Lando like a glove. Newly shorn of the locks he used to sport on “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” thesp is pretty comfortable in his scenes with the younger cast members. It’s a given that the producers will hook him up sooner or later with one of his comely female colleagues, Sophie (Anne Marie Loder) or Hannah (Deborah Odell).

Despite opener’s well-meaning, predictable storyline, show may prove to be popular with its target audience. The high-energy music and smoothly edited sequences are reminiscent of MTV’s signature shows “The Real World” and “Road Rules,” and the towering pines and rippling rivers of the show’s Vancouver-area locations are definitely a feast for the eyes.

One question, however, remains after screening the first episode: What’s up with the kids’ immaculately arranged, super clean sleeping quarters? Who’s the maid — Martha Stewart?

Higher Ground

Fox Family Channel; Friday Jan. 14, 9 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Vancouver, B.C., by Lions Gate Television, Crescent Entertainment and Paramount TV. Executive producers, Frank Giustra, Harold Tichenor, Matt Hastings, Michael Braverman, Doug Schwartz; co-executive producer, Joe Lando; producer, George Horie; director, David Straiton; writer, Michael Braverman.
  • Crew: Editor, Daria Ellerman; music, Ferocious Fish; art director, Liz Goldwyn; costume designer, Crystine Booth; music supervisor, Matthew B. Safran. 60 MIN.
  • With: Peter Scarbrow ........Joe Lando Sophie Becker ...... Anne Marie Loder Sheriff Curtis Swann ....Sean Campbell Frank Markasian ....... Jim Byrnes Scott Barringer....Hayden Christensen Shelby Merrick....... A.J. Cook Juliette Waybourne....Meghan Ory Ezra Friedkin........Kyles Downes <b>With:</b> Deborah Odell, Kandyse McClure, Jorge Vargas, Dmitry Chepovetsky, Sarah Wong, Benita Ha, Jewel Staite. Casting, Corrine Clark, Wendy O'Brien; production designer, Jillian Scott; director of photography, Tony Westman; editor, Daria Ellerman; music, Ferocious Fish; art director, Liz Goldwyn; costume designer, Crystine Booth; music supervisor, Matthew B. Safran. 60 MIN.