Step Up: High Water
By Joyce Slaton,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Quality dance drama harnesses original film's energy.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
The discipline and perseverance an artistic career demands is central to this drama, and we see the hard work that goes into performances. Family bonds are strong, and Tal and Janelle support each other. On the other hand, nefarious characters are depicted as cool, and there's a "mean girl" (the phrase the show uses) conflict between Janelle and another girl at school that erupts over a boy. A gay character is accepted by family, friends, and most of all, himself.
Positive Role Models
Tal and Janelle are realistic teenagers who make mistakes but have future plans they're working hard on -- parents may appreciate their drive and dedication, and want their kids to see this example of dreamers who put plans into action. Their Uncle Al is a kindhearted and steady guardian who demands his niece and nephew work hard at school, go to college, and work at his store/restaurant.
Violence & Scariness
Violence is sporadic but can be upsetting, as when three young men viciously beat up another until he's bloody and screaming and has urinated in his pants. A villain carries a gun, and we can expect to see it used at some point.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Expect same- and opposite-sex dating, kissing, and romance. A scene is set in a strip club where the dancers are wearing brief costumes that cover their private parts but gyrate into the camera or are background visuals. Songs can be raunchy, like one that says "Ooh, that p---y's good." Women walking down a street are referred to as "hookers."
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Cursing is frequent and includes "s--t," "f---ing," "damn," "motherf----rs," "ass," "goddamn," and "hell." A teen boy is called a "bitch" and also a "little bitch" repeatedly; "p---y" is mentioned in a sexual sense in a song. Racial language includes the affectionate use of "nigga."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters share joints and beers at parties; nobody acts drunk or stoned, though they dance riotously. Tal and Janelle's mom's drug habit puts her in jail and sends the twins to live with their uncle in Atlanta, a clear example of negative consequences.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Step Up: High Water is a drama about a set of twins who move to Atlanta and become involved with an arts school. The drama is mature, but there are strong positive messages for viewers, as the twins are loving and supportive to each other, make up a strong family unit with their uncle, have positive self-images, and are working hard to make their dreams come true. One main character is gay and accepted by all, and unashamed of his sexuality; expect same- and opposite-sex dating, kissing, and romance. Other characters are involved in drugs and criminal enterprises; much of this show's drama revolves around a gun-toting criminal kingpin the twins become embroiled with. Teens and 20-somethings share joints and drink beer at a party, though the twins are forbidden to do drugs by their uncle. A scene is set in a strip club where women in bikinis gyrate in the foreground and background. Language is frequent: "s--t," "f---ing," "damn," "motherf----rs," "ass," "goddamn," "hell"; one teen boy is called a "bitch" and also a "little bitch" repeatedly; "p---y" is heard in a song lyric. There's racial language that includes the affectionate use of "nigga."
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Step Up: High Water
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What's the Story?
Continuing the dance-drama franchise that began in 2006 with the release of the movie Step Up, STEP UP: HIGH WATER tells the story of Tal (Petrice Jones) and Janelle (Lauryn Alisa McClain), high school twins and talented dancers who are forced to leave their Ohio home when their mom is arrested on a drug charge. They move to Atlanta to be with their Uncle Al (Faizon Love), a loving taskmaster who's the proprietor of Al's Wigs & Wangs, and soon discover that Atlanta's the home of High Water, a pre-professional arts school founded by multi-hyphenate superstar Sage Odom (Ne-Yo). Before long, Tal and Janelle are hooked up with High Water and are embroiled in its many dramas, dancing, dreaming, and making (dangerous?) new friends.
Is It Any Good?
With meaty drama, appealing actors, well-written twists, and electrifying dance sequences, this series gives viewers plenty to chew on. Like the original 2006 movie, Step Up: High Water sets the dance action in an arts school -- in this case, the titular High Water, which prepares students age 16-25 for a career in the arts, but, significantly, doesn't offer grades or a high school diploma, a major fly in the ointment for Tal and Janelle, whose plans include college before professional dance careers. Even stickier: Tal, a confident gay man, hatches a major crush on his hot party-promoter next-door neighbor, while Janelle immediately makes a High Water enemy in Poppy (Kendra Oyesanya) when she pals around with Poppy's flirtatious ex-boyfriend Rigo (Terrence Green).
Rigo, it turns out, has risky associates -- in particular East-O (R. Marcos Taylor), a man about whom Tal and Janelle's Uncle Al says "if you see him in your vicinity, change your vicinity." Viewers will see trouble ahead for Tal and Janelle, but the bad-news vibe is lightened significantly by Al, who's given to such hilarious bon mots as "Atlanta's home to many world-famous institutions -- and we don't live by none of that s--t," and itemizing the nearby establishments in the neighborhood in which he runs his Wigs & Wangs combo store/restaurant: "Shoe store, liquor store, pawn shop, church; cellular store, liquor store, pawn shop, church." No, High Water and its students, Al, and Atlanta weren't a part of Tal and Janelle's life plan, but as Tal says: "In case you didn't notice, life doesn't give a s--t about your plans." But if moving, funny, immersive dance dramas are a part of your life plan, you may want to plan some time to binge this rewarding series.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about why a scripted drama is on YouTube, a network known for shorter videos that are generally made by nonprofessionals. Why is YouTube starting to make shows like Step Up: High Water that could appear on a network? What's the upside or downside for viewers that this show is on YouTube rather than a different network?
Characters in books, movies, and TV shows intended for young people are frequently orphaned or otherwise separated from their parents. Why? What dramatic possibilities does this scenario hold? Name examples that you've seen or read. What adventures or problems did the characters have without their parents?
How do Tal and Janelle demonstrate perseverance and teamwork in their lives? Why are these important character strengths?
- Premiere date: January 31, 2018
- Cast: Lauryn McClain, Petrice Jones, Ne-Yo, Jade Chynoweth
- Network: YouTube Premium
- Genre: Drama
- Character Strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- TV rating: NR
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 3, 2023
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