Friday, June 24, 2016

Adventures in Babysitting Review (Disney Channel Original Movie remake)

Let me in you little punts!

What is it? DCOM (single-cam made-for-TV Disney Channel Original Movie)
Where did it air? Disney Channel 
Who stars in it? Sabrina Carpenter (Maya Hart, Girl Meets World) and Sofia Carson (Evie, Descendants) plus some newcomers in the form of Nikki Hahn and a bunch of what's their faces I can't remember off the top of my head (Nikki just sticks in my head because 1.) her name is easy to remember and 2.) she looks like a pint-sized Landry Bender. I don't know why that would make her more memorable, it just does).
Why are we reviewing this? Because it's a DCOM, as in Disney Channel Original Movie, and the title and URL of this blog says Nick and Disney Channel Reviewed, so there.

I'll get back with reviews for Danger & Thunder (spoiler alert: I thought it was pretty bad) and Girl Meets Season 3, but for the time being, Adventures in Babysitting (saw it days ago on the Watch Disney Channel app, actually) turned out to be...pretty decent. I sure hope Christian and Sean decide to review this one. In the meantime let's have Mike take over, why don't we?

I was debating over whether or not to watch the movie, but I didn't. I might have a couple of comments to make in response to your review so I'll wait for your thoughts. In the meantime, I'm going to start writing up the newest GMW review. Spoiler alert: It was crap. 

Alright so back to, um, actually doing this thing. Christian and Sean over at GMWReviewed have said they're never going to touch this one in a million years so...I think I mentioned this before but I think the whole experience of reviewing all the other shows, plus Teen Beach 2 (which in all fairness sucked compared to the first one) plus Descendants (which in all fairness is pretty middling as it is - I really do think Christian and Sean just drew the short straw in terms of watching DCOMs as they were scheduled for that year as 2015, well, pretty much thoroughly blew as far as quality DCOMs are concerned) pretty much spoiled them from wanting to touch anything that isn't directly involved with the Boy Meets World cast which means of the two blogs this is going to be the only one reviewing DC-AiB or for that matter anything else on Disney Channel, so there I guess. Hooray for exclusivity. 

Let's get the important stuff out of the way: is it actually worth watching? I'd say yes, even with my absurdly high tolerance for kiddie fare like this. Is it worth watching if you're a fan of the original? Having actually seen the original (actually, just prior to finishing up this review no less), again, I'd say yes. For those of you who keep insisting that the Disney Channel remake can't hold a candle to the original, I have to say, get over yourselves and actually go back and watch the original. We'll (well, at least I, but I'll be sure to give Mike an invite well-beforehand) be reviewing the original in due time, but for now: yes, it's actually pretty obvious that the Disney Channel actually did bother to watch the original. Several times, in fact, probably. Is the DC remake any less better because it doesn't drop an F-bomb once or has a weirdly dyed-purple ferret instead of a Playboy featuring Elizabeth Shue as the centerfold spread with a by-hand spreadsheet of stolen cars written on it, or any less cheesier because it was produced by the same network that gave us Wizards of Waverly Place, Jessie, ANT Farm and High School Musical? No, and in regards to that latter point it's not like the original was on a strict Velveeta-less diet either. But we'll get deeper into the actual worthwhile and fundamental differences between the two films in due time, when we actually get to reviewing the original.

Regarding the details of this's already been long enough (yeah I really need to practice being timely with these reviews - but again, these reviews are surprisingly time-intensive and I just have other things going on including a professional life, a personal life that kind of builds into my professional life, and a major relocation project going on - while Mike has a major relocation project called going to college so you'll have to cut us a break here. Honestly Christian and Sean have the right idea by doing these reviews piecemeal and going back to add to them even days after or more, even when doing a more current review at the same time. Kind of like what we do only less extreme. I think they've said as much that it collectively takes several hours to string these words together overall and after spending six straight hours putting the Mysteries of Laura Double-Finale Review Part 1 together [roughly eight times longer than the actual portion of the one episode actually reviewed in Part 1] yeah, I can believe it) that I've largely forgotten them despite the fact that the movie is not only still readily available on Disney OnDemand, but I still have it sitting on my DVR and...yeah, I may have even gotten the DVD (ok, so I checked out the DVD from my local library for the extras content). But yeah, let's face it - if the details really were worth remembering that much I would've remembered them. We can sit here and debate which DCOMs are actually the most memorable or memorable at all (and if there's one thing I learned from this "100 DCOM celebration" it's that media sites actually do that) but the most fair thing that can be said is that it's an extremely rare occurrence for Disney to be going out and intentionally creating a cinematic masterpiece for 90 minutes of television time. 

