Make It or Break It Down: Season 1, Episode 1

The abrupt end to the 2020 NCAA gymnastics season was a shock to everyone, us included. And while we understand and support the measures being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it means that a lot of us are suddenly left with extra time on our hands…

Which is why we’ve decided to embark on an important journey, one that will take us back through one of television’s most important series to date: Make It or Break It. Every Saturday (and a number of other bonus days) from now until the 2021 season, our editors Katherine, Kalley and Claire will be breaking down and recapping each episode of everyone’s favorite gymnastics show. 

Want to watch along? You can find MIOBI on Hulu and the Freeform app, all you have to have is a subscription/cable login. You can also buy the DVDs or purchase seasons or single episodes on various platforms, like iTunes. Join us in the cheesiness and the early 2010s TV gymnastics by using the hashtag #MakeItOrBreakItDown on Twitter as you watch.

Note: These will not always be so long, but there’s a lot to unpack here in the first episode. Let’s go!

Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

We open with a state-of-the-art multi-story Rocky Mountain Gymnastics Training Center situated in front of a sublime view of the majestic Rockies, symbolizing the epic heights these gymnasts will inevitably reach. 

A black Humvee with a decal that actually says, “Team Tanner: Olympic Bound,” and a Range Rover pull into reserved parking spots. Guys, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, there’s really no excuse for those vehicles. Then we see a busted Volvo driven by Roz from Frasier, who opens her door, immediately drops her Tervis on the ground and mutters, “Crap.” I feel this. 

Upon entering the gym, a straight up jam by Kevin Rudolph called “Let It Rock” (I see what they did there) starts playing. We see athletes doing cool things like flyaways. There’s even a dude with floppy hair doing giants on rings! Then there’s an inexcusably janky back handspring on beam that no one asked for. 

The cool gym moms with reserved parking enter an observation room and all the lesser gym moms move out of their seats AS THEY SHOULD. Our gymnasts are stretching on the floor wearing the most fabulous Holotek warm-up leos. Are these signature colors? Should we be taking note? Lauren’s in orange, Kaylie’s in pink, and Payson’s in somber purple because she’s Focused™. 

As Lauren, Kaylie and Payson train beam, Lauren’s dad yells, “LAUREN!” then mouths, “Point your toes!” along with the universal hand signal for toe pointing. Lauren’s dad is Kathy Johnson Clarke. 

Coach Marty pulls the gals aside with a very important message: “Listen up: This is your last full practice before we fill out our roster for nationals. The top three from trials are going.” Wait, wait, wait. My initial reaction is, “That’s not at all how that works,” but we’re living in chaotic times and… Did MIOBI predict the 2020 Olympic qualification process?! 

There’s a new girl (whose mom doesn’t care enough to go sit in the observation room) who just walked in. Right as Lauren says, “We’ve always been the top three…” New Girl does a bunch of back handsprings and whips to a (single) back tuck. “Who the hell’s THAT?” Same thought, but probably for different reasons. 

Finally, we get our opening sequence, and it is everything. First off, it’s darker than an FIG World Cup event in this gym. There’s a thin haze of chalk swirling in the air (either that or Dementors; I suppose time will tell). Oh, here’s one of the non-gymnast actresses actually catching the bar with her elbows fully flexed and immediately falling. Truly, I’m so glad THAT’S the final shot. 

Back to the show. Ew, New Girl’s leo looks like a 1970s Soviet cast-off. 

Speaking of 1970s Soviet cast-offs, she does an under-rotated two and a half twist to under-rotated punch front. The top three and the reserved parking moms are shook. Turns out New Girl is Emily Kmetko, an “American Gymnastics scholarship kid” who they “found on a playground.” Lauren’s dad might not be amused by this turn of events, but I am!

“What the hell is that girl wearing?” Exactly, Lauren. 

