Picks and Pans Review: American High

updated 08/07/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

FOX (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

It might be different if the kid with the highest grades won $1 million, but I'm not sure this latest example of reality programming (airing weekly in back-to-back half hours) is beneficial to the onscreen participants. Take Morgan, a student at Highland Park High School near Chicago, who distinguishes himself in the Aug. 2 premiere by ridiculing his younger brother's attention to homework, declaring that " 'F' stands for fun," and proclaiming a philosophy of "do whatever the hell you want." It seems that TV exposure is exactly what Morgan doesn't need at this stage of the growing-up process.

For viewers, though, American High could be something good. This is a documentary series (though FOX prefers the term "nonfiction drama"), not a Big Brother-style stunt. Filmmaker R.J. Cutler (The War Room) followed a group of Highland Park students through the 1999-2000 academic year. His footage, supplemented by the subjects' video diaries, tells achingly real stories of desperate teenage love, emerging sexual identity, athletic pressure and parental confusion. I'm interested in these young people, but I have to wonder if they'd be better off away from America's prying eyes.

Bottom Line: Students with potential

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