Midseason drama “The Bedford Diaries” is like that mismatched collection of stuff you find in a box at the back of a closet before a big move. There might be something worth saving, but is it really worth the trouble? As UPN and the WB purge and fight for shows to bring into the CW merger, some tough decisions have to be made. Considering “Bedford’s” jumbled plot about college kids and sex is about 10 years too late to qualify as provocative, this decision won’t be tough.
On the surface, one can see what the show aspires to be — a “Sex and the Dormitory” that explores those heady, tumultuous college years. But high school is the new college as far as sexual experiences go — that is, if viewers are to believe “One Tree Hill,” next to which “Bedford” pales.
Premise surrounds a random group of students at fictional Bedford U. (shot at Barnard College) who luck into the coveted Sex and the Human Condition course taught by Professor Macklin (Matthew Modine). In an ongoing assignment, they must keep a video diary.
The class is a mosh pit of personalities, including Sarah (Tiffany Dupont), the type-A student president hiding an affair with a professor. She’s being hounded by Richard (Milo Ventimiglia), the rich, recovering alcoholic who plans to expose Sarah’s scandal for the school newspaper. Owen (Penn Badgley), Sarah’s younger brother, is willing to forgo his man-slut ways to woo Natalie (Corri English), the campus head case. Lee (Ernest Waddell) is the green freshman, torn between his high school sweetheart and promiscuous flirt Zoe (Victoria Cartagena).
The frank discussions about sex and its ramifications, both good and bad, are commendable. But video diaries are clichethanks to their prevalent use in reality TV, even if they are all about sex. (After all, “sex, lies, and videotape” came out in 1989.) Even director Adam Bernstein seems less than intrigued with this technique, sticking to a strict formula of boy-girl drama, video confession, fade to commercial, repeat.
Bernstein handles the general sexual issues with a fair amount of sensitivity but mishandles other topics, most notably suicide.
Viewers don’t learn until later episodes why Natalie tried to take her life by jumping from a campus rooftop, but from the first episode, her depression and suicide attempt are treated as an aphrodisiac.
“That’s the beauty of surviving suicide,” she declares to the camera. “Anything’s possible. The problems from your past become trivial and your body talks to you in a whole new way.”
Series isn’t much of a vehicle for “Gilmore Girls” hottie Ventimiglia, who goes from cynical and acerbic to cynical and alcoholic, only without the charm.
Writers Julie Martin and Tom Fontana still try to throw in plenty of intellectual, college-level dialogue, but a few Christina Rossetti references do not a witty script make. Ventimiglia was much more appealing with Amy Sherman-Palladino talking for him. Here, the most animated exchange comes when he can’t remember whether he’s quoting Kierkegaard or Jon Stewart.
Pinch-hitting in the mature adult roles are Modine as Macklin and Broadway star Audra McDonald as Carla Bonatelle. Modine does his best Kinsey impersonation, trying to coax intimate thoughts out of his students without sounding creepy. Both actors are vastly underused, at least in the first few episodes. Tech credits are rough.