Coach Marty enters the chat. “Emily, you made it… Try-outs for nationals are tomorrow. You’re cutting it about as close as you could.” A) It’s an intrasquad B) No shit, Coach Marty! Lauren, like her daddy, is unimpressed that Saint Emily, Our Blessed Lady of the Proletariat, is being allowed to train at The Rock. She is coping by pretending Emily doesn’t exist. 

“I see you don’t have any endorsements yet… Or clothes… Or anything.” God, Lauren, maybe she’s trying to maintain her NCAA eligibility. Can you just let Emily live?!

We’re back on beam, and Focused Payson is once again living up to her reputation. Ah, the most beloved of elite beam dismounts, the side gainer layout. 

**Trigger Warning: Eating Disorder**

We move on to the bathroom where Payson and Kaylie examine themselves in the mirrors as we hear Lauren vomiting in the background. Payson the Focused admonishes her thusly: “That really screws with your electrolytes, you know…” OK, yes, but also other reasons? Kaylie says, “I look like a butterball. I am turning into Mary frickin’ Lou.”

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After that sick burn, the top three start discussing Emily. Focused Payson tells Lauren to Focus, but Lauren thinks they should Focus on finding a way to shut Emily down. Kaylie thinks there is too much thinking going on.

Back in the gym, Coach Marty walks through and shouts, “Use this time to focus on your problem areas.” Great coaching, presumptive 2009 American Gymnastics’ Coach of the Year. Lauren and Kaylie are stretching on a pommel horse (as you do) while Emily gets ready to vault. 

The music has gotten suddenly serious, so I’m guessing she’s bad at vault? Wouldn’t be at all surprised, she probably can’t see the damn table with those heavy bangs flopping in her eyes. 

Kaylie suggests that instead of screwing with Emily, that “maybe we should work as hard as Payson.” Lauren thinks that’s a stupid idea and suggests mind games and sabotage instead. After all, they can “be friends with her later.” Peak bitchy teen, tbh. 

Woof, Emily just literally ran into the vault. Don’t worry, Lauren, this Emily Problem might just take care of itself. 

Coach Marty is having a serious discussion with Emily because her mom isn’t there watching her. The Rock is like a community, you guys, and the parents have to be involved! “Your mom’s gotta put her time in at the gym.” Yes, elite coaches from this era were well-known for their insistence that parents stay underfoot (Narrator: They weren’t). 

Also, he says, “There’s absolutely no dating. We catch you with a boy and you’re out.” Thank god for lesbian loopholes, amirite? Meanwhile, Kaylie’s dad is stoked because reps from Juicy Burger are coming to tomorrow’s trials (i.e., just an intrasquad) to watch Kaylie and maybe give her an endorsement. 

Oh hey,  DJ Tanner just drove up. 

Is she related to Lauren or is this an inside joke? OK, DJ is Lauren’s Daddy’s secretary executive assistant. She wishes Lauren luck at her upcoming gymnastics contest. “It’s not a contest, it’s a competition.” Get her, girl. Also DJ Tanner and Daddy Tanner are secretly dating. You know this is going to end well. 

The Keelers are loading up and Payson says to Roz, “I don’t want to be mean, but I need to Focus.” Totally did NOT see that coming. Roz literally tells her to “Chillax.” She offers Emily a ride home since Emily’s mother has clearly forgotten to pick her up (which wouldn’t have happened if she’d been hanging out at the gym like Coach Marty wanted). I’d like to pause to appreciate these capri sweatpants and short-sleeved zip-up sweatshirt combination that is happening, because wow. I can smell the Hollister perfume now. 

Emily begins her sad little walk home, and TWIST! She spots Kaylie making out with flop-haired Rings Boy in a Jeep. Um, that’s a contract violation, Kaylie…

We get a shot of Emily’s house. They keep harping on the fact that she’s “so poor,” but this home looks fairly large and well-maintained (it’s even open concept). So, Emily’s brother, Brian, is in a wheelchair; I’m going to reserve judgement until we see if/how this is treated throughout the series. But for the record, inspiration porn (even in fiction) is ableist and gross. 

