The Fox network made its reputation with programming that was either exceptionally smart (The Simpsons, The Tracey Ullman Show) or exceptionally aggressive (In Living Color, Married with Children). But this season, with the exception of Chris Elliott’s wacky-cool Get a Life, Fox’s new shows have been as safe and tedious as the other networks’ standard fare. Yearbook, however, is something completely different: A weekly documentary about high school seniors in Glen Ellyn, Ill., that shows its subjects some respect.

”No actors and no scripts,” a Fox press release says, and for most shows, that would mean no drama and no structure. But producer Hank O’Karma (now that’s a cool TV-producer name) has made engrossing drama out of mundane events: the election of Glenbard West High School’s homecoming queen; tryouts for the football team; study sessions for college entrance exams. Even when Yearbook deals with more serious subjects, such as an unmarried pregnant girl’s decision to keep her baby and finish her senior year, the show doesn’t manipulate real life into TV-movie melodrama.

On the basis of its debut episode (Yearbook will air regularly on Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. starting March 9), the series will also have to confront a problem endemic to modern education — namely, we’re raising a startlingly inarticulate generation of young people. There are awkward scenes in which some students speak so haltingly — crippling their conversation with ”you know”s, constantly saying, ”I was, like” when they mean, ”I said” — that it’s difficult to understand what the devil they’re getting at. But then again, just by provoking such thoughts, Yearbook is doing more to enlighten than most television shows. B+

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