January 24, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Recovery Road”


RECOVERY ROAD:  Monday 9PM on Freeform (Episodes 1-3 available via VOD/streaming) – If Nothing Else Is On…

If the idea of rebranding ABCFamily as Freeform was to escape the network’s flavor of earnest YA soap, the new RECOVERY ROAD didn’t get the memo.  It’s ABCF down to its toes, a super-sized Afterschool Special built on one of the most familiar story arcs of the teen soap genre.

The title tells the story.  Maddie Graham (Jessica Sula) is a beautiful, bright high school student with a caring single mom, Charlotte (Sharon Leal), and plenty of friends, who’s become quite the party girl, drinking and drugging until she’s blacking out and sneaking vodka to school in a bottle of water.  Concerned guidance counselor Cynthia (Alexis Carra) spares her from expulsion only at the cost of a reluctant agreement to spend 90 days of nights and weekends in a sort of halfway house of rehab, a sunny institution called Springtime Meadows filled with committed counselors led by Craig (David Witts) and quirky fellow residents.  Maddie doesn’t believe she really has a problem (she hides her rehab residency from her friends) and refuses to take any of it seriously–but episode by episode (the network has made the first 3 available before the series premiere), she inches along that old recovery road, changing her ways and retaking control of her life.

We’ve seen all of it before, in movies like Clean and Sober and Girl, Interrupted, and on TV series from 90210 to The OC.  The series was created by Karen DiConcetto and Bert V. Royal (from a novel by Blake Nelson) and although Royal wrote the bright script for Easy A, the early episodes have little of that movie’s comic snap.  Instead, it gives us such tropes as Maddie belatedly realizing how mean she was to a former friend (Lindsay Pearce) who’s now also in Springtime Meadows, and of course the damaged cute guy (Sebastian de Souza) who’s already been cautioned by Craig not to get romantically involved with any of the fellow residents, not to mention the reveal that Cynthia knows so much about rehab because she’s in the program herself.  (We haven’t had the relapse episode yet, but no doubt it’s coming.)  In its first 3 hours, Recovery Road doesn’t have any more complex message to deliver than Drugs Are Bad.

It’s fairly slickly done.  Sula (yet another Brit playing a US lead) has charisma, and the rest of the Springtime Meadows inhabitants (there’s a beefy, flamboyantly gay guy, a maternal Jamaican restaurant owner, and a reality show wannabe who just really wants to get her daughter back) are swiftly if broadly drawn.  Audrey Peeples from Nashville turns up in Episode 3 as a walking cautionary tale for Maddie, and entertainingly chews on the scenery.  Overall, though, Recovery Road manages to make The Fosters (which will be its lead-in) look like a gritty cinema verite documentary.

Freeform’s only breakout hit in recent years has been the more melodramatic Pretty Little Liars, and it’s been trying to expand into the fantasy genre with Stitchers and the new Shadowhunters, both deeply flawed.  Recovery Road is more accomplished than those two, but it’s not a step forward for its network, so far delivering little more than moderately engaging hours of bland predictability.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."