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Television Review

'Kaya' overindulges in teenage fame on the rocks

Danielle Savre stars in 'Kaya.' Danielle Savre stars in "Kaya." (DAVID DREBIN/MTV)

The tweens have their fame-and-fortune fantasy in "Hannah Montana," the Disney Channel series about a girl who balances pop superstardom with a normal high school life. The men have theirs in "Entourage," HBO's parfait about a charmed movie star who treats Los Angeles as his playground.

Now, for teenage girls, comes "Kaya," MTV's new scripted series about a young rock singer on the cusp of superstardom. This one, which premieres tonight at 10:30, says something about MTV's focus group research: Those teens must be jealous, or cynical, or both. Because this is about the bleakest portrait of fame you'll ever see.

Things should be going well for Kaya, at least a little. Her band, Coldwater Crossing, has just signed with a major record label, which has invited the group to live and record in a fabulous Malibu manse. The fans are teeming. The sunglasses are hot. But the poor girl can't seem to get a break.

She and her superstar producer have creative differences. Her bandmates are jealous because the reporters are virtually ignoring them. Her manager, who is also her dad, is siding with the suits. She can't even park her Range Rover with ease: The driveway is always full. Oh, and she's haunted by a ghost - it appears to be her dead sister - who lectures her from the beyond about getting her life in order.

The presence of said ghost, plus the steady stream of flashbacks, reminds us that Kaya is fiction. That means it feels decidedly more realistic than "The Hills," "The Real World," and other MTV shows that pretend to wring authentic drama from forced situations. In this case, "Kaya" borrows liberally from rock star lore: Her sound is vaguely Avril Lavigne, her father has shades of Joe Simpson, and her relationship with her band is all Gwen Stefani. (In addition to getting all the press, Kaya used to date the drummer.) There's some merit, too, in revealing the downside of fame. When the paparazzi flock to Kaya's car, you wonder why this has never happened to Vinny Chase. Britney Spears and Paris Hilton would surely approve.

But the dark tone of "Kaya" feels like something of a waste. A rock-star fantasy has to have some upside, right? And a network that has made lucrative art of gawking at the rich should understand the audience's need for eye candy. We love to hate those "Super Sweet 16"-ers, but we also like to gaze upon their stuff.

Instead, the series wallows in misery, and the secondary characters solely exist to give Kaya the evil eye, or to represent the morally bankrupt music industry. Maybe that's the overriding ethos here: inside-baseball anxiety about the major labels. Maybe it's adolescent angst: If the teens are forced to give up that nice Disney idea that superstardom is in reach, they can comfort themselves with the thought that it would have been awful, anyway.

Or maybe it's just too tempting to sneer at a willowy blonde who has found success too easily. As played by Danielle Savre, Kaya carries a constant pout and a general lack of gratitude for winning the music lottery. She's a hard rock star to like, or to relate to. Savre might be familiar with that; in her most prominent recent TV role, she played an opportunistic cheerleader who met a deadly fate on NBC's "Heroes." In that show, her bloody end felt fitting. Here, her constant sorrow feels a lot like piling on.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com. For more on TV, go to viewerdiscretion.net

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Kaya

On: MTV

Time: Premieres tonight, 10:30-11

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