ABC Family has become the destination channel for young adult television. Their latest is Jane by Design. In this comedy-drama, high school scholar, Jane Quimby (Erica Dasher), lives alone with her older brother, Ben (David Clayton-Rogers) after the death of their father. Mom is out of the picture, having run out on the family years ago. The young Miss Quimpy is a character right out of the pages of a John Hughes movie: She’s an outcast, she designs all of her own clothes, and her best friend is the school punker. Okay, Jane’s best friend, Billy ((Rowly Dennis), is a hell of a lot cuter than Jon Cryer’s Duckie, but anyone who says that Jane’s high school sitch isn’t drawn from Pretty in Pink is a liar. Ben is having a difficult time finding work, so Jane decides she’s going to pitch in. She learns of an internship at one of the leading fashion companies and instantly knows that this is right for her.
With permission from her school counselor and a forged signature from Ben, Jane heads off to the city and an interview. As it happens, Jane’s paperwork gets mixed up in human resources and she interviews for an executive assistant position rather than the internship. The woman she interviews for is a notoriously difficult woman who goes through assistants as quickly as the abusive Miranda Preistly in The Devil Wears Prada. Her name is Gray Chandler Murray, played by Andie MacDowell- yea! Gray, a world famous designer, mistakes Jane for someone much older and offers her the job on the spot. When Jane hesitates because she trying to explain that she’s just there for the internship, Gray interprets this as bargaining for more wages. As soon as Jane hears how much she’ll be earning, she accepts the job, not realizing how difficult her life is about to become.
So begins the series, which follows Jane’s two lives, one as a high school girl just trying to win the heart of the hunky guy she’s crushed on for years; the other as the frazzled, but sure footed assistant with a heart of gold and a knack for fashion. The only person who knows Jane’s secret is Billy (Ben and the counselor still think she’s an intern) and as long as Jane has the energy and her sanity the plan will work until someone finds out the truth about her (she used a fake identity to say that she’s over 18) or she collapses from the pressure.
For teenagers 14 or older, the show has plenty of romance, humor and soap opera drama to keep their interests held for an hour at a time. The episodes jump back and forth between the high school drama and the real world intrigue of the fashion firm. Thus, viewers into this kind of thing get the best of both worlds. It’s another 90210 type show with the aforementioned Pretty in Pink elements, and also a soap opera about twentysomethings trying to get ahead in a high stakes industry. Each hour is well written and acted and only succumbs to TV corn on occasion. Dasher is a lovely, bubbly lead actress who seems to embody the hectic life of Jane with ease. MacDowell is always a pleasure to watch, even if she’s being a total bitch most of the time. But, being Andie MacDowell, there’s a glint of heart under her eyes and she makes Gray a likable character despite her nastiness.
Despite it’s glossy, Disney look, Jane by Design is just as good as the glitzier/ grimier teen soaps seen on the CW. With that network starting to implement more adult fare, ABC Family may soon become the only station to tackle the adult themes of YA television, unless Nickelodeon decides to take some major risks (Degrassi not included). Together with Switched at Birth and Pretty Little Liars, ABC Family has the makings of a real powerhouse lineup of shows if it decides to keep making Jane by Design.