By Liz Shannon Miller
We ranked it:
Given the current crop of teenagers watches television anywhere but television — on mobile devices, tablets, or computers — there is nothing smarter for a web series to do than target that demographic — enter “East Los High.”
East Los High premiered this week exclusively on Hulu, and is pure teen soap opera, the kind of show that wouldn’t feel at all out of place on MTV. Because there’s no shortage here of 21st century teen drama, and plenty of sex, drugs, backstabbings and sex tapes captured on mobile phones.
The ostensible protagonist of “East Los High” is Jessie (Janine Larina), who finds herself at the center of prime romantic drama after golden couple Jacob (Gabriel Chavarria) and Vanessa (Tracy Perez) break up, and also dealing with the arrival of Maya (Alicia Marie Sixtos), a cousin she never knew she had.
But while Jessie is the most fleshed out of characters, it’s an ensemble piece in the proud tradition of shows like the British Skins, taking the drama of high school life seriously, even as it heightens it.
What sets the show part, though, is its East Los Angeles setting and its all-Latino cast. The location and culture is deeply engrained into the show’s DNA, though it’s not at all alienating to those who have never ventured east of the 5 freeway. The 26 episodes are now being released daily on Hulu, though Hulu Plus subscribers can binge view to their heart’s content.
There’s also a heavy social component to the show, including a website for the official school newspaper full of articles “written” by the and Facebook profiles for all the characters. The breadth of this social is still a bit thin right now, but it is fun to watch the characters leave messages on each others’ walls (especially when those messages go ignored).
The website also sets itself up as a resource for important issues for teenagers, including birth control, depression and bullying — a nod to the show’s association with real-life youth groups including Advocates for Youth and the California Family Health Council.
Some of the acting falls a little flat and there’s some awkward, unnatural dialogue, but the cast does have some standouts, especially Sixtos. Sixtos brings a haunted believability to Maya, even when her storyline pushes the boundaries of believabilty.
“East Los High’s” most important accomplishment is this: Despite its subject matter, the series manages to avoid being too after-school-special in tone, letting its young cast breathe and live on camera. (Okay, there is the bit where we learn that if you short a drug dealer, you’re probably going to get shot to death on the street, but that’s an important lesson that we all need to know.)
In all seriousness, there’s a naturalism to the show that elevates it above more slick productions like you’d find on the CW — making it all the more compelling.