A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that East Los High is a gritty, partially dance-themed teen soap featuring an all-Latino cast and set in inner-city East Los Angeles. The plot approaches big issues such as drugs, sex, teen pregnancy, immigration, and violent crime in a thoughtful way that's also respectful to the characters' Latino-American and urban culture. Likewise, all the teens' decisions in matters like these have realistically drastic consequences to be dealt with. There's no nudity but lots of strong sexual innuendo, including brief simulated sex scenes. Street violence is graphic, involving shootings and fistfights that hurt and, in some cases, kill. Drugs and drug violence are also major themes. It's not for young kids but can serve as a starting point for discussing some of these issues with teens.
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What's the story?
EAST LOS HIGH centers on a group of teens struggling to survive their senior year of high school in a tough inner-city neighborhood. The story begins with a smart, innocent teen named Jessie (Janine Larina), who balances her hopes of popularity against her desire for a brighter future away from East Los Angeles. She harbors a crush on the school hottie, Jacob (Gabriel Chavarria), who's involved with the vicious popularity queen Vanessa (Tracy Perez). Other recurring characters include Soli (Noemi Gonzalez), Jessie's best friend; Maya (Alicia Sixtos), Jessie's long-lost cousin who left home under uncertain circumstances; Ceci (Danielle Vega), Vanessa's friend, who follows the diva's lead on terrorizing their social nemeses; and Christian (Hector David, Jr.), Jessie's attractive dance teacher. Characters and problems may come and go as they work their way through high school and beyond, but these teens persevere to make their lives as meaningful as they can.
Is it any good?
The series is arguably a "real-life" drama thanks to the gamut of personalities and likability of the characters. Each season of East Los High follows a new group of teens, while still featuring some of the original cast members, which ensures that every social niche is represented, from the conniving social diva to the troubled street kid. But this series manages to represent each personality with far more substance than stereotypical fluff, making it more genuine. Meanwhile, it debunks some stereotypes and touches on strong topics and their real-life consequences without sugarcoating them.
There's lots of entertaining dance scenes and a few lighthearted moments. Nonetheless, this isn't a feel-good drama. Instead, it's a soap opera that offers an interpretation of what life is like for a community defined by its members' ethnic heritage and working class backgrounds. The result may or may not be a social setting your teens are used to, since it's very specifically set in East Los Angeles. Regardless, it raises a number of issues that likely trickle into their lives, giving parents a good reason to start conversations with them about what's portrayed here.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how realistic East Los High is (or isn't). Teens: Based on your experiences, are the characters' lives believable? Do teens really talk and act like they do here?
What are your family's rules about dating? What dangers exist with casual or unprotected sex? What messages do you get from the media about sexuality? How do you reconcile that with your own values?
To what degree are we shaped by our surroundings? Do you see the same problems in your school or neighborhood that plague these characters? How would you deal with similar scenarios differently from how they do?
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