Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Bella Thorne finds herself in an interesting position. The former Shake It Up 19-year-old starlet is ready to abandon her Disney Channel roots to move into more mature, less kid-friendly entertainment, yet she’s not willing to pull a Miley Cyrus and jump completely into the deep end. Rather, she’s progressing gradually onto the other side, working her way into everything from the newest Madea movie to the long-delayed Amityville: The Awakening to even the latest Xavier Dolan joint. Her career options are varied and versatile, one must admit, but she’s also keeping herself close to home. Thorne reconnects with both the Mouse House and the small screen at the center of the newest Freeform original series, an adaptation of Rebecca Serle’s YA novel Famous in Love.
Developed by Serle and I. Marlene King (Pretty Little Liars), Famous in Love follows your somewhat average rags-to-riches storyline, with a plucky, good-hearted everygirl Paige Townsen (Thorne), often mistakenly called “Paige Townsend,” given a glimpse into the world of glitz and glamor when she nabs the lead role in the much-anticipated Locked, which is essentially the next Twilight, The Hunger Games and/or Fifty Shades of Grey. The creators intentionally (and perhaps conveniently) keep the details rather vague on the actual in-the-making film, focusing instead on the sensational behind-the-scenes details.
In a wide net casting call that attracts nearly every bright-eyed aspiring actress in Tinsel Town, Paige wins the admiration and affections of the upcoming movie’s main star, taboloid favorite Rainer Devon (Carter Jenkins), who reminds me of a younger, slightly blander Robert Pattinson, which lands her the contentious part, much to the dismay of Alexis Glenn (a promising Niki Koss), America’s former sweetheart who believed the part was destined for her.
From there, Paige navigates the high-and-lows of newfound fame, foolishly believing she can continue her college education while becoming a media superstar. Amidst all this craziness, she keeps herself levelheaded through the loving support of her closest friends, the bubbly Cassie (Georgie Flores) and hunky good boy Jake (Charlie DePew), whom she obviously has feelings for.
In short, Famous in Love is undoubtedly a Freeform series. There’s nothing especially wrong with that per se, except when it’s as bland, distinct-less and generally predictable as this show is in its introductory episodes. The characters are all uniformly cookie cutter, the visual presentation is wholly unremarkable and uninviting, and there are little-to-no shocks or racy thrills. Everything that’s supposed to be juicy or sexy plays as tepid and meek, and anything meant to be nailbiting and thrilling is frustratingly formulaic and superficial. Famous in Love wants to invite the audience into a world they never usually get to see, but everything about it feels so routinely familiar.
Thankfully, such sins can be replenished if the lead actress earns our, ahem, love. After all, Paige’s beautiful radiance, gentle talent and natural charm are what thrust her into the starlight in the first place, right? While Thorne isn’t necessarily dull, as she can occasionally win you over with her eager enthusiasm, her Paige doesn’t exemplify any qualities to suggest that she’s truly “the one,” the absolute star-in-the-making that’s unquestionably Hollywood’s latest sensation. Perhaps that’ll change throughout the course of this series, but there’s little that showcases why she’s the bonafide star-in-the-making. It sounds a little cruel to say, but she maybe nails the plain jane aspect of Paige a little too well to make us believe she’s the real deal. Right now, she’s too average. It also doesn’t help that’s The Arrangement‘s Christine Evangelista is everything Thorne is not.
There are steamy makeout sessions and intended romantic tension, but there’s hardly any sizzle. Even as a salacious guilty pleasure, Famous in Love is aggressively mild. One assumes the show is aimed at 18-24-year-olds, but the simplistic sexuality wouldn’t even get teenagers randy. As such, Famous in Love is a strangely flaccid series, with little eroticism or promiscuousness. Your mouth is thoroughly unwatered and you’d find more clothes tousled at a laundromat.
Which ultimately gets to the primary problem with this newest Freeform effort: there’s very little genuine risk or authentic edginess. Everything’s too telegraphed. If that’s the case, then why not make it more daring and winking? As it currently stands, everything’s too watered down. Such an un-erotic approach is not only odd but ill-fitting. Famous in Love should own up to its trashiness and silliness. It should embrace its sleaziness. Because it doesn’t though, the show is a hard sell.
Admittedly, I’m not the target audience for Famous in Love. I doubt I ever was. I’m not even sure I’m anywhere near the right hemisphere of who it’s aiming to appease and please. But even by its own low-grade, surprisingly low-budget standards, Famous in Love feels pretty inadequate. It finds little dramatic suspense and hardly any sexiness. And there’s not much effort to make its annoyingly tame execution reach its full potential. Admittedly, Famous in Love could’ve been worse, but there’s not enough here to actually love. This is not the next Pretty Little Liars. At least, not yet.
Freeform's newest YA adaptation, Famous in Love, finds an agreeable, if bland, Bella Thorne in a show that's hard to love.