Fallen Instant Star

col_instant-star_sm.jpgThe N shocked the legions of Instant Star fans when it decided to pull the plug on the program in favor of producing more reality TV.







It’s been a little over a month since my favorite TV show ended. I’m speaking of Instant Star, a Canadian import that aired for four seasons on cable network The N. Now, you may be thinking "Instant Star? What show is that?" Truth be told, there’s a good chance that, unless you’re a faithful viewer of The N, you’ve never heard of this little gem. And it’s probably an even better bet that, if you’re not a preteen, teen or extremely youth-minded twenty-something, you don’t even know The N exists. Well folks, I haven’t belonged to any of those select age groups for quite some time, but as a 30-something lifelong television viewer, trust me when I say Instant Star was absolutely one of the best shows on TV.

Throughout its run, Instant Star focused on the life of Jude Harrison, a 15-year-old singer/songwriter/musician whose life is instantly changed when she wins the Instant Star competition (think American Idol). Immediately, Jude signs with G-Major Records and, overnight, she becomes a musical sensation. We watch as she tries to balance her newfound fame and her shifting family and school life, along with healthy doses of teenage jealousies and insecurities thrown in. But the biggest and most notable change that she encounters comes in her relationship with Tommy Quincy, her 25-year-old producer. Tommy used to be a member of a boy band called Boys Attack, which blew up and then, as most bands eventually do, broke up. As a result, Tommy segued into music producing, working with up and coming talent like Jude.

The crux of the show’s plot involves the complicated romantic sparks that fly between the mature Tommy and the still-underage Jude. Now, normally, I hate to see teenaged girls or even young women in general fall head over heels in love with older and therefore supposedly more mature guys for one big reason: more often than not, the guys wind up being sophomoric, juvenile jerks that are not so mature after all.

Society constantly preaches that girls mature mentally faster than boys. Therefore, they say, it’s reasonable and natural for girls to be attracted to older boys whom they think will be more on their wavelength. In my humble opinion, though, that type of rationalization is a bunch of malarkey. Girls mature faster than boys only because society is forever encouraging girls to do so.

A 10-year-old boy, for example, is free to laugh at fart noises and play with his superhero figures and video games until his little heart’s content. Twenty years later, at the age of 30, that same boy—excuse me, "mature" man—can still have farting contests with his buddies, collect comic books, be the first in line to see the latest Batman movie and have superhero-themed birthday parties…and no one will say a word about it. That’s just the way guys are, right?

Contrast that brand of free-spirited male socialization with a similar example involving a 10-year-old girl who enjoys playing with her Barbie dolls. Twenty years later, that girl, now a "mature" woman, won’t even think about breaking out her old Barbies for a tea party. And forget about buying new dolls to add to her collection, or throwing herself a Barbie-themed birthday bash. "Grow up, girl, are you crazy?" shout her friends and family, as they rattle off more age-appropriate things for her to do. Why the obviously unfair and archaic double-standard? Methinks it’s a conspiracy to keep women in their place, but alas, I digress; back to Jude and Tommy.

Despite my initial misgivings about their pairing, I have to admit that from the start their relationship seemed really special…special enough to make me shrug off their ten-year age difference and root for them to get together. And that, in a nutshell, was really the push and pull of each episode of Instant Star, its million dollar question: Will Jude and Tommy ever give in to temptation and allow themselves to fully fall in love?

Kudos to the show’s writers for always keeping the pair’s relationship fresh, creating dramatic storylines that involved different romantic interests for them both. But even when they were seeing other people, it was clear to faithful viewers like me that, in their hearts, Jude and Tommy truly wanted each other. While the characters were fighting their feelings, viewers were kept on pins and needles, wondering if their close working relationship would ever become too much and ultimately force one of them to walk away. Such ongoing tensions might sound ordinary and contrived—like typically unimaginative TV—but believe me, Instant Star never once got boring or redundant. Unlike most TV shows that run out of steam and go stale with bad writing and dumb plots, Instant Star avoided jumping the shark.  

Because the series was centered on music, great original songs were incorporated into each episode, often showcased as integral elements of the show. Typically the songs would flow from Jude’s feelings about some important issue in her life: for example, struggling to believe in herself, discovering that her dad was having an affair, or the constant tension in her relationship with Tommy. With each song she wrote and recorded, Jude’s music served to showcase her growth as a songwriter and her maturity as a person.

One of the things I loved most about Instant Star was its honesty. No problem was ever cookie-cutter or childlike-simple. Stories were always written from a very mature perspective, and they showed enormous respect and sincerity for Jude’s complex life as a modern-day teenager. None of the characters’ problems were ever neatly solved during the 30-minute weekly episodes. And, unlike most half-hour television shows, this was clearly and unapologetically a drama, not a comedy.

Unfortunately, this year, after a total of just 53 episodes, The N shocked the legions of Instant Star fans when it decided to pull the plug on the program in favor of producing more reality TV. Oh, joy! More reality television. But then again, I’m aware that at my advanced age of 32, I’m not The N’s targeted audience. Perhaps reality shows are, indeed, what tweens and teens are clamoring to see. Still, I can’t help being disappointed that The N chose to cancel a tried and true good thing like Instant Star. Instant Star ended its run as the second-highest-rated show on the network. It will be missed not only by me, but by many other "age inappropriate" viewers as well. | Retannical D. Russell

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