Grit of ‘Lincoln Heights’ shows through on DVD

ABC Family’s “Lincoln Heights’’ (Nicki Micheaux and Russell Hornsby, above) is now out on DVD. The show offers solid acting and real-life situations. ABC Family’s “Lincoln Heights’’ (Nicki Micheaux and Russell Hornsby, above) is now out on DVD. The show offers solid acting and real-life situations. (Danny Feld/Abc Family)
By Roxana Hadadi
The Washington Post / February 18, 2010

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ABC Family has a special knack for creating original programming that tries to gritty up everyday suburbia.

With “The Secret Life of an American Teenager,’’ a cute 15-year-old gets pregnant by the school’s bad boy and has to deal with the infamy and fallout. On “Make It or Break It,’’ hard-working gymnasts try to better their craft by taking drugs and stabbing each other in the back.

And with “Lincoln Heights,’’ one of the network’s first series, the setting itself - a fictional city that is the show’s namesake - is bad enough. In Lincoln Heights, there are crack houses on every corner and teens trying to run the streets; it’s also where Officer Eddie Sutton (Russell Hornsby) grew up and where he decides to relocate his family, who struggle to coexist in a small apartment.

During the first season of the show, out now on DVD, Eddie succeeds in convincing his wife to move to his old stomping grounds, but soon trouble arises: Neighborhood tough guy Donelle (Greg Davis Jr.) makes things rough for the family; none of the kids, including teenage Cassie (Erica Hubbard) and the younger Liz (Rhyon Nicole Brown) and Taylor (Mishon Ratliff), fits in with any crowds at school; and their mom, Jenn (Nicki Micheaux), worries that the community will negatively affect her family.

Add in some violence and teen love, and you’ve got yourself a series.

But while ABC Family usually chooses to keep its “Secret Life’’ and “Make It or Break It’’ characters on the straight-and-narrow, “Lincoln Heights’’ benefits from a greater sense of realism.

From Eddie struggling against Jenn’s skepticism and anger over the move to Cassie’s growing attraction to school heartthrob Charles (Robert Adamson), the show effectively juggles various subplots, both during each episode and over the course of the season. And when the show starts off with a solid bang, with a stabbing, break-in, drive-by shooting, and offing of Donelle, one of its most promising characters (in a depressing bit of foreshadowing, he says, “There’s no way I’ll ever live to be grown-up’’), it continues on a pretty solid streak.

Over the course of 13 episodes, even things as wild as kidnappings and vengeful dirty cops seem believable. And although we’re not talking about “The Shield’’-like levels of tension, the show’s rapid-fire editing style and pacing will keep you on your toes.

Much of the series’ success is due to solid acting, especially from Hornsby and Hubbard. As the family patriarch, Hornsby effectively balances his moral leanings as a cop with his sympathy toward those struggling in Lincoln Heights, a dichotomy that works well as he is continuously tested by the community’s corruption during the course of the season.

Overall, “Lincoln Heights’’ delivers enough to keep viewers invested in its characters and its community, even if this DVD set doesn’t offer anything in the realm of extra features or deleted scenes. Anything of that kind would have been much-appreciated, but the show does pretty well on its own, too.