Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Jessie reviewed: "New York, New Nanny" (#1.01)

I'm in New York to follow my dreams because this is where dreams come true!

What is it?: multi-cam kidcom, half-hour (24 minute) length
Where did it air? Disney Channel
Who stars in it? Debby Ryan and Peyton List. Let's face it, the "real" stars pretty much end there, but eh, Skai Jackson, Karan Brar, Cameron Boyce and Kevin Chamberlain are also in it. Occasionally Chris Gayla as the love interest; Chrstina Moore has been rumored to be in it but was never seen again.
Why are we reviewing this? Those of you who know me know I kind of have Debby Ryan (as you'll get through reading this blog) but hey it's also Disney Channel. In fact for three out of four seasons, at least until Girl Meets World started getting big and even then, it was pretty much at the top of the Friday night line-up, don't let those blow-hards on IMDb constantly whining about how GMW should be on ABC Family make you think differently.

Jessie first premiered on Disney Channel September 30, 2011, marking today as the four-year anniversary of the show's existence on the network. In just a few weeks it will also air its very last new episode (the awfully titled Ooray for Ollywood) capping a four-year run with an official episode count of 101 episodes (the second-highest in the network's history for a live-action show, beaten only by Wizards of Waverly Place's episode count of 106/108 if you count the Alex vs. Alex special - it should be noted, however, that when counting "whole" episodes as opposed to just half-hours/production codes the episode count shrinks down to 98). In between that time the series have seen some highs and some lows rarely reached by any other show on the network. After WoWP bowed out (Jessie's highest rated episode so far, and the way things look its highest rated episode ever - Star Wars - aired right after the WoWP finale) Jessie competed with Shake it Up, Good Luck Charlie and Austin & Ally for Queen of Network Ratings. It scored consistently in the mid-high 3 million range and even into the 4 million range - in fact 3.5 mil was considered disappointing at the time. Jessie basically made Friday night for the network in 2012-2014 at the very least, and with help from the previously mentioned shows made those years the years of Disney Channel. Even moreso than during the Hannah Montana and WoWP era, as Nickelodeon also lost iCarly and Victorious at the same time Disney ended WoWP and still to this day doesn't have any real competition. Disney Channel had complete and unquestioned reign over all of children's live-action programming pretty much from Dec. 31 '12 to Jan 1 '14 at the least, maybe even all of children's programming period (especially considering how bolstered by adult ratings cartoons like Regular Show, Adventure Time and MLP: Friendship is Magic ended up being) and Jessie Prescott/Debby Ryan was pretty much the empress, the woman and the face behind the network. 

It's kind of easy to tell in fact, since she pretty much was near literally the face of the network. She was freakin' everywhere during '12 and '13 and that soft-cheeked big-eyed anime-proportioned face with the deep red hair was just about damn near as symbolic for the network as Mickey Mouse's static ear globes. She was that year's Selena and Miley, for sure. 

Then in August '14 - actually, specifically the weekend airing of Lights, Camera, Distraction!, which was a pretty critical character-building episode for Jessie no less - something terrible happened. It's the most terrible thing that really can happen to a show - the ratings bottom fell out and for the first time in what seemed like forever the ratings dipped well below 3 million. Close to 2 million flat if I remember correctly (feel free to correct me in the comments). And ratings continued to nose-dive from there routinely hitting just 1.5 million. In the next 9 months days ratings started to stabilize at or above 2 million but starting in spring '14 ratings started to hit again and ratings were perpetually stuck in mid or low 1 million range. Jessie suddenly went from one of the best to one of the worst performing shows on the entire network, even sometimes the worst, beating two-season wonder I Didn't Do It in some cases for last to the finish line.

Jessie wasn't alone in this but Jessie was most certainly the show hit the hardest by what I call the "Kidocalypse," the sudden complete collapse of children's live-action viewership. I Did't Do It always had lousy ratings (it's why the swapped staffs) and Liv and Maddie, Austin & Ally and Girl Meets World, though also hemorrhaging ratings compared to their 2013 and early-mid 2014 numbers, ended up weathering the Kidocalypse in the best shape and at the top of the network. K.C. Undercover, Best Friends Whenever and Bunk'd all premiered smack-dab in the middle of the Kidocalypse so one can only wonder, but K.C. Undercover still semi-routinely beats Liv and Maddie and Girl Meets World so it might've put up 4 million viewers routinely had this been 2013. As for DCOMs, Bad Hair Day was damn near anonymous, and Invisible Sister likely will be too. Teen Beach Movie was one of the most successful DCOMs in history; Teen Beach 2 was an outright bomb no matter how you cut it or no matter who involved in that movie would say, and it likely permanently killed off the franchise (so don't be in a hurry to expect Teen Beach 3, sorry Kent Boyd) - especially since Descendants managed to put up "old time" numbers and Disney will likely throw all its resources at that now (in fact they already have with those stupid "Wicked World" shorts). But I've been digressing wildly - all of that will get its own blogpost.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of people who don't get Debby Ryan's appeal, and for the many, many people who do, it's something that comes across so automatic it ends up being hard to express. A lot of her fans think she's a legitimately very talented actress who happens to be very gorgeous and an amazing personality to match. A lot of detractors think she's an untalented hack with no acting or singing ability who shouldn't be in either industry and desperately needs to find a new, actually viable career, and think her entire success on Disney Channel and fan appeal stems solely from how her body and face looks. And there are other non-fans who think she's just downright flat-out unattractive and think everybody who likes her is completely nuts and likely taking some sort of substance. They literally throw their hands up in the air and shrug when trying to find out why people like her as they cannot find a single reason. But, again, I'm digressing wildly, and I'll cover that more in my Jessie/Debby retrospective in the coming days.

