During an earlier era on television, teens hung out at the malt shop or the burger joint. But today their meeting place is the mall -- and many of them work there.
What better place to set an earnest new miniseries aimed at teen viewers?
"Summer Stories: The Mall," a three-part edition of the "ABC Afterschool Special," premieres at 4 p.m. today (on Channel 13), with additional segments scheduled for the same time April 2 and 16 . The network calls it the first miniseries designed for this viewing period.
Like the Nanuet Mall of Rockland County, N.Y., where it was primarily filmed, "Summer Stories" has a scrubbed feeling, a vague artificiality. It falls somewhat short of conveying the grittiness of teen reality, particularly in language.
But bearing in mind its target audience, the miniseries does address some of the challenges facing young people today.
Work is one example. The key characters, recent high school graduates facing decisions about their futures, all have jobs at the mall. And a useful work lesson forms an important element in one plot line.
Samaria Graham portrays Marla, a girl who fails to get a promotion because of an attitude problem. Meanwhile, she faces the remarriage of her mother, and takes some parental responsibility for a younger sister. (Her story comprises the heart of Part II of the series.)
The first segment today focuses largely on Sarah (Mara Hobel), an adopted girl who receives a bouquet of flowers on graduation day from an unexpected giver: her biological mother.
Should Sarah agree to see the woman? And how will those she has always called Mom and Dad (Barbara Barrie and William Wise) react?
The story is done with sensitivity, particularly in its willingness to portray uncertainty and fear on the part of adults.
Her adoptive parents frankly do not know how to support Sarah, and for the first time in her experience they fail to offer any advice. And as the birth mother, Kelly Bishop equally projects anguish over her decision to give her daughter up for adoption, telling the girl she has never met, "I could barely take care of myself, how could I be anybody's parent?"
The third principal story involves Diane (Jorjan Fox), a former drug abuser struggling to stay clean while being pressured by a former drug-dealing boyfriend to resume their relationship.
Weaving through the stories as comic relief, young rock band member Spinner (Sandy Gaberman) falls for a pretty girl who's already engaged (Marisol Massey). Trouble is, he just can't get up the nerve to ask her out.
Given the viewing alternatives at 4 p.m. weekdays -- primarily tawdry talk shows, cartoons and series reruns -- "Summer Stories" offers young viewers some characters they might actually come to like.