'My Life With the Walter Boys' Review: A Flat Teen Romantic Dramedy

‘My Life With the Walter Boys’ Review: A Flat Teen Romantic Dramedy

One of the most challenging aspects of navigating the teen years is the constant changes young people must confront. In Netflix’s new YA series “My Life With the Walter Boys,” based on Ali Novak’s 2014 novel of the same name, the entire world of 15-year-old Jackie Howard (Nikki Rodriguez) comes undone instantly. Unfortunately, generic storylines, a massive cast and puzzling choices from the adults and teens alike make for a middling tale.

Adapted for television by Melanie Halsall and the team behind the “Kissing Booth” film trilogy, “My Life With the Walter Boys” opens on a lively evening in Manhattan. Jackie is on the planning committee for her high school event and is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her parents and her older sister, Lucy. Later, Jackie’s uncle Richard (Alex Quijano) shows up at the venue to deliver some horrific news. Jackie’s parents and sister have been killed in an accident, shattering the life she knows and leaving her without an anchor to grasp onto.

Six months after that fateful night, Jackie is pushing a luggage cart through an airport in Colorado, where she’s been forced to relocate. She’s poshly dressed in preppy trousers and a neatly pressed sweater, but she’s a long way from the Upper West Side. At baggage claim, she’s greeted by a kind-looking couple, Dr. Katherine and George Walter (Sarah Rafferty and Marc Blucas). A veterinarian in the town of Silver Falls, Katherine is the best friend of Jackie’s late mother. However, Jackie knows almost nothing about the Walters’ rambunctious brood of seven boys, one girl and two nephews. Upon arriving at the family’s sprawling ranch, the apprehensive teen is immediately thrown into their chaotic lives.

Amid a mountainous background, horses and all of the trappings of a small town, Jackie tries to settle in and focus on her goal of earning a place at Princeton University. Instead, she finds herself at the center of the high school’s gossip mill and caught between two of the Walter boys, quiet and unassuming Alex (Ashby Gentry) and former quarterback Cole (Noah LaLonde), who is embracing a bad-boy persona following a career-ending injury.

Netflix is no stranger to sugary sweet tales. From “Virgin River” to “Sweet Magnolias,” there is certainly an audience for cozy predictability. But much of “My Life With the Walter Boys” just feels stale. The leading trio lacks the chemistry to make the love triangle enthralling. And the surrounding storylines, including the long-standing tension between Cole and Alex, are void of urgency.

YA fans are familiar with the trope of the love triangle involving two brothers because of shows like “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Summer I Turned Pretty.” Yet “My Life With the Walter Boys” lacks the heat that lends excitement to those series. While Alex is a nice boy who wants to get out of the shadow of his older brother, he can come off as desperate and whiny. In contrast, Cole projects an aura of mystery, but he’s really just aloof and mean, especially to his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Erin (Alisha Newton).

When series geared at young adults shine, they effortlessly showcase the emotional turmoil of this period where everything suddenly transforms. “My Life With the Walter Boys” has all the elements, but they never meld to capture the essence of adolescence. It doesn’t make sense that Jackie would be shipped across the country to live with strangers rather than remain in New York with her workaholic uncle. Moreover, because there are no real sparks between Jackie and either brother, the romances don’t hold viewers’ attention.

Had there been some real buildup in Jackie’s relationships with Alex and Cole, more details about the Walters’ financial issues or even a substantial representation of Jackie’s grief journey, “My Life With the Walter Boys” could have shone. Instead, given all the other shows that explore these themes and the tender teen years, this drama series brings very little to the genre.

“My Life With the Walter Boys” premieres on Netflix Dec. 7.