Emily and Brian refer to their mom as “Erin Brockovich,” which is an accurate description of her fashion choices. Personality-wise, she’s kind of a mess with a terminal case of the Can’t Evens. Case in point: I get that they’re supposed to be poor, but Mom is literally feeding them a can of undrained tuna for dinner.

Rings Boy and Kaylie pull up to Kaylie’s house, and by “house” I mean “suburban Versailles.” He’s worried their relationship isn’t “real” enough because it’s a secret. She insists, “This is real. It’s the realest thing in my life.” That is the most 18-year-old thing to ever be uttered. Lauren subsequently drives up in her Nissan 350Z and busts them talking, warning Kaylie that “Not to get all up in your Kool Aid, but Marty will wig if he catches you two.” OK, no, THAT’S the most 18-year-old thing to ever be uttered.

Also, Lauren’s Daddy got her a necklace with the Olympics rings, and we need another moment of appreciation for the most 2000s outfit to ever exist.

She then says, “Daddy has promised to ‘take care of’ Emily.” Forgive me for all the Lauren screengrabs but OH MY GOD. 

Emily has secured a job at the local Pizza Shack. She goes to pick up her uniform and gets manipulated into working that night by the manager, who’s clearly using meth. Then, Lauren Zizes and a friend walk in and order a ”calzone, but make it open-faced.” Sooo, a pizza. Remind me, when was weed legalized in Colorado? Rocky Mountain high indeed! Once all the tweakers and stoners have left, Emily gets fun and flirty with her co-worker (Hi baby Nico Tortorella!) who calls her Ace (is he secretly Logan Huntzberger?) and describes himself as an emo singer despite a distinct lack of eyeliner and floppy bangs. They totally can’t wait to work together again on Saturday. 

The next morning, Payson’s parents have a heart-to-heart about how “totally focused” Payson is versus their less important daughter, Becca, who’s “totally UN-focused.” These are direct quotes, folks. They’re not sure if they did the right thing by making Payson’s gymnastics career their whole lives. Best not let Coach Marty hear you talking like that; he might revoke your parking spot. Huh, Mr. Keeler just said, “I still think you had a booty call with Bruce Jenner you didn’t tell me about.” Even without the benefit of 10 year’s experience, there’s a lot to unpack in that line. Also, wind is not Mr. Keeler’s friend.

Cut to Casa Kmetko. Emily wakes up in a panic because it’s 7:15 a.m. and trials start at 8:00 a.m. Emily’s all, “Why would you let me sleep in on the most important day of my life?!” and her mom’s all, “Don’t be so dramatiiiic, I was doing you a favor because you were up laaaate!” (Point of emphasis, Emily was up late working because her mother doesn’t have a job yet. Mama Kmetko’s too good to sling pizza so her elite gymnast daughter can get a good night’s rest the night before an important competition.) “If you really want to do me a favor, just let me take care of me next time.” Yeah, gotta side with Emily on this one.

We’ve finally arrived at The Rock for trials and the top three are warming up in their actual warm-up suits. (Pop Quiz: What color leos are Lauren, Payson and Kaylie each wearing?) It’s hard to tell if Payson is Focused™ or wondering if her father is secretly Bruce Jenner. 

Emily runs in late wearing another ill-fitting leo with a tag sticking out, ew. Lauren is all of us.

Let the glorious competition begin! They have a full panel of judges and an actual emcee for this intrasquad, which is beyond delightful. Kaylie’s first up on bars (they’re starting on bars because Reasons). Rings Boy isn’t so good at concealing his love for Kaylie and gives her double tuck dismount an enthusiastic standing ovation. 

From bars, they rotate to floor, obviously. Kaylie’s routine ends with her blowing a kiss to the judges, like that’d ever happen…

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On to beam. “No one should be able to do what she can do on four inches of wood.” Dammit, Roz, that’s enough out of you. Duuude, Lauren falls off the beam (which looks like a practice beam, not a high beam, just FYI) and everyone is stunned except her daddy, who’s just disgusted. I bet he wants his Olympic rings necklace back. 

