Thursday, March 7, 2013
The Next Step Is TV's New Fame
I hesitated about plopping in the DVD preview of the new Canadian series The Next Step.
After all the series which debuts Friday night at 7 on Family Channel is specifically designed for teenagers and seems on first glance to be another reality show.
But I started watching. And watching. And I couldn't stop until I'd previewed the first three shows which are very well made indeed.
The Next Step profiles 11 extremely talented teenagers aged 14 to 16 who get together after school as they prime themselves to win the regional dance festival.
The structure is very much in the reality mode. We see them come together, rehearse, form cliques, bicker and plot against each other.
But somewhere along the way they bond as a team and begin the arduous journey to (hopefully) become champs.
First up we watch the winnowing process that separates the real champions from the also rans who are regulated ignominiously to the B team.
The Next Step is a major step by Family Channel to corral the attention of younger teenagers and even pre teens.
But if you are expecting the crudities of those Kardashian shows, well, forget it.
These kids are awfully young. And they're fully motivated. They don't swear or make out or smoke or do drugs.
They can't. Every episode they must dance all out in routines that had me aching just watching from my armchair.
They're also not a bunch of goody goodies either. Highly motivated, some of them will do almost anything to succeed.
I kept thinking of the movie and TV series Fame as the best example of what a dancing and singing story can become.
And I'm fully expecting The Next Step to carefully evolve into must-see TV --provided one is under 18 years.
To further complicate things these youngsters appear to be playing themselves even though they all are dancer first and few have any prior acting experience. But the show is fictional --they sport other names and there are cliff hangers at the end of each episode (followed by that inevitable The Next Step Aftershow which will be on line).
To learn more about the show I talked to two of the break out stars Victoria Baldesarra who plays Michelle and Trevor Tordjman who is James.
Both of them had to audition for the show and at the first rehearsals over 200 kids were present.
"They shot a pilot," Trevor told me. And then there were more auditions and rehearsals which is very unusual for a new Canadian series. Usually everything shot has to be used because of costs.
Victoria tells me she heard about the show from her dance teacher who urged her to try out. The competition was tough because there were many talented girls present. But only 11 finalists were chosen --seven girls and four guys.
So now after the first season was shot (last summer) do they think of themselves as actors or dancers?
"I'm a dancer but I'm playing a role," Trevor insists. "I've only acted a little bit before this."
"I think I'm basically playing myself," says Victoria. "We shoot everything out of order. It's called block shooting and we'd do four episodes a week. We did everything out of order."
Trevor says they are given situations to play off but not much dialogue. "I can relate to my character so it wasn't tough to do."
In the first block Victoria plays the new girl in the group and she's the nice one, too. "I'm a humble person." she says with a laugh.
Every story has to have a "bitch" and this plumb assignment goes to Alexandra Beaton as the domineering Emily who creates quite an impression with her acting skills.
The other dancers include Brittany Raymond (as Riley), Isaac Lupien (Eldon), Samantha Grecchi (Stephanie), Tamina Pollack-Paris (Tiffany), Jennifer Pappas (Chloe), Brennan Clost (Daniel), Lamar Johnson (West), Jordan Clark (Giselle) and as coaches Bree Wasylenko (Kate) and Shamier Anderson (Chris).
Technical details are well executed, each episode tells a story but the dancing is what will keep you watching. Made by Temple Street Productions by executive producers Frank van Keeken (Billable Hours), Ivan Schneeberg and David Fortier (Being Erica), the show has already been sold to BBC Worldwide for syndication.
So what's next for these talented teens?
"I kind of found a passion for acting," Trevor says. He's 17 and has a bright future ahead, he literally jumps out of this ensemble.
Victoria, 14, insists "Im the baby of this group." But she's already a real beauty as well as a fine dancer
"We have contracts to do a second season," Victoria says
It would be shot this summer if the show takes off as expected. How could The Next Step not take its next step after all this?
Episodes 1 through 5 run Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. March 11 to 15 to ensnare all those kids home for March break.
And then there's The Next Step Aftershow online at Family.ca/thenext step. Got all that?
THE NEXT STEP PREMIERES ON FAMILY CHANNEL FRIDAY MARCH 8 AT 7 P.M
MY RATING: ***1/2.