Skip to main content
andrew ryan: television

Be still my heart: The new TV season is nearly here.

The next few weeks will bring a fresh crop of new series and the return of viewer favourites. Curious as to what's hot and what's not this fall? Ask the nearest teenager.

Obviously, most of what airs on television these days is aimed at the youth demographic. Perhaps you thought it was shut-ins and seniors tuning into American Idol and The Bachelorette each week? By now most networks assume those viewers turn in after Wheel of Fortune.

The kids are hip to the scene, though (do people still say "hip"?). The new season features a few nods to the old-coot crowd - including new shows starring Tom Selleck and Jim Belushi - but the lion's share of the fall lineup is comprised of slick action shows ( Undercovers, Chase, No Ordinary Family, The Event) and cutting-edge comedies ( Love Bites, Raising Hope).

The TV youth focus is so entrenched, in fact, that on most nights the under-18 viewership pretty much has its choice of programs, ranging from the sanitized to the vaguely adult variety.

The safest airs tonight: Camp Rock 2: Final Jam (Family Channel, 8 p.m.) is the sequel to the 2008 TV movie that shattered ratings records - more than 13 million U.S. viewers - and introduced the next generation of Disney Channel stars to the world. Like the first film, Camp Rock 2 is squeaky-clean family entertainment.

Filmed in various scenic locales around Northern Ontario, the sequel picks up at the same summer camp for budding rock stars, presumably one summer later. Teen phenom Demi Lovato returns as the fresh-scrubbed Michie, as do the Jonas Brothers - Nick, Kevin and Fredo, I think.

As before, the choreographed set pieces are spectacular. The story involves the nice kids of Camp Rock in a musical showdown with the less nice kids of Camp Star. Veteran Canadian actor Daniel Kash plays Axel, the owner of the rival camp and you just know he's bad because he wears black leather and sunglasses at night.

Also back is Oakville, Ont., native Jasmine Richards, who has found steady acting work since her breakout appearance in the original film.

"The first Camp Rock helped kick-start my whole career," said Richards earlier this week. "You don't get many chances to do singing, dancing and acting all in the same movie. It's very rare."

Slightly more adult: Hellcats (Wednesday, A at 9 p.m.), which takes place in the heady world of competitive college cheerleading. Sis-boom-bah and all that.

Hellcats is another glossy drama from The CW, the network responsible for Gossip Girl, 90210, Vampire Diaries and several other series created for teen viewers.

Set in the southern United States (but filmed in Vancouver), Hellcats is in some ways the finishing school for two Disney alumni. Ever-perky Ashley Tisdale ( The Suite Life, High School Musical) heads the cast as the cheerleading squad captain Savannah.

"It's so cool to play a character who eats, sleeps and breathes cheerleading," said Tisdale at the recent TV critics tour. "She's also Christian and lives in her own kind of bubble, so she's naive to the ways of the world."

Enter requisite bad-girl newcomer Marti, played by Aly Michalka ( Phil of the Future), the scrappy poor kid forced onto the cheerleading squad in order to salvage her law-school scholarship. Marti is the exact opposite of Savannah, so naturally they're shoved together as roommates.

"Their only common ground is their passion," said Michalka in L.A. "Marti is deeply passionate about law, while Savannah desperately wants to take the squad to the national cheerleading championships. One needs the other."

And currently atop the teen-TV food chain, we have Glee, which returns Sept. 21 on Fox and Global. More than one Gleek fan blog has a built-in countdown clock.

And it will come back bigger than ever. Smartly written, Glee is the perfect TV hybrid. On one level, the show is sheer fantasy: How many teens sing and dance their way through high school? On another plane, the show is sharply realistic: Name another show from last season that had a gay character, or a pregnant high-schooler or a character in a wheelchair.

Barely two years in existence, Glee has spawned a bestselling soundtrack, a book series and, yes, lunch boxes. At some point in the past year, the show crossed over from being a red-hot TV show to pop-culture phenomenon.

Witness last Sunday night's Emmy broadcast, in which host Jimmy Fallon and a handful of the show's cast - along with Mad Men's Jon Hamm, 30 Rock's Tina Fey and Ms. Betty White herself - opened the show with a Glee-inspired musical number.

Glee is loved by fans, and by those within the TV industry itself. The biggest audience reaction on Emmy night came when Glee's Jane Lynch, who plays harsh gym coach Sue Sylvester, was named winner of best supporting actress in a comedy.

Accordingly, Glee creator Ryan Murphy was tight-lipped at the TV critics tour, save for the news that there might be a Paul McCartney episode in the second season, and that gay character Kurt (Chris Colfer) would probably be getting a boyfriend. "We haven't cast for that role yet," he said.

In fact, Murphy said very little about the sophomore season of Glee. Most likely because he didn't have to.