Several paragraphs and I haven't even gotten to the actual review. Yeah I need to work on that.

Upon rewatching the episode one thing I've completely forgotten is how immediately the series establishes Morgan and Christina as actually blatantly lousy parents and this being exactly why they need a nanny in the first place. Of all the hate-sites and hate-reviews out there, they almost all tend to harp on how the series is awful because the parents are never around. I'm not sure what to think of that or even if I necessarily should agree or disagree with that. Chip Esten's (Epsten's? I've seen both spellings on IMDb and other official sources) Morgan never really sticks around the series long enough to have real character development (he of course went on to Nashville) but we know that he's very protective and loving of his children despite his absence to the point where he's willing to throw Jessie and Bertram under the bus without a second thought for them, he loves lavishing his kids with gifts, he has a near fetish for sci-fi movies with giant invertebrate monsters and...uhh, that's pretty much it. Christina Moore's, uh, Christina gets more character development as she actually bothers to stick around (I have a feeling Moore is much more a journeywoman actress and has much less recognizability/staying power than beloved Who's Line is it Anyway? actor Ep/sten so she probably sticks around Jessie more often out of necessity to collect a paycheck and keep her resume fresh) but in some cases in kind of a negative direction. Already by the beginning of Season 2 she went from aloof and absent but caring and overprotective parent to the point where she openly admits she remotely stalks Jessie and near-threatened to murder her over the kids (yeah the writers tend to go for character extremes that would get people locked up in real life - behavior-influencing kids' show!) to an outright shrill bitch who is so used to treating anybody who isn't her as being worth less than a tarred-out patch of gum on the sidewalk that she's become completely oblivious to her behavior and attitudes, and arguably one of the least lovable side-characters on the entire network that has played host to Artie Smalls, mean girl Lexi Reed, supervillian Gorog and Jessie's own Zuri (yeah sass can only take you so far on audience likability, something the Jessie writers will never, ever learn). 

Another thing that stands out - the kids are a hell of a lot more normal than the Flanderized caricatures they will morph into by show's end. Emma isn't stupid, Zuri isn't annoyingly and off-puttingly sassy, barely in the episode and Luke...uh, is in the episode just to hit on his new hot redhead nanny so ok he's been pretty static from the beginning. They're also a hell of a lot more emotionally dependent on their parents and much more roundly emotionally developed period. Oh, and Jessie herself is still competent - she's a straight-A student (why doesn't she just go to college? She can't get a scholarship to Julliard, Georgetown, Colombia or literally any college whatsoever if she wants to be an actress so bad? But of course then we wouldn't have a show) who is crazy-talented in absolutely anything but the creative arts, especially acting, but oddly enough with the exception of singing, which she's still good at (in-universe at least, again real life opinion is very divided). Come to think of it, she can fly a helicopter or a plane, can field-strip a machine gun, can do all these things aside from acting and is not only very book-smart and articulate but also strangely worldly intelligent despite rarely ever leaving the city limits of Ft. Hood, Texas (or at least she still is this early in Season 1) - it does kind of beg the question why didn't she bother to go to college even if she's in that much of a hurry to be an actress or if she's that much in a hurry to leave her father and that much afraid she's doomed to be in the military. People manage to become actors and/or leave their home and/or not be a soldier all the time using all sorts of means - the latter two tend to be something pretty routine and normal for like 95% of the American population. This isn't Starship Troopers, you can leave Texas and not have to shoot a gun and do push-ups or basketball suicide drills or 50 squats a day for a living in order to do so. For that matter why is Jessie so hung up on being an actress in the first place? Yeah it's literally one of the very first lines she says in the character's whole damn existence, it even made the intro quote for this very blog post, but for S1 Jessie it doesn't seem to be nearly as much a priority as it is just for her to find herself and maybe find friends and optional romance along the way and most importantly just find new experiences period. It's only in Season 3 even where being an actress is such a big deal it's almost all that occupies her life when she isn't sitting for the kids. In Seasons 1 and 2 she's still trying to see if she can be a scriptwriter, a playwright, a singer, a novelist, etc. and it turns out she's actually kind of good at some of that especially if she kept working on it. It could be it just turns out she doesn't like any of that and decided that acting really is her thing, but everything else is dropped by the wayside so suddenly it's just one of those things that really pop out in retrospect. Plus after four years almost nobody is hiring her as an actress, maybe it's time to go back and give being a scriptwriter, or a playwright, or a novelist, or a singer another try. Those are still very creative jobs that are in high demand that will allow her to at least be in the process, and depending on how successful enough she is she can still work her way into being in front of a stage or camera. Especially singing. She's produced at least one hit viral song, all off the top of her head. She headlined a Christmas special in Central Park all by herself, even if it was on an emergency basis. She sang a duet with Austin Moon at the absolute height of his career and popularity. Or even a few years later in The Tell-Tale Duck when she fakes being a veterinarian, maybe that's something she kind of wanted to try too, maybe she should've given that a shot and see if it was for her, or in the defacto Season 2 premiere The Whining when she outright says she wanted to be a doctor (Debby apparently wanted to be a doctor in real life while she was still a tween-teen actress, she even said she even considered joining the Army in order to be one). But who am I kidding, the writers would make her bungle all that up too because kiddie TV show and it would destroy the show's basic premise. 