I certainly think, though, that DC-AiB has enough going for it to be remembered as well as any other "classic" DCOM, even if the ratings don't agree (yeah, about that, we'll get into that in Extra Thoughts). As mentioned I find it a worthy remake, Sabs and Sofia may not have hit it out of the park but they certainly delivered what the movie needed. The musical score (endless variations of the main theme, "Wildside," a Sabs-Sofia duet) while certainly not nearly as diverse or as licensed as the original, I think actually lends a better and even more engaging atmosphere. Even as a made-for-TV movie there's a clear benefit in nearly 30 years of cinematic evolution, both in the technology used to film it and the technical aspects employed by its director, which I think more than makes up for whatever lack of diversity in score this remake has. I thought the motif of Lola (Sofia) taking pictures was a pretty slick touch, too, and it leads to a pretty slick coda for the movie too - in fact one of the slickest codas for a DCOM I've yet seen (and thanks to this whole 100 DCOM celebration I've pretty much seen them all at this point - I need a life, sigh). The little kids - Nikki Hahn and um da otha's - again, regardless of their actual acting skill they delivered what the movie actually needed.

The plot - yes, the plot was ridiculous. The ferret with the purple dye job so bad and lazy even Debby Ryan would have to comment on it - I thought that was a bit too far into simply stupid territory but not too much that it's unforgivable, I just wish Disney Channel went with something even just a modicum more credible for a McGuffin O'Value. But, again, the original wasn't exactly lighthearted Citizen Kane for Young Adults either. And you know what? It was fun. It was fun enough that I actually enjoyed the movie, and certainly did not regret wasting my time watching it (so much so that I'd seen it twice before the actual Disney Channel premiere on Watch Disney Channel and have seen it an additional three times since - in addition to all the previously mentioned stuff about getting checking out from the library the DVD, blah blah blah). Especially if you're only allowed to pick one DCOM out of a series to be on a ranked list (so that the entire Halloweentown series just takes up one spot for example), I think DC-AiB might even be in the top 5 or at least the top 10 - and given how that would still be over 80 or so examples on that list, that says a lot. 

So no, it's not the deepest DCOM in the history of ever (there've been a few that actually tried for that, with varying degrees of success, which we may or may not review at some point) but whatever, I was entertained enough to like it. I know everybody on the GMW board on IMDb keeps bitching about kidcoms needing to be "deep" and basically be DeGrassi clones and how in even trying to be deep automatically makes GMW the best series in the history of the network completely regardless of how actually successful it is in being deep or even in just being good or how hard it's even really trying to be deep in the first place (that's something worth it's own blog post that's coming...hopefully by the end of the weekend) but sometimes just being fun works. If you want to expose your child to shit that's deep, well...I think no one's ever said it better than the great Mr. George Feeny himself:


As an English Teacher (well, someone with experience teaching a Language Arts classroom), yeah, let's go with that.

Being "deep" isn't a requirement to good television, nor does it automatically make television good *coughGirlMeetsWorldcough*

But like I said, I have a dedicated rant prepared just for that.

DCOM Grade: I guess a flat B. Maybe a B+ if I feel really generous. It really did feel like a lot of the better-quality old school DCOMs with a little bit of that 80s teen spirit updated for the late-Millennial/post-Millennial generation, so call it a rousing success in that regard and I guess an appropriate choice for the 100th DCOM. Considering the original source material (again, not exactly 80s teen comedy Citizen Kane), I think this is about as good as you're ever gonna get.

