I just finished watching the Pilot episode of ABC Family’s summer show The 9 Lives of Chloe King and let’s just say I am pleasantly surprised that I haven’t killed myself yet. This is the sort of series that I would have loved at the age of 16 (I had Buffy the Vampire Slayer – which is still the awesomest). Based on the Young Adult series by Kim Brazwell, the show has moderate to solid acting, fun and quick dialogue, an intriguing back story, and good looking people, which I figure is enough to make any show on ABC Family a hit. More than that, though, this is a show with some genuine heart which will inevitably be what draws people back week after week (unlike Teen Wolf, which I’ll start reviewing next week, but I don’t want to because it’s painful). Be warned, this does contain spoilers.
The 9 Lives of Chloe King: Pilot
Chloe King (Skyler Samuels) is a fairly typical teenager with typical teenage insecurities. She’s afraid that her life is a little boring and concerned she’s doomed to never kiss another boy (the first one having been her best friend at the age of 8). On the cusp of her 16th birthday, she’s about to find out just how exciting her life can be.
The pilot episode begins with a chase through a San Francisco Park, at the end of which Chloe is pushed from the top of Coit Tower by a mysterious man with a gnarly scratch on his face. One can only assume that this means that there won’t be a second episode, as Coit Tower is 210 feet tall and no human could possibly survive that. Luckily, the title of the series pretty much spoils any tension this scene might have had, but we’re left waiting till over half way through the episode to find out what happens after Chloe hits the ground.
Flashback to two days earlier, 1 day before Chloe’s 16th birthday. After a quick and cute morning recap with her mother (Amy Pietz), Chloe is off for a pre-birthday birthday breakfast muffin with her best friends, Amy (Grace Phipps) and Paul (Ki Hong Lee). As Chloe bemoans the fact that the only boy she’s ever kissed is Paul and that her life is super boring, she walks effortlessly across the top of a park bench, leaving her friends amazed at her abilities. This is the first sign that something about Chloe is changing and it’s practically ignored by our heroine. She glosses it over as “easy” even as Paul proves it’s quite difficult.
That evening, instead of doing their usual pre-birthday dinner, Chloe convinces her friends to be a little bit more daring. The trio sneaks into a club, where Chloe meets a boy and spends the evening dancing. Chloe’s happiness that her wish might actually come true is palpable and she makes the snap decision to kiss the boy before heading home. As first kisses go, this one is sweet and endearing. Even though Skyler Samuels isn’t that convincing of a wall-flower, it’s still easy to believe that this is her first. Her excitement is shared by pal Amy at school the next day and, after impressing the school and the head jock Alec (Benjamin Stone) with a long basketball shot into a trash can, it seems that Chloe may have more luck with the opposite sex than she could have ever dreamed. Boy Number three walks into her life when he stops at the boutique clothing store she works at. Brian (Grey Damon from Friday Night Lights) is the adorable every man, with boyish good lucks and a bumbling geeky charm that immediately piques Chloe’s interest. However, since this is guy number three, I was starting to wonder if she started putting off some weird pheromone.
Meanwhile, as the trials of boy and girls are played out on screen, Chloe is discovering that her 16th birthday is coming with a whole slew of surprises – catlike reflexes, increased energy, eerie good hearing, and, of course, claws. All of this is a little disturbing, but the newness is exciting enough that Chloe is willing to let it slide, until she takes a header off of Coit tower.
Having not read the books, I was genuinely surprised when it’s revealed that Alec (the sexy and very forward jock) and Jasmine (a brooding girl who you first think is Alec’s girlfriend until Amy says she’s his cousin – confused? Yes, so am I) have been watching Chloe and only stepped in when they realized her life was in danger. When Chloe demands an explanation (she’s as confused as I was), they reveal that they were there to watch until she makes her change at which point, presumably, others would step in to explain things about who Chloe really is.
Chloe, Alec, and Jasmine are Mai, an ancient species that is neither human nor god, but born of the Egyptian goddess Bastet. Centuries earlier they broke their sacred pact to protect humanity and now they are hunted by a mysterious organization known only as “The Order”. However, Alec and Jasmine are confused why The Order (who consider it their duty to hunt down Mai) is actually trying to kill Chloe, since normally they just twiddle their thumbs (or something) and most Mai live a perfectly normal life. We also find out that Mai and humans can’t mate, which really puts a damper on Chloe’s relationship with Dance Club Boy (who is killed by her kiss) and Brian.
This is probably the clunkiest scene in the entire episode. Whereas a good portion of the interactions between characters is just as effortless as Chloe on a tightrope, when Alec (Benjamin Stone) and Jasmine (Allysa Diaz) are forced to act, the entire thing falls apart. Of course, it could just be that they have to wrap up an entire mythology into a 2 minute scene, but bad writing isn’t an excuse for their weak performance.
It should be noted that Chloe is extra special as most Mai only have one life. Alec and Jasmine believe that this indicates that Chloe is ‘The Uniter’, whatever that is, and that she’ll save them from something. Maybe this means she’ll restore the ancient pact, maybe it means that cats fight a lot, maybe she’s just going to protect the Mai from The Order. Who knows? Nothing more is revealed, but we’ve got a whole summer’s worth of episodes to figure that out and, to be honest, I’m hoping that they leave that part out of the show almost entirely. I’m all for a good fantasy back story, but The Uniter and Mai mythology was the least interesting thing about the show.
The episode wraps up with Paul getting kidnapped and a big fight, but, to be completely honest, I pretty much glossed over this entire scene. There was kicking, punching, leaping around like a cat, throwing of ninja stars, etc, etc, etc. It was a fight scene and nothing to get too excited about. However, at the end of it Jasmine takes a knife in the back to save Chloe from losing one of her lives even though Jasmine only has one of her own. More bad acting from Alec and I almost wanted to be done with the show. Luckily, it’s wrapped up with a montage of the quieter moments that made me care about the characters again and an ending that actually had my jaw drop.
The best things about this show are the dynamics between Chloe, her mother (adoptive, it turns out), her friends, and her love interest, Brian. These all feel incredibly genuine and I was honestly touched when her mother pulls out a box of baby things after Chloe asks about her real parents. I even felt bad for hating the mysterious organization when the british accented evil man, driving around in a limo (scratch-faces boss) and demanding the death of Chloe, turns out to be Brian’s father and shares a wonderful father-son bonding moment. It is these moments that will make or break the show – not the Mai and their nonsensical need to have teenagers be the ones watching Chloe, or The Order with their scratched-faced executioner.
The 9 Lives of Chloe King looks to be the perfect coming of age teen summer dramedy with some action thrown in and, sad as it might make me, I’m already along for the ride.