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 an...attachment...to 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, Ravi...is 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.

5 comments:

  1. I'm very interested. I like your writing style and I think we could work well together. Here is a sample of my work on my own little blog:

    https://mikethetvblogger.wordpress.com/2015/07/19/the-d-minus-club-4-homer-simpson-in-kidney-trouble-the-simpsons/

    https://mikethetvblogger.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/the-d-minus-club-3-field-of-screams-whos-the-boss/

    https://mikethetvblogger.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/the-d-minus-club-2-tori-tortures-teacher-victorious/

    I can do primarily Nickelodeon shows, but I could also do Disney Channel if need be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, you're willkins-jason on IMDb? I follow your stuff and I remember generally thinking you're a pretty good commentator, especially on the GMW board. I've also looked through the stuff your posted and, yup, that's pretty much what I'm looking for. Welcome aboard!

      Delete
  2. It's very interesting to see someone who thinks about this tween stuff critcaly, but still likes it, to an extent. I'm very much like you, and we share similar thoughts about htis show, although as problamtic at Season 3 got, there were still nice moments and good things here and there. Season 4 in general has been a nice improvment with more nice moments for the kids, ESPECIALLY Zuri, so there's one disagreement.

    This was pretty cool. I sometimes cover Disney tween stuff over on my blog (https://spongey444.wordpress.com/ ) but that's usually in special side posts, as i typicall review movies and other stuff. You can go back and find my reviews of DCOM's and certain episodes of shows, and even part 1 of an unfinished disney sitcom retrospective.

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  3. "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"

    YES haha

    Also I'm not sure whether you're saying you didn't like the tentacle-rape jokes but I certainly did. This kind of extreme double-entendre exists nowhere else and is the most-Disney Channel thing ever

    ReplyDelete

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