So yeah, Christina immediately hires Jessie while she's still competent and not a bungling moron who literally can't walk 10 feet without tripping, Luke immediately hits on her (again) and we get Zuri's Milly the Mermaid imaginary friend (still the best thing about that character, so of course they killed Milly off) and Mr/s. Kipling, sometimes a relatively harmless addition to the show, sometimes the worst thing. The overarching theme of Season 1 is "we haven't fucked over the show yet" so of course he/she will mostly remain in the former category for now. Most of the first half of the episode is just introduction to character and premise, which is of course typical of a multi-camera kiddie domcom premiere, so there isn't a lot to talk about with the episode itself beyond what we've already been familiar with for three to five years. Jessie screws up and says mildly offensive stuff that causes the kids to no longer want to eat dinner (something she'll get used to later) and the kids try to run away and give her a headache while she searches for them and stops them (again something she'll get used to later) and she makes things all better. There are two things worth paying attention to in all this - one, they introduce her habit of baking cookies as an apology, which is a characteristic I wish they bothered to carry beyond just Season 1, and two, when she's looking for the kids and she's asking Tony for help just before Tony points out they're trying to run away via helicopter (white privilege, amirite?) She's standing at the entrance to the Fairfield, both doors open, lamenting that they can be out there, somewhere before turning around going what? Somehow it manages to encapsulate all the possibility and hope the series has to offer (and in Seasons 3 and 4 completely squander) like a good first episode should, and I don't think it's any wonder that it's exactly this shot they incorporate into the show's own Season 1 intro sequence. Another thing is how Jessie and the kids went from hating all each other to loving all each other in, like, five seconds, which is something the audience will later get used to in the series. 

And then we get this scene which, from the eyes of a dirty old mind like me, because of the way it's played out and shot can kind of be interpreted as Mr/s. Kipling trying to rape Jessie, or at least play out a vore fantasy. In the mind of a kid that hasn't been perversely corrupted yet it's a bit more innocent. 

But then we get this scene just a little while later after Jessie breaks Emma's science project and Emma is upset that her parents will be too busy to see it anyway. Jessie visits Morgan and Christina on the set of Galactopus 2 where she sneaks in as an extra who's supposed to be attacked by the eponymous space-squid monster and yeah they end up playing it out as a classic anime-esque tentacle rape joke all in front of an audience primarily of tweenaged girls. At least buy me dinner first! There are only two ways of interpreting that - either as basically a rape/prostitution joke (based on an old, kind of obsolete trope that a woman's probably going to find herself in an unpleasant situation where she's going to have sex whether she wants to or not possibly in order to gain something in return, so she should at least make good on that gain, which now is generally interpreted as either prostitution or rape depending on how you look at it exactly), or your mind hasn't been perverted yet so you don't interpret it at all and it just kind of flies over your head. Oh, and if there's still any ambiguity, Jessie also says keep your tentacles to yourself! Also, Jessie shows off that she can pretty much be the next Angelina Jolie if people will give her the chance by more or less destroying expensive props and making Morgan cry over it. Jessie provides all the catharsis the audience has been screaming for for four years right there in the very first episode by telling Morgan and Christina off and saying that they outright suck as parents, and then they fire her. But Jessie just goes about pretending she isn't fired and can be now legally removed and banned from the Ross apartment anyway and helps out Emma at her science fair, then Morgan and Christina show up after all and completely forget that they fired Jessie and that what Jessie is doing now is technically criminal trespass and stalking of underage children. Oh, and Jessie and Emma say a poignant line about how family orbits itself and is held together by love and gravy.

Like I said, it's almost entirely a setup episode so it's going to be almost all backloaded in terms of worthwhile moments, which are almost entirely concentrated on the final science fair scene. Then again in order to make it pay off you have to watch the leadup from the very beginning of the episode so, eh. It's hard to review this episode four years later because it's mostly just exposition and setup for stuff we're already very familiar with, not to mention nitpick all the plotholes that, if they get filled, would destroy the viability of the show's very premise. Then again, after all but three remaining episodes of Season 4 it's very refreshing to see Jessie, Emma, Luke, Ravi, Zuri, Bertram and even still-Mr. Kipling in prime form as actual fleshed-out characters before they became miserable, worn-out, cynical, borderline self-loathing caricatures of themselves and you're screaming at the TV as to why Jessie just doesn't quit and move to Hollywood or literally anywhere else in the country to pursue her acting or literally anything else. 

