Michael Ansell, ABC Family
Ricky (Daren Kagosoff) and Amy (Shailene Woodley) have an uncom-fortable encounter in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager."

If good girl Lucy Camden had come home and told her "7th Heaven" parents she was pregnant, the results would have looked a lot like "The Secret Life of the American Teenager."

This new ABC Family series, which premieres tonight at 9 on the cable channel, comes to us from "7th Heaven" creator/executive producer Brenda Hampton.

And there are myriad similarities between the two shows. "Secret Life" is about families, seen through the prism of teenagers. There are characters clearly identified as Christians. And even the good characters make bad mistakes.

There's also the same sort of ham-fisted writing, stilted dialogue, bad acting, utterly unbelievable characters and lame humor that so often plagued "7th Heaven."

In tonight's premiere, we meet Amy (Shailene Woodley of "The O.C."), a sweet, smart, seemingly innocent 15-year-old who is the pride and joy of her parents (Molly Ringwald and Mark Derwin). Amy is also pregnant, the result of a brief encounter at band camp.

Again, Amy is the good girl.

At the other end of the spectrum, there's bad girl Adrian (Francia Raisa), who's currently (sort of) dating Ricky (Daren Kagosoff), who happens to be the boy who got Amy pregnant.

The ever-subtle Ricky is trying to convince Adrian to sleep with him by professing that, if she leaves him frustrated, he'll be "permanently damaged" and will probably end up "like, sterile or something."

But that character is blunted by giving him an excuse for his behavior — something we learn when Ricky visits his therapist (Ernie Hudson).

It's not like Adrian is strongly holding out. She won't have sex with a boy until the third date.

And when Christian good girl Grace (Megan Park) invites Ricky and Adrian to a church dance, Adrian declines because, "My mom is out of town, so we're going over to my house to drink beer and have sex."

She wasn't kidding.

There's lots of rather frank talk about sex — these kids think nothing of asking the school counselor for condoms — but we don't see anything beyond flirting and making out in the pilot.

There are a lot of touches here that are pure Brenda Hampton, like the Christian couple. Grace and her football-star boyfriend, Jack (Greg Finley), have both pledged to remain virgins until they get married.

Of course, only one of them holds out for the entire first episode ... so, immediately, one of the Christians is a huge hypocrite.

And because of horrendous dialogue and Park's inability to act, Grace comes off as completely phony. Which is unfortunate because, as with "7th Heaven," there's real potential with the characters of Grace and her parents (John Schneider of "Smallville" and Josie Bissett of "Melrose Place").

Grace also has an older brother with Down syndrome, but — at least in the first hour — he almost seems like a token of some sort. And then there's the Asian-American character who borders on being an offensive racial stereotype. She's full of numbers, facts and figures about sexual behavior that — in Hampton fashion — make the show seem like a term paper at times.

It's one of many clumsy bits of plotting and character development that prevent the show from ever seeming real.

(Heck, there's one scene in which the cheerleaders hail the "Lakers" — a group of boys wearing letter jackets emblazoned "Lancers.")

Hampton, as usual, seems to be trying to say something in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager." But what she's trying to say is hard to figure.

And there's a huge element of irresponsibility that's just stunning. We're assured that there will be public service announcements after each episode aimed at preventing teen pregnancy — but there's not one mention in the first hour of sexually transmitted diseases.

That's unforgivable.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com