Picks and Pans Review: Brat Camp

updated 07/18/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/18/2005 01:00AM

ABC (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

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Honey, I've changed my mind. I don't want kids after all—not after I saw the knife-wielding, obscenity-spewing, drug-abusing teens in this tough-love series. Talk about desperate housewives—one mom hides her purse in a safe so her son doesn't rob her blind to buy drugs, and another endures her 15-year-old daughter boasting about five sexual partners. "When Derek was first born, he was such an angel," one weary dad says as a cherubic snapshot floats across the screen. Now? Derek, 14, is one of nine terror teens sent to Sage Walk, an "outdoor wilderness therapy program" in the Oregon desert. Led by a group of crunchy field guides (with names like "Mountain Wind"), the kids put up a mighty fuss at the stringent rules, bland food and back-breaking hikes. "I'm so scared, my hair's going to fall out," one cries. "I'm going to have a heart attack!"

The intense journey, played out over six episodes, is designed to break their tortured spirits and set them straight. It's painful to watch—especially when the teens learn they'll be wandering the desert for 40-plus days (unfortunately for them, no one gets eliminated in this show). But the promise of something good emerging from troublemakers like Nick, 14, who got sent to Sage-Walk after trying to stab his twin brother, makes Camp a moving departure from the usual summer fluff. First breakthrough? In the two-hour premiere, Jada, 15, a compulsive liar, will not admit to using cocaine just days before arriving, despite a drug test proving otherwise. "You're sitting in a circle with some world-class liars," one teen tells her. "So it's going to be hard to pull some stuff." The next day, she makes strides when she cops to breaking a camp rule by not burying some, um, personal refuse. "Jada lies a lot, and for her to admit [to that]," says one counselor, "is definitely a step in the right direction for her."

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