Grade: B-, though I kind of feel like I'm being a little generous with this and given that it's really just a first episode trying to set everything up it really deserves a C+ when not long after there are much better, much more fleshed-out episodes. Maybe because it is the first episode, maybe because for me there is just a heavy rose-colored nostalgia that I feel obligated to give it a positive modifier, but meh, it's my blog if you have a problem with it go write your own review on IMDb or something (or post a comment down below - you can call me a fuckhead who isn't worth having my dick shoved into a meat grinder and I'll still thank you for your comment. Like Jessie [or Doug DeMuro, one of my favorite essayists for that matter], I'm thankful for whatever role I can get). 
Episode MVP: It's probably going to come off as cliche and obligatory but I do have to give it to Debby Ryan herself. Like love and gravy and as Christina herself points out, she really is the glue that holds together not only this specific episode but the whole entire series, and I think one of the major reasons why Season 3 and especially 4 have been so lackluster is because that glue is starting to fatigue. I don't know if the writers are just running out of ideas and have gone to the well too many times, I don't know if it's just a matter of Debby running into literal fatigue or if there's something more personal going on with her - maybe we'll cover that in a later post, or maybe not since it is touching on a lot of potentially personal stuff for an actress I really, really like. But for now, she really is the source for much of the show's charm and likability, and for other characters bouncing their own charm and likability off her. It's probably not going to convince anybody who thinks she's a grossly overrated, untalented, borderline physically ugly hack to change their minds but maybe it'll let an outsider see why maybe she has such a huge and dedicated fanbase.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Minority Report reviewed: "Pilot" (#1.01, duh)

This show doesn't deserve to be quotable.

What is it? Single-camera sci-fi futuristic (with painful near by-the-minute reminders of how "futuristic" it is) adult crime procedural/drama, 1 hour (44 minute) length
Where did it air? FOX, a network that has long resigned to the fact that in order to get any viewership whatsoever it pretty much has to hand the reigns over to Seth MacFarlane and just give him carte blanche to do whatever the hell he feels like, hence Dad.
Who stars in it? Meagan Goode, Demi Lovato's (maybe) current boyfriend who once appeared in an episode of Wizards of Waverly Place as Alex's human uncle, which makes that whole relationship kind of creepy knowing that Selena and Demi are the same age and this guy was old enough to literally play Selena's uncle, and a whole slew of no-names I do not care about.
Why are we reviewing this? Considering that it's far away from the type of stuff this blog normally would review and is named after, it's being reviewed strictly because I needed a mouthpiece to warn people on how awful this show is/was. Fortunately people caught on and it was canceled mid-season, yay!

I'm going to take a detour from this blog's mission statement of reviewing/examining Nickelodeon and Disney Channel and quickly review FOX's Minority Report, based on the Stephen Spielberg movie (with him attached as a producer, which can mean anything from having direct script input and approval to merely agreeing to have his name slapped on it to sucker viewers in) based on the Phillip K. Dick novel (and despite the fact that he probably has more books adapted into movies than Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke combined, very few have pointed out how hilariously unfortunate his last name is. When people completely forget that your last name is in invitation to perpetual penis jokes, it means you're that good). Minority Report, the TV show, however, isn't good. It's not good at all. 

It's just bad. If you're just looking for someone to hand you an opinion for you, there you go. Rarely do I ever deny a show a second chance. I'm not going to bother to watch Episode #1.02. That's how bad the pilot is, and almost nothing can convince me the second episode is going to any better whatsoever despite backstage info about the second episode being rewritten and reshot.

If you really want a detailed Report (hah!) of how bad it is, there are literally hundreds of professional reviews out there you can Google. I'll just go over some key points. The first one is about how some people apparently felt lost in this. I don't really see how as the show conveniently delivers all the expository dialogue you need to catch up. As long as you remember that there were three siblings who could see into the future who were used to lock up would-be criminals who were put into some sort of weird bizarre statis thing but were then freed, you've got it. And don't worry, the show won't let you forget, as that's pretty much the only thing driving the plot, or any sort of semblance of plot. In fact most of the episode is expository dialogue relating back to the plot of the movie for a good, say, 15-18 minutes of episode run-time. It completely destroys any sense of urgency, suspense, climax or all those other things that makes TV shows worth watching. It's just watching the protagonists jump from expository scene to expository scene until they finally get to the big action scene at the very end of the show.

And no, that final action scene isn't big enough a payoff. In fact it's just as awful, if not worse, than the rest of the show. More than a few professional sites already talked about a mass terror attack conducted by pigeons. Seriously. I hope they paid royalties to Alfred Hitchcock (BTW almost anything he's done is better than this). Then the daughter of the terrorist guy person (he isn't give much of an identity beyond that, and doesn't deserve one like the rest of the show) is pushed into the wall by an air blast from the cop lady (played by Meagan Good, I don't know what the character's name is and if you make me relive the episode by having to look it up I will punch you)'s gun and she ends up on the floor bleeding profusely and obviously dead which was just kind of weird. Yeah yeah I know if someone is pushed into a wall hard enough that person will die but it didn't make it any less weird or outright bad. And that's probably the least bad part of the whole scene.

A few sites have also pointed out some of the excessive (or really, just bad) future puns and humor like the Simpsons 75th season or Good's mother meeting her father on an ancient thing called Tinder. Really, it's as if the writers forgot they were making a show called Minority Report and really wanted to make a live-action future version of Family Guy.

And then the heroes - Good and future predicting guy, something, whatever, look at the Washington D.C. skyline at sunset in the smarmiest, most cliche way you can imagine, as if to top this whole mess off with an image that will seal how awful and cliche this whole mess is.

