Review: Ivy Dreams

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While Survivor has been generating an awful lot of ink by deliberating dividing this season’s contestants along ethnic lines, there’s another reality series which might be more deserving of your attention, especially if you have a youngster thinking about college.

Entitled Ivy Dreams, this fascinating show follows the efforts of four, ambitious high school seniors to gain admittance to the Ivy League school of their choice. Unfortunately, Ivy Dreams is only scheduled to air on AZN Television, a network aimed at Asian-Americans. The question which pops into this critic’s mind is why is there a glaring absence of similar worthwhile programming geared towards African-Americans, while BET and MTV permeate the airwaves with such lowest common denominator entertainment as Lil Kim’s Countdown to Lockdown, Flavor Flav’s Flavor of Love, and DMX’s The Soul of a Man?

What are the industry execs trying to say about Black people? Perhaps the answer could be found in the words of a BET program director who was recently heard on Columbia University’s radio station admitting to banning music videos by such relatively sophisticated hip-hop acts as Little Brother, Talib Kweli and Dead Prez because they were “too intelligent’ for his network’s targeted Black teen demographic.

But I digress. This is a review of Ivy Dreams, an excellent primer on what’s involved in each step of the college application process, from SAT testing and grades, to visiting schools and interviewing, to recommendations, personal statements and transcripts, to meet filing deadlines, to the agonizing wait for word from the universities as to whether they were accepted or rejected.

The four overachievers profiled here are all Asian-American, though they reflect a variety of personalities. Diane spent the first four years of her life in China, before migrating to America with her working-class parents. Describing herself as a typical nerd, she says her strict parents would be devastated if she weren’t accepted to Harvard or Yale.

Michelle, who attends Hunter College High School in New York City is an athlete/scholar who wants to attend Dartmouth. Meanwhile, football star Mike, the eldest of three boys, dreams of enrolling at Columbia, though his single-mom would prefer for him to matriculate at a college close to home in Pennsylvania, so that he could still help the family and serve as a surrogate father to his younger brothers.

Finally, there’s Sophie, a National Honor Society student and piano virtuoso shown playing a flawless rendition of Rhapsody in Blue. The pretty cheerleader feels pressured by her father to shoot for Yale, Harvard or Princeton, because, as she puts it, “You can’t argue with a stubborn Chinese man.�

I was lucky enough to screen the entire series already and I’m happy to report that I found the show so engrossing that I watch it from start to finish in one sitting, because each of these kids is presented not as a stereotype, but as a complicated individual wrestling mostly with worries which confront the typical teenager.

But good luck trying to find the AZN Channel in your area. (Check local listing) If successful, your efforts will be richly rewarded by this revealing look into the private lives of these likable, college-bound braniacs highly-motivated to reach the pinnacle of academia. A refreshing alternative to BET’s reality-TV’s ubiquitous misogyny, minstrelsy, and materialism.

Excellent (4 stars). Unrated. Running time: 90 minutes. Studio: AZN Television.

-Wednesday, September 13th at 8pm ET and 1am ET
-Saturday, October 7th @ 8pm ET and 11.30pm ET
-Wednesday, October 18th @ 8pm ET
-Friday, November 3rd @ 8pm ET and 1am ET
-Monday, November 13th @ 8pm ET and 1am ET
-Friday, December 1st @ 8pm ET and 1am ET
-Saturday, December 18th @ 8pm ET and 1am ET

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