Focused Payson is so shocked it breaks her Focus.

Kaylie sums it up best as Emily approaches the beam: “Holy shizzle, she has a shot at the top three.” Holy shizzle, indeed, Kaylie. Holy shizzle, indeed. 

Seriously, bonus points to the writers for not making any reference to Emily’s “long lines” or “European look.” Even though her tucked full dismount was way off-center, that routine is good enough for Emily to move up to third. Good lord, they docked Lauren THREE POINTS for that fall?! 

Don’t get cocky, Emily, vault’s next…

Lauren is obviously upset, and runs off to talk with daddy in Marty’s office. She wants to know what they’re going to do about Emily ousting her from third (because it’s Emily’s fault that Lauren fell). Lauren’s Daddy says, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but you need to go do the vault of your damn life.” Solid parenting there, my dude. 

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Now to vault. Apparently, they use the J.O. COP at The Rock, and so are doing a second vault with only the highest score counting. One coach whispers to another coach about where to put Payson’s springboard and then conveniently leaves the clipboard with said information on a balance beam riiight next to Lauren. Like, it’s almost touching her. Obviously, she takes it and makes some edits.

Emily’s turn has arrived. Yikers! She launches ass-first into the table and drops onto her head. That feels like an unlikely outcome from a few inches’ difference. 

Coach Marty (rightly) insists on calling an ambulance and keeping Emily stabilized until they arrive. Lauren’s Daddy helpfully adds, “Wow, I guess she does have vault issues.” Classy. Coach Marty makes this face 😐 and he doesn’t even know that Lauren attempted murdered her. 

For the record, even though Emily was able to move her extremities, having her lie on a sofa with her head propped up on a pillow on the armrest while waiting for the ambulance probably isn’t the best idea. Mom thinks she should quit gymnastics and be a normal teenager. Emily’s like, “Ew, no.” Mom says, “I know I’m not going to be Mom of the Year [which is the Understatement of the Year], but what do you need from me right now?” Emily responds, “This is my shot, tell me I can do this second vault.” Mom says, “Obviously, you can do this. Go get it!” 

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Smart Coach says the ambulance has arrived and that Emily needs to lie the hell down because he is smart. Mom says, “Get out of her way!” JFC… 

As the top three are getting awards, Emily tells Coach Marty she wants to do her second vault. Coach Marty says to this gymnast he’s known for less than 24 hours, “I can’t endorse this, but I can’t keep you from doing it either. This is your career… LET HER VAULT!” 

Emily sets up her own springboard this time, and Lauren—who’s holding a celebratory bouquet of yellow roses that looks so good next to her orange and red leo—looks worried. 

Probably because she knows how serious SCIs and concussions can be and that delaying medical intervention is a very bad idea. Emily’s terrible mom is sitting next to a dude who looks suspiciously like Jay Clark. That’d be a fun cameo! Literally the entire crowd stands up as Emily runs down the vault runway. She does a Tsuk tuck and sticks it, emphatically pushing Lauren out of the top three.  

And boy, is Lauren’s Daddy piiiissed. Lauren is whining to Coach Marty that it’s not fair because she’s trained at the gym for five whole years. Coach Marty’s like, “It’s called competition, deal with it,” so Lauren rats on Kaylie and Rings Boy. Emily jumps in and provides an alibi, double screwing Lauren out of a spot. “Lauren, I know you’re disappointed. But, quite frankly, I’m disappointed in you. The roster’s set.” Respect, Coach Marty. No worries, Lauren, I’m sure daddy’s going to take care of it.

Fast forward, Coach Marty is at the gym sitting in the dark and taking a shot. As you do.