One thing that very few, if any, review sites got but one commentator on IMDb did (forgot who it is, too lazy to look it up) is this little gem right here. Prepare for the first use of pictures on this blog!: 

That pic is from a site called I was going to link back from them but they're a conservative news site so...nah, too bad. Since updating old reviews of this blog to a newer format, I've also been forced to use a new image, so enjoy this gif from a non-right wing source, yay! (it's from if you must know)

Anyway in the Minority Report future the Washington Redskins have been renamed the Reclouds. Despite my jab at I don't want to make this a political blog, but I want to say two specific things. First, that yes, I do support changing the name of the team. Second, this is one of the laziest things I've ever seen on primetime TV, Chuck Lorrie sitcoms included. If you look closely all they did was literally put a cloud over the current Redskins logo. That's not even trying. If you're not going to try to give your fictional team at least a halfway original if not still generic name and logo like they do on even freakin' Disney Channel and instead resort to putting a cloud over a native chief caricature's face, why are you even bothering with anything else? Including writing this show in the first place.

There is a very vocal fanbase defending the show on the grounds of its diverse cast alone. And frankly I'm very glad for them. Defending a show on diversity grounds is a valid reason for defending a show. It's just too bad that such a diverse cast has to be stuck on this show, and it's doing a disservice to its own attempt at diversity and the actors stuck on it. In a era where the forces pushing for more diversity finally gave us Black-ish, and Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, and even Rosewood on Fox which is still pretty bad but eh, there's no excuse to force your diverse actors through such an awful, awful exercise when they deserve to be in better stuff. There still needs to be more diversity on television, but it still needs to be good. Television this bad is just a disservice to everyone involved, especially the actors themselves, even if it is the most diverse show around.

Furthermore, it's pretty clear that Meagan Good is pretty heavily sexualized from even her normal "detective" wear to that ridiculous getup pictured above. That isn't diversity, that's exploitation, which is kind of the exact opposite of diversity. Yeah yeah yeah, I know, it's also been a long-time staple of television that's here to stay and in the grand scheme of things it's a minor thing to complain about and not even a bad thing - depending on the exact context of that sexualization and how it's used. For a show this bad, whatever, I'm reserving the right to nitpick and hate anything and everything, and in the context and utilization of the show, it's bad, period, end of story.

I will concede that Meagan Good is ridiculously...Good...looking. Cue the CSI: Miami intro.

Grade: A big fat solid F. Congratulations Minority Report you are the worst premiere of the Fall '15 primetime far.
Episode MVP: A toss-up between Meagan Good's Redclouds shirt (as lazy a photoshop as it is) and Me for having to endure this piece of crap.

A note on future Disney Channel programming

While most normal broadcast networks are just premiering the new television season, a lot of Disney Channel shows will bow out in the next 60-90 days. Just yesterday was Dog With a Blog's series finale (which I already reviewed) and in the coming days and months will be the final new episodes for I Didn't Do It, Jessie and Austin & Ally. Of these four shows, two were pretty seminal series that have dominated the network in terms of promotion and fandom and for many people have come to define this "era" of the network; one is pretty much regarded as an abject failure at least in terms of building up a network identity and raw ratings despite being reborn into a second chance, and the last is somewhere in-between, kind of falling into a blip of a meh-space. In the meantime, Girl Meets World and Liv and Maddie will be entering into their third seasons and will be the oldest shows on the network. Everything else will pretty much be brand-spankin' new with the third oldest show, K.C. Undercover, premiering just this past January and Best Friends Whenever and Bunk'd not even being half a year old.

I'll try to come out with some meaningful retrospectives for these shows, maybe in multiple parts, especially for the one show I actually created this blog for in the first place. Except for Dog With a Blog since I more or less did that for the finale review and beyond what I've already said there isn't much to retrospect on. Jessie and Austin & Ally are a bit more complex than what their saccharine, kid-friendly exteriors belie - a lot of it is through the evolution those two shows have undergone, in some ways almost becoming their own spinoffs, especially Jessie. Both of these shows have huge fandoms, the largest since the days of Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place, yet at the same time both of these shows are almost universally hated especially by people paid to opine about TV. The surprising complexity these shows have, especially behind-the-scenes and regards to the fandoms (or hatedoms) and trying to explain to an outsider why these shows have caught the imagination and interest of so many of our youngin's today is the other thing that inspired me to create this blog.

We'll examine the lengths of these shows in the very near future and see if the current and future crop of shows can bring in the same fandom and staying power the super-fandoms adore for Jessie and Austin & Ally (and now Girl Meets World and Liv and Maddie) when their times come.

Dog With a Bog Reviewed: "Stan's Secret is Out" (3.24, Series Finale)

So long!

What is it? Multi-cam kidcom, half hour (24 minute) length
Where did it air? Disney Channel
Who stars in it? G. Hannelius (Sonny With a Chance, the DCOM Den Brother; after the fact, History Channel's Roots remake and High School Musical 4), Blake Micheal (the DCOM Lemonade Mouth) and Francesca Capaldi (aside from a few guest roles this is her first "big break," later she voiced, appropriately enough, the Redhead Girl from the Peanuts CGI movie) with Reagan Burns and Daily Show/DCOM veteran Beth Littleford rounding out the parental roles. Of course the "real" star is Stan the Dog himself, played by Kuma (early episodes) and Mick (later episodes)
Why are we reviewing this? Because, again, Disney Channel. Also this episode happens to be the friggin' series finale.

