Thursday, October 25, 2012

Welcome to Waterloo Road

The BBC's answer to the long running, popular Canadian teen drama Degrassi is Waterloo Road. Premiering in 2006, Waterloo Road quick gained a following, leading to six additional seasons, with more being in production. Having been seen on BBC America in the states, now Waterloo Road Series 1 is available on DVD for the first time from Acorn Media, collecting the initial eight episodes of the series on a two disc set.

Waterloo Road takes place at a fictional school in Rochdale, England, where students ages 11 to 18 attend. The building is not doing well, its students failing and getting into trouble, and its teachers well below the average. Jack Rimmer (Jason Merrells, Emmerdale) has recently assumed the role of headmaster after the previous man, who held the position for three decades, went crazy. It is up to Rimmer to set things right, improving conditions, attendance, and performance, if the school has any hope of staying open.

Jack is aided by a deputy headmaster, Andre Trenemen (Jamie Glover, Holby City), whom Jack recruits because he is highly educated, and Kim Campbell (Angela Griffin, Mount Pleasant), the pastoral care teacher. These three must do their best to turn things around before it's too late.

This is easier said than done, of course, as the drama oozes out of every door of the school. The teachers are a problem. English professor Tom Clarkson (Jason Done, The English Patient) is living with a fellow educator, fiance Lorna Dickey (Camilla Power, The Tournament), but his eyes have strayed towards Lorna's best friend, Izzie Redpath (Jill Halfpenny, EastEnders), the drama teacher. This kind of conflict negatively affects the job, of course, not allowing the teachers to have their heads in the game.

And boy, do the students need teachers that care! Izzie's own daughter, Chlo (Katie Griffiths, Hatfields & McCoys), has fallen for bad boy, Donte (Adam Thomas, Emmerdale), who doesn't understand that life is finite, and teenagers are not invincible. Lewis Seddon (Craig Fitzpatrick, The Visit) won't leave a teacher alone. Pregnant teenagers, a limo crash, students dying or in a coma, a homework scam, bullying inflated grades, and drugs are just some of the things that come up in the first eight episodes.

As you may guess, Waterloo Road is an over-dramatized version of reality. But like many shows that fall into that category, the issues dealt with are still realistic enough, even if one doesn't expect all of them to happen in a short time span at one school. The drama, romance, and danger all contribute to a heck of an entertaining soapy serial, one sure to keep viewers engaged, even if it is a bit over the top.

The question is, considering the number of entries worldwide in the high school drama series genre, how does Waterloo Road compare with its peers? Well, for the first season, at least, it lands somewhere in the middle of the pack. The characters are great, and the tension is kept high. The pacing might go a little faster than one would like, but there are definitely a lot of moving moments. Considering its success over the last few years, it is likely the series builds upon the solid foundation of series one, and improves as time goes on, though having only viewed this first batch, I cannot say that for certain. What I can say is, if you are into this sort of program, Waterloo Road is a worthy entry, and should not waste your time.

This two disc DVD set contains no bonus features.

Waterloo Road Series 1 is available now.

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