I came into ABC Family’s new show Jany By Design looking for Ugly Betty meets The Devil Wears Prada. What I got was Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead meets Confessions of a Shopaholic. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, however it does leave room for improvement.
From the very first moment Jane Quinby (played by Erica Dasher) arrived to school in her best guy-friend’s clunker, describing herself as a “high school zero” and wearing a military-inspired red Michael Jackson jacket, I knew we’d get along just fine.
Contrary to the show’s promos, Jane By Design isn’t a happy, laugh-out-loud show. And while Jane loves clothes and she desperately yearns for a high-profile, high-fashion career, the clothes and closets play secondary to the real meat of the series. Jane’s father is dead, her mother is MIA and her big brother has dropped out of college to take care of them. Unfortunately, with the economy, finding a job has been a challenge for her brother and they’re barely scrapping by with their tiny veggie pizza dinners and debt collectors calling about missing payments on their house.
In danger of losing their home and sick of being mocked for her tastes (LuLu, the school’s resident mean girl starts off by asking if “Plain Jane” got her outfit at a Salvation Army summer sale, which just shows that she’s a jerk and clearly knows nothing about the military look or fashion industry’s love of the Salvation Army), Jane finds an ad for a fashion internship.
Somehow, this weird high school allows students to intern all day through a “program.” They can leave school at 11:30am to go intern everyday, which seems a little ridiculous, but I’ll play along. Jane convinces her counselor to give her internship a thumbs up so she can gain fashion-world experience and make some extra cash to help her big brother with the bills.
But Jane doesn’t get the internship. She gets an assistant position with a yearly salary of $34k, which must sound baller if you need to save your house and you’re only 17 years-old. Jane accepts the role as Gray’s assistant.
Gray is played by Andie MacDowell and while some might claim she’s mimicking Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly, I think she’s more of a ringer for Rose in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. Though less friendly, she seems way more vulnerable than Miranda. I can’t imagine Miranda telling her assistant that she’s worried someone is trying to take her job or enlisting her help for reconnaissance. (In fact, she never tells Andy that the French Editor is after her job) Plus Gray is being hoodwinked by a high-schooler, just like Rose.
Gray’s presence in the first episode is limited and left me wondering if her character is of any real importance or if ABC Family executives couldn’t get Andie MacDowell into the studio due to scheduling conflicts with Footloose. Whatever the case, Andie MacDowell seems wasted. Couldn’t they have gotten an unknown to tackle this role (and maybe a little more naturally)?
Jane also meets Jeremy Jones who is supposedly “the next Tom Ford.” He’s also a total womanizer. He wastes no time hitting on Jane, which is creepy because she doesn’t look legal at all. Jane deflects and later meets India, an uber-bitch bent on stealing Gray’s job. As far as tackling a meanie goes, India comes up a little short. Though she yells plenty loud enough, she’s not quite conniving enough to pull off a secret coup. Plus her fashion sense sucks. This girl wears slutty club dresses to work at a fashion brand. She’s by far the worst-dressed person on the show. And that’s saying something, considering that Jane’s best friend Billy is attempting some faux-punk style.
Speaking of Billy, he’s hooking up with the high school popular, LuLu who is not only mean to Jane, but clearly jealous when she’s pushes her into a pool at a party because she didn’t like her touching Billy. This is interesting — not because of the secret-lover plot (been there, done that!)– because Billy is clearly Jane’s best friend. And he’s hooking up with someone who beats up on Jane daily. At first he seems to defend Jane, but then it becomes unclear whether or not it was a ploy to throw people off their affair or an actual attempt at sticking up for his pal.
Jane makes it through some fabulous fashion montages, signature forgery, grand theft auto, mid-terms and drunken British chat-up lines. She saves Gray from being thrown under the bus and warns India that she knows all about her evil plot. India just warns her right back to pick the right side. Which is a good warning. Because Gray isn’t exactly the kindest woman. She’s abroad doing God knows what — or who — and if she was really worried about her job, why wouldn’t she be there. Furthermore, who did she have to cross to get her job?
As far as clothing goes, Jane’s style is cute, but young. Hopefully the executives will step it up. I can see a Jane by Design fashion line at Target or Kohl’s in our futures, but not until the show becomes a hit and Jane’s clothes become better and more on trend.
All in all the show was cute. It’s nice that Jane isn’t a super-boring rich girl in love with fashion. She not only has high school problems, but she also has real world problems. And real world problems always make shows –even teen shows– better. Unfortunately, I don’t think Erica Dasher — or the writers — have found the proper balance to Jane’s hope and her perils. She seems almost too carefree despite all that’s weighing on her, including a dead dad, losing her house and forging legal documents for a corporate job.
Yes, maybe Jane is just super optimistic and won’t let it get her down. But I think that the real problem is the acting and writing. Still, the bare bones of the show are cute enough that hopefully the scripts and acting will develop with time.
Did you watch Jane By Design? What did you think?