First of all a bit of a style note: while I'm not going to change it, I'm more than a bit disappointed with my first review (Best Friends Whenever "A Time to Rob and Slam"). It came off too much like a traditional review which is...a little boring. One of the reasons why I like Christian and Sean's reviews is because they're almost strictly commentary and opinion, they don't waste time and words re-summarizing the episode you just watched. So I'm going to try to emulate that style which means I'm going to try to quit providing episode summaries (I say "try" because my habit is to ramble on when I write - as if you haven't noticed). Unlike Girl Meets World Reviewed which caters almost strictly to people who are already fans of that show, I'm betting that maybe only up to 40% of my blog will be read by people familiar with the show (so basically, I'm betting you other guy who watches with your pet isn't familiar with them) but the Disney Channel episodes are so accessible (both through the Watch Disney Channel service, which is immediate and free to everybody not unfortunate enough to subscribe to the worst TV provider in history, better known as Time Warner Cable, or through YouTube) you'll either watch them yourself, or you just won't care to in the first place. 

Anyway, on to the review! Since it is the series finale, I'd be remiss for at least not going over the entire series real quick. Dog With a Blog has probably been one of the most polarizing shows in Disney Channel's history. People either get it or hate it, and a lot of these opinions seem to have been formed during the show's first season which, granted, wasn't the best (there's an unwritten rule of Disney Channel shows that either the first season is great off the bat and the series dies a very slow death from that point on - see Jessie and Austin & Ally - or that the first season is awful but vastly improves as the writers work out the kinks - see Girl Meets World, Liv and Maddie and especially Dog With a Blog). I thought the first episode was actually pretty great - it was funny, had great humor, and didn't pretend it was somehow above its own ludicrous concept of a dog with obvious CGI mouth movements. It wasn't afraid to revel in that ridiculousness or make certain sacrifices to plot or character that other perhaps more "adult" shows would avoid in order to make a punchline work, but didn't go overboard in doing that either for the sake of a weird immature sense of humor (see A.N.T. Farm Season 3, Jessie Seasons 3-4). But after the pilot, the show started hitting rocky territory and lost the plot.

Much of the first season was pretty dry - you can find a few comments on its TVTropes page about how the humor was dated circa 1962. I think a lot of it has to do with how the writers maybe weren't sure what kind of show they wanted it to be - did they want an over-the-top gag-based sitcom like most of Disney Channel or something more subdued and dialogue-driven like what the major networks carry? In Season 2 they seemed to have found a pretty good balancing act between the two. The show also took a more surrealist turn, perhaps as close to dadism as Disney Channel will ever see (barring the dadist homage from A.N.T. Farm's ANTagonist - I'll have to review that one some day, it was one of that show's best). If there was something stupid the characters wanted to do, they went for it, and the rest of the scene or whole episode would revolve around those consequences. Those consequences would be mined for more humor but also the lesson of the episode you'd expect from a kids' show, and by Golly they made it work. Much of the dialogue-driven gags still fell flat (really, it's hard to make a dialogue-driven gag work as evidenced by most of the network) but the physical comedy became an increasing focal point of the show, letting you completely tune out what didn't work. Perhaps the best episode of the entire series was "Karl Finds Out" which, oddly enough, is a clip show. It's probably the only successful clip show in history, made possible by a combination of arranging short clips into a new narrative and dubbing over others to come up with half-new material. It was legitimately a new episode and not just the writers or network being cheap.

Did "Stan's Secret is Out" carry on this tradition? Ehhh...kind of. The funniest bits were between the puppies which have completely stolen the scene since they arrived on it. Most of the show was just all the obligatory bits you need to cram into a series finale like this - the parents finding out that Stan could talk (accompanied by callbacks to the first episode which worked because, again, they were callbacks to the best parts of that pilot), government agents (and made scientist/Stan's former owner Ian, the closest this show's had to a regular villain since Karl quit being it) finding out that Stan could talk (and through an inattentive slip-up by Stan, which was actually kind of clever) and then the climax of how Stan, the Bennett-Jennings and Karl got themselves out of this mess and in the process making Stan a celebrity (supposedly had there been a Season 4 approved the show would've focused on Stan balancing celeb and home/family life, which I have to wonder how that would've worked and if it would've just been as awful as Jessie's Season 4 is). Also obligatory are the big emotional moments that come when you end a series and as far as behind-the-scenes is concerned, break up an extended family and close down a small business. There is a point where Stan decides to sacrifice his talking ability for his family, the family counter-acts by sacrificing their family bond for Stan...and it wraps up quickly and cleanly so we can have a Benny Hill-type chase scene (the show is really big into Benny Hill homages, BTW). That and the obvious final scene that's telling you this is the end as directly as possible without saying "There isn't going to be a new Dog With a Blog next week" are the episode's most emotional moments, pretty much everything else was gag humor. The dance number where Stan reveals his secret to the world was...meh. Not exactly as amazing as the awards host says it was, Really, the episode is just wrapping up the series and putting a nice little bow on it - it's not the best or funniest half-hour the show's ever had, but it's hard to put a cap on a series like this without either just throwing out a regular episode (even one that would be superior, but not really work as a series finale) or just completely screwing the fanbase over and getting a big fat solid F-grade out of sheer and pure personal spite. 

