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17-year-old Traci Scott (Erin Sanders) has got a lot on her mind as of late. Not only does she find her athletic future in track jeopardized by a debilitating leg injury and her family struggling financially due to the heart problems her father Don (Michael Woods) is having, she also finds herself pulled into a shocking scandal involving science teacher Gilbert Adkins (Rob Stewart) and popular queen bee student Devon Cavanor (Chloe Rose). One day after school, Traci sees Devon leaving Adkins' classroom in tears, with Devon later telling a shocked Traci that the teacher sexually accosted her.
Sympathetic to Devon's fear that no one would believe her word alone, Traci agrees to tell the police she witnessed the act, leading to Adkins being arrested and fired from the school. Despite herself, Traci becomes overwhelmed with guilt, which increases when she learns that Adkins was believed to have killed him out of grief. But as Traci's guilt begins to destroy her, it becomes clear that there's more to Devon's claims than meet the eye—and that Gilbert's daughter June (Alex Paxton-Beesley) will not rest until her father's name is cleared and justice is served.
Right of the bat, Guilty at 17 goes in a fairly creative direction for the "At 17" saga, with a story that has several different cycles going at the same time. We have Traci dealing with the guilt of lying in a police investigation and believing her lie led to Gilbert Adkins' death, June working to uncover the truth and restore her father's good name, and Devon working to keep her secrets under wraps by whatever means necessary. Poorly executed, this could be an unorganized disaster of a movie, but Guilty at 17 balances the plots out evenly so no one plot thread feels neglected or overexposed. This mash-up of well-handled plot beats also keeps the viewer on their toes, wondering how they will all affect each other and how it will all come together.
In regards to acting, Erin Sanders (who many may remember as Quinn Pensky from Zoey 101) gives a strong and sympathetic performance as Traci, an average high school girl whose compassion gets her pulled into a vicious web of deceit. Opposite her is Chloe Rose as spoiled rich girl Devon, who is able to efficiently show that Devon isn't just a pampered princess, but is also ruthless in her efforts to get what she wants and cover her own skin—at the expense of anyone who becomes an obstacle or outlives their usefulness. Alex Paxton-Beesley manages to give a likable performance as a devoted daughter hellbent on proving her father's posthumous innocence and take down those responsible for destroying his reputation, and Rob Stewart makes the most of his screen time in establishing Gilbert as a good teacher who has his reputation destroyed through no fault of his own. Future Riverdale regular Vanessa Morgan also made an appearance as Traci's friend and lab partner Leigh, giving a lot of spirit and heart into her sadly underutilized character, and Zack Peladeau gives a surprisingly deep and occasionally poignant performance as Devon's boyfriend and criminal lackey Jay. Peladeau not only plays well off of Rose, but also provides a way to show Devon's malice as far more cold blooded than your usual Queen Bee character.
After the disappointing mess that was Missing at 17, Guilty at 17 is a refreshing return to form for the "At 17" series. Strong characters, well-directed action and plot, and satisfying character development makes this an excellently executed Lifetime teen drama that comes highly recommended.
Score: 9 out of 10 smashed laptops.