While it’s been three decades since I’ve spent time in the halls of a high school, “Anyone But Me” feels as real to me as my own memories of that time of life. I’m not sure if that is testament to the resiliency of the traumas of being a teenager or the talents of everyone involved in the show or both. The story of Vivian, recently uprooted by her single father from New York City and dropped into the suburbs, could be fine fodder of its own but Vivian also happens to be leaving behind a girlfriend and a life where that is not a secret. Forced into a new family dynamic and a new community, she now faces being the new kid in town and perhaps being seen primarily as something that previously was of little consequence.
A new social circle is formed as Vivian reconnects with a Sophie, a childhood friend who had been left behind; Archibald, an artist with whom Vivian will begin a creative venture that will ultimately lead her to a major decision; Alexis, a high strung theatre type who has captured Archibald’s fancy; Aunt Jodie, the sister of Vivian’s mother who deserted her family for reasons that seem unclear to everyone. As expected in any social setting, all of these people have their own secrets and they are deftly toppled in a “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine” domino effect except for Aunt Jodie – wonderfully portrayed by Barbara Pitts, who seems to be too busy searching for her own identity to have had time for doing something worth hiding. Meanwhile, back in the city, Vivian’s girlfriend, Aster, is left too often to her own devices by parents who are completely absent – so much so that they are never seen. Time and distance lead Aster to expect the worst and to actions that bring the worst about.
But, we are dealing with teenage issues so what can be the worst today can be of little significance in short notice or resolved quickly and it’s the handling of that truth that makes me admire this show. Lacking the budget or booming soundtrack that often cover up or drown out issues in studio driven programming, “Anyone But Me” presents the problems and the resolutions as awkwardly as they are in the real world.
Rachael Hip-Flores portrays Vivian with a Winona-esque humor but with less self-awareness and more dork and that sometimes seems to miss the mark but considering the age she’s playing, one’s never quite sure. Nicole Placent’s Aster may remind you of the girl who made you blush just because you were standing next to her. She’s a real girl on the verge of being a woman, all curves and confusion and the possibility of combustion. Jessy Hodges as childhood friend Sophie rounds out a trio of well defined female types as the passive-aggressive innocent. Males seem to be have been conceived as little more than devices to further the story which makes Joshua Holland as Archibald even more impressive as he’s reacting to the dramas spinning out around him.
Show creators Susan Miller and Tina Cesa Ward have created an entertaining updated insight as well as a wonderful reminder on what we all remember as the best of times, the worst of times and I hope there will be more to come.
By Larry Watts