Grade: C+
Episode MVP: Everybody was just pretty much themselves so it's an even playing field without any real standouts. I think I'll just give it to Genevieve (or G. as she's simply credited) Hannelius and give her series MVP while I'm at it - the show may have had the dog as the title star but it's always been her show. She's first credit, it's her star vehicle, and this is going to be the big space in the demo reel that's going to determine her adult career. Although Blake Micheal and Francesca Capaldi have been big break-outs on the show, G's still made it her own and most of the viewer feedback seems to most positively praise her, and without reason. She's a legitimately good actress with good comedic timing, which I suppose isn't too surprising since she's been on the network (starting with Sonny With a Chance and the Disney Channel Original Movie Den Brother) since just before she hit double-digits. Francesca Capaldi is in the same exact position G started out with and I'd be shocked if she isn't being held in reserve for a future starring role of her own (maybe when creativity and originality truly have died she can be the main star of a Jessie remake) and Blake can probably make it out on his own fine enough, but G stands to reap the most benefit from her DWaB starring role and I'd say she's certainly made the most of it.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Best Friends Whenever Reviewed: "A Time to Rob and Slam" (#1.05)

You have the right to remain spacedust! Alternatively, Pew Pew Pew!

What is it? Multi-cam Disney kidcom, half-hour (24 minute) length
Where did it air? Disney Channel
Who stars in it? Landry Bender and Lauren Taylor (whom you might remember from Netflix's Richie Rich, one of the worst shows in literal all of history, I mean it) as the two main female leads, with Gus Camp and Ricky Garcia (the latter who actually sings the theme song) rounding out the important billed cast
Why are we reviewing this? Because it's a Disney Channel series and this blog is called Nick and Disney Channel Reviewed

Well here we are on the second post ever on this blog and we're already jumping into review mode! I'll cover the first episode or so of Best Friends Whenever later, but right now I want to jump right into this one for reasons I'll make clear later. Most people reading this are probably at least a little familiar with Best Friends Whenever, but just in case, here's a quick plot synopsis: it's about two best friends. Who can time travel.

I love these children's shows because they can be summarized so laconically. 

The two time-traveling besties are Cyd (Landry Bender) and Shelby (Lauren Taylor). In this episode, they use their time-travel powers to out-slam (I guess? I don't really know what trading insults between each other and then going BA-BOOSH like an incredibly annoying asshole is called) a classmate named Rob, who as you can gather from what I just said earlier in this same sentence is an incredibly annoying asshole. It's...actually a pretty interesting and legitimately original concept on the take of time-travel. 

Time travel as a means of obtaining infinite Mulligans on life is arguably the most common thematic trope regarding time-travel in at least one form or another - whether it's undoing WWII (people going back in time to assassinate Hitler is probably the most common specific sub-trope) or undoing some event gone wrong in their lives. Usually it's a pretty big thing that got messed up that people try to undo - which is why going back in time, repeatedly no less, just to get the upper hand on an insult war with an annoying asshole that people will end up forgetting by the end of the week ends up being so original and even clever. It's a bit out of necessity too, because if every episode focused on the "big picture" mistakes (which on a tween show like this almost inevitably gets reduced down to asking guys out or fixing failing grades) things will get repetitive and boring real quick. Not to mention, it is a thirty-minute multi-camera comedy after all, there's nothing wrong with having major plotlines revolve around things so silly, small and irrelevant in the greater scheme of things like this. It's whether or not that plotline can, at the end, be entertaining.

And I'd say "A Time to Rob and Slam" manages to succeed in that, though maybe not in the most graceful way. Most of the humor and entertainment gets delivered in quick, rapid punchlines and slapstick, which rarely indicates something that will be as fondly remembered as say Cheers or The Bob Newhart Show, or even Disney's own Liv and Maddie and Girl Meets World - but hey, in the hands of someone who knows what he or she is doing it works. The episode opens with Cyd and Shelby in chemistry class, treating chemistry experiments just like they do time-travel - they mix chemicals together to see what color they make so they can tell whether or not a purse or jacket looks good in that color. Another indication of what type of humor (and show) you're getting into is the chemistry teacher, played by Disney Channel veteran actor Larry Joe Campbell (more on him in future posts/reviews, actually) who is more interested in student gossip than actually teaching, to the point where he makes all the lab partner assignments based on how he thinks will create the most gossip. Which is how Shelby ends up partnered with Rob the annoying asshole. And, specifically, when I say "annoying" I mean in that odd to the point of surreal Disney Channel way. Rob isn't so much a master of insults as just a spout of the type of verbal behavior and nonsense five year olds might consider the height of wit. Which I suppose is the point - he is supposed to be annoying, not an actual bully. Either way, Shelby's having a hard time shutting him down (Cyd, if you're wondering, is partnered with Shy Tim who's so shy Cyd just freely steals his wallet. Yeah, it makes sense in context) so she and Cyd naturally use their time-travel ability to hone their insult skills, going back in time until they finally shut Rob down. 

Pretty straightforward, but there's a twist - according to their gossiping chem teacher, Rob's an asshole because back in middle school some "cold-hearted Felicia" shot him down - which if you're savvy about this type of show naturally turns out to be Shelby. They go back in time to try to fix it and Shelby becomes Rob's girlfriend - with the second twist being that Rob's still an asshole, maybe even a bigger one. So yeah, the entire episode ends up being a big Mulligan on the A-plot as Cyd and Shelby push the giant reset button on everything.