Seriously, are there no lights at The Rock? I thought they were “rolling in money.” Pay your friggin’ light bill! Lauren’s Daddy comes in and informs Coach Marty that he’s hired a PI to investigate both Emily AND Marty (because who wouldn’t?). He shows Coach Marty a photo, and it’s apparently a very bad photo. Lauren’s Daddy tells Coach Marty that he must leave The Rock with Lauren and three other gymnasts to go coach in Denver. “And this time, make sure Lauren’s in the top three.” OK, how about making sure your aggressively mediocre daughter doesn’t fall off her “best event” at an in-house competition, Lauren’s Daddy? 

The next morning, Payson’s parents try to walk out the front door of their home only to be blinded by photo flashes and cries of, “How does it feel to know your daughter’s our nation’s only hope for a gold medal at the Olympics?!” By god, I want to live in a reality where eighth-ranked gymnasts are securing burger endorsements and getting doorstepped by journalists and paparazzi! 

Back at The Rock (which is still inexplicably dark, if you were wondering), Lauren and Lauren’s Daddy have thoughtfully waited for the Keelers, Cruzes and Kmetkos to arrive before staging their dramatic exit. “Thanks a lot, Emily. One lucky day, and you blow our gym to pieces.” Did she though? Not exactly the sequence of events as I remember them, but go off, Lauren. “I’m going to make sure you get buried in Boston… Now you have no coach right before nationals. Good luck!” And then (literally and metaphorically) things get even darker.

Balance Check
Every week we will break down the little moments that stood out as being extremely on point and those that wobbled a bit too much. Shout out to Vulture and its Gossip Girl Reality Index for providing the template for our version. 

Faker Than Parents Being Allowed on the Floor of an Elite Gym:

  • Reserved parking for special families at the gym? Minus 1. 
  • Sports Illustrated being interested in doing a cover story on three as-of-yet unknown gymnasts  in a non-Olympic year. Minus 5. (But like, we wish though)
  • Even if we believe the head coach could be blackmailed into leaving his own gym that close to nationals, do they have NO other coaches at that monster facility? Minus 6.
  • So Emily crashes her vault, looks like she could have broken her neck and despite calling an ambulance they moved her to the office to lie on a couch to wait for it? Minus 14 But they let her vault again anyway. Plus 10 because of course they did. 
  • Everyone freaking out about who will go “top three” to nationals, or the whole “first and second flight” thing. Minus 15 because WE DON’T GET WHY THIS MATTERS.

Total: -31

More Real than Lauren’s Fringe Uggs and a Mini Skirt being Peak 2000s Fashion:

  • Kaylie’s pink scrunchie. We all agree Kaylie would definitely be a VSCO girl, right? Plus 2 
  • “I thought Jesus was your boyfriend.” Lauren, to DJ Tanner Summer. Plus 5. 
  • That one, blind man, the one flipping across the gym” – dude being very descriptive when pointing out the girl he thinks is hot to Carter. Plus 3 because, yes. Boys are that non-descriptive.
  • Kaylie living in an actual chateau in the middle of Colorado. Plus 7
  • Mrs. Kmetko letting her daughter sleep in on the day of an important gym intrasquad because she needed sleep Plus 2 because on-brand for the character.
  • OMG LAUREN’S FALL OFF THE BEAM WAS SO EXTRA. Plus 4 for the dRaMa of it all
  • “Holy shizzle.” Miss you and your crazy lingo, 2009. Plus 1. 
  • Over-involved gym-dad-board-member throwing a hissy fit about how much money he has spent when things don’t go his way. Plus 8.
  • THE PEAK 2000s FASHION. Plus 20. 

Total: 52

MIOBI stuck the landing in this weeks’ Balance Check with a grand total of 21. 

Rating: 

1: The Feeling After You Find Out NCAAs Is Cancelled (Too Soon?)
2: The NCAA Banning Chalk Blowing Choreography
3: Brandie Jay’s Accidental DTY
4: Kelly Garrison Squeal After a Stuck Oklahoma Vault
5: It was beautiful, it was lovely, we went out there and ENJOYED THIS

READ THIS NEXT: Make It or Break It Down


Recap by Claire Billman and Kalley Leer

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