Sticky and Sweet
BY Dan Avery
February 02 2009 12:00 AM ET
That first high-school crush can be a real bitch: sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath—all over someone who might not even know you’re alive. While American TV shows have addressed adolescent amour fou for decades, none have done so from a queer perspective, unless we missed a very special episode of The Wonder Years. On February 6, here! (which is run by the same company, Regent Media, that owns The Advocate) picks up the slack with Sugar Rush, a hit U.K. import about introverted 15-year-old Kim Daniels (Olivia Hallinan), who’s been hit hard by Cupid’s arrow. Problem is, the object of her affection is her trampy best mate, Sugar.
“To Kim, Sugar is the epitome of cool,” Hallinan says. “She opens her eyes to a world of rebellion and she’s there for her during some hard [times]. Kim’s feelings develop into a full-blown crush and, later, what seems like love. It’s all-consuming.” Or as narrator Kim confesses to viewers in the first episode, “I’m obsessed with my best friend and her magnificent tits -- and if I don’t shag her soon, I’ll explode.” Sadly, party girl Sugar is only interested in falling into bed with a string of no-good blokes, including a club bouncer and a gent nicknamed “the Donkey,” leaving Kim to dream up desperate schemes to land her best friend. Did Angela ever consider drugging Jordan Catalano on My So-called Life?
Loosely adapted from Julie Burchill’s 2004 novel of the same name, Sugar Rush is full of snarky dialogue, seizure-inducing cinematography, and racy plot turns (including Kim walking in on her mom banging the hunky handyman) that firmly root it in Gen Y territory. Even seaside Brighton, where the show is set and filmed, comes off as some sort of R-rated wonderland where vice -- and apparently, venereal disease -- run rampant. Of course, even in the U.K., where Queer as Folk saw a 30-year-old man bedding an underage twink almost a decade ago, Sugar Rush raised a few eyebrows when it debuted on Channel Four in 2005. “Inevitably, when the words teen drama, lesbians, and schoolgirls are put together, a bit of controversy is bound to arise,” Hallinan says. “Most of it came before the show even started. Once it aired, I think people realized it was so much more than an excuse for two girls to be seen kissing. They saw that homosexuality doesn’t have to be this hot-button issue.” Indeed, in 2006 the show was nominated for Best Drama Series by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and nabbed the International Emmy Award for Best Children and Young People Program.
Hallinan, who is straight, said she had no problem relating to her character. “I do have a couple of lesbian friends, but I didn’t feel the need to base Kim on them. I think that would have backfired,” she explains. “Falling in love is universal -- whether with a girl or a guy -- so there was no need to try and act differently. I simply imagined Sugar was the guy of my dreams."