As I said the humor is going to be concentrated on the slapstick and over-the-top back-and-forth between Shelby and Rob. The arguably more intriguing part of the episode is the B-plot, involving Cyd and Shelby's male friends Barry (the obligatory nerdy,socially-awkward super-genius) and Naldo (the obligatory clueless guy). They're setting up a film club and watching a movie called Spark Dynamo: Space Cowboy, a movie so utterly awful "it simultaneously started and ended the space western craze of January 1993." Naturally, Naldo thinks it's quite literally the greatest movie of all time. Barry wants to insist that's objectively awful, culminating with Barry hiring the actor to tell Naldo his own movie is bad (in exchange for helping him crowdfund his new movie, Crabnormal Activity - "it's about crabs who ain't actin' right") and Naldo being completely oblivious to his arguments. Barry finally gives up and shows his appreciation for Naldo's appreciation by recreating the space cantina (more generic 90s syndicated sci-fi than any real Star Wars riff) in the school lunchroom. Meanwhile, Spark Dynamo's actor is left speechless by how much the movie rips off Shakespeare and The Wizard of Oz - because as everyone knows the most straight line towards a successful space western is a mashup of Dorothy meeting Shylock.

Again, it's just fluffy entertainment, and eh, it works. It's pretty emblematic of the more base yet more successful efforts from Disney Channel - it's so over-the-top it succeeds on raw effort. The B-plot with Spark Dynamo is rather charming too, and hey I'm enough of a sentimental mush to buy into the message that nobody can dictate what you like "objectively" and you're free to like whatever sappy, low-value crap you happen to like.

Like, say, children's shows in Disney Channel.

Grade: B-
Episode MVP: I'm tempted to give it to Brenden Meyer ("The Rob") but I think I'm going to give it to Randy J. Goodwin (Vance Carroway/Spark Dynamo). You have the right to remain spacedust! Plus Cyd, Shelby, Barry and Naldo have the rest of the series to earn MVP.

Time to take over, partner-person, whoever you may be!


Well I guess I'll see how this goes too. If this is already coming off as a ripoff of the Girl Meets World Reviewed blog ( that's because it very much is. Like Christian (if you know him mostly through his blog) or Glozone (if you know him mostly through IMDb, same person) I'm starting this blog mostly because there is a serious dearth of decent reviews on Girl Meets World - or other shows on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon for that matter. Obviously Christian (as I'll be referring to him from now on as that's what he seems to prefer to be called) already has the GMW element nailed down, but there seems to be zero interest in people reviewing other Disney Channel/Nick shows and giving them a fair, balanced shake despite an apparent demand for people to read or otherwise consume those reviews.

Well, that's not entirely true. There had been a few resources here and there prior to Christian's blog. For starters there's Nick and More ( which was mostly a news/scheduling site as opposed to offering reviews or commentary, but that said it was still one of the best around. There were also a number of message boards and communities dedicated to specific shows and actresses - Bella Thorn and Zendaya or Shake it Up, Olivia Holt for I Didn't Do It, Debby Ryan for Jessie. All of these resources outright disappeared, in many cases without a trace, long before Christian got his own blog running. What happened? In the case of NickAndMore, Bryan, the site's curator, just got overwhelmed with both material and let's just say active the-exact-opposite-of-help from Nickelodeon itself. But I'l quit speaking for him, Bryan himself has the entire story at Nick and More itself. As for the message boards - small communities funded by what's essentially the pocket or found couch cushion change of the domain owner don't last very long. It's just the nature of the beast.

That said, Christian's (and now also Sean's) blog has inspired me to go beyond just Girl Meets World. I'm really impressed by the thought and commentary they put into their reviews and other material, and I think other shows are deserving of the same treatment, or at least hopefully we'll have some fun along the way.

As Christian said of the state of Girl Meets World reviews when he started, most of the reviews of other shows of this genre tended to be of a single voice - but unlike GMW, where many of them had either been of cloying nostalgia that doesn't even address the actual show itself or just a perfunctory basic review never to return to the show again, that single voice tends to be overwhelmingly negative, declaring the state of children's entertainment to be a black hole of a cesspool and then vowing never to return again. I'd like to be a little bit more fair, a little bit more analytical than that.

Also like Christian and Sean I'd like to include discussion and analysis from other parties too, because review and analysis is somewhat useless without dissenting opinion or at least another perspective on it. I've given Christian and Sean a standing invitation if they'd like to delve outside of their Girl Meets World comfort zone, but if you'd like to participate in an analysis or review beyond the comments sections, I'll give it consideration. In the meantime I'll introduce who will be partnering up with me later.

Anyway, I'll be doing episode reviews of various episodes of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel shows past and present (given how presently Girl Meets World dominates so much, and as I've said people already have that covered) as well as relevant topics - the state of both networks, the state of children's entertainment at large, why do child actors and especially actresses struggle to break out, etc. At this point I've talked for way too long about this, so expect actual material coming henceforth! (or as soon as I figure out how to allow for others access to edit on this Blogspot-thingie - oh, that reminds me, people have suggested a number of Blogspot alternatives which I plan to migrate to - but in the meantime, here it is)

Wow I can configure the title for "Featured Post"

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