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!

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