DCOM MVP: That light-blue one-piece Sofia wore for that one scene. I'm almost serious about this. But seriously, both Sabs and Sofia are good enough to get it rewarded, but if I'm allowed to show my bias I'm definitely picking Sofia. I know either Christian or Sean weren't that impressed with her on Descendants, but if you ask me I think she might very well be the most beautiful Disney Channel starlet in, well, the history of Disney Channel (don't get me wrong, Grace Phipps is in that general vicinity too). Yes even more than Debby Ryan (hey just because I have a really weird infatuation with her doesn't mean I can't think other Disney Channel stars are still hotter). I'm not entirely sure why I think this - she's neither the curviest starlet in Disney Channel history (that award probably ends up being a contest between Debby and Raven-Simone) nor the one with the most "traditional" supermodel-esque build (that probably handily goes to the also incredibly-no-matter-what stunning Zendaya) but there's just something about Sofia that says to me, hot damn, she's the purdiest Disney Channel starlet in the literal history of ever. Come to think of it she kind of reminds me of a Latina version of Elizabeth Gillies (Jade from Victorious). Regardless, we don't just gawk entirely at an actress' physical appearance and make all judgments based solely on that - Sofia's also a legitimately talented actor in that regard, too, and she certainly earned the MVP award strictly on merit. I just happen to also think she's really super-purdy, is all.

Extra Thoughts

 - yeah, I thought I'd go ahead and shove the bad news down here. With a final Nielsen Corp count of less than 3.5 million viewers "live," and when adjusted for demo patterns throughout Disney Channel's history (after all, Disney Channel was a premium cable channel until about halfway through the last decade or so), DC-AiB is the second-worst bomb in the entire history of DCOMs, beaten only by Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board's paltry 1.7 million or so viewers (that DCOM premiered the same year - same summer, in fact - as the highest-rated DCOM of all, HSM 2, which scored a whopping 17+ million "live" viewers which are basically numbers you only get with live sporting events i.e. the NFL - so yeah, JK:BoB had no friggin' excuse to reach such dismal numbers except for people deliberately tuning out either out of spite or extreme apathy). Even recent disappointments like the previous DCOM, Invisible Sister starring Sabs' GMW costar Rowan (a movie I thought thoroughly sucked by Mike thought was decent) managed to squeak out numbers breaking 4 million. This is pretty much the first DCOM in half a decade to dip below 4 million in viewership, the first DCOM in 9 years to dip below 3 1/2 million, and only the second DCOM in the history of DCOMs to do so. It's an auspicious achievement for the 100th DCOM, one that had an entire month-long event promoting it no less, and quite honestly one that this one doesn't deserve (again, I think if anything Invisible Sister is more deserving - or a bunch of other ones, for that matter). But considering that Disney Channel viewership has been dropping steadily since the Kidocalypse, I guess it's just a sign of changing demos. If Descendants 2 ends up only getting Teen Beach 2 numbers, it might mean the practical extinction of DCOMs as we know them (much like how you pretty much don't see series-based DCOMs anymore - the last one was Good Luck Charlie, it's Christmas and the closest since has been either the Shake it Up Made in Japan multi-cam "event," the Wizards of Waverly Place Alex vs Alex 1-hour multi-cam special and the three last episodes of Gravity Falls essentially edited and stitched together to form a pesudo-DCOM [it helps that animated shows tend to be single-cam by default thanks to the inherent magic of animation] - which incidentally I'm watching right now as I type this). Even if Descendants 2 ends up being a rousing success, and especially if Throw Like Mo and the other two non-musicals planned end up bombing, it might mean all future DCOMs end up being big HSM-esque musical numbers, and like back in 2013 we might only end up seeing one or two a year. It was also heavily promoted on Watch Disney Channel and OnDemand (I had after all seen it days before it's actual "premiere") but based around the online and DVR viewership of Teen Beach 2 and Descendants (both at around half a million at best) it's likely not nearly enough to make up for the lack of ratings success.

 - Speaking of DCOMs and DC-AiB happening to be the 100th, I guess it's as appropriate a DCOM to have that distinction as any, plot and quality-wise at least. Again, it does have the spirit of both the better of the early/old-school DCOMs nostalgia-obsessives on the GMW IMDb board constantly cry on about and the 80s teen coms equally nostalgia-obsessed morons also constantly cry about. I don't know if another big musical number like say the upcoming HSM 4 or the aforementioned Descendants 2 would be more "appropriate," given that everybody now mostly remembers Disney Channel as being the teeny-bopper pop star music factory for over a solid decade now, or with Descendants 2 also having the Disney "canon" tie-in, but eh I'll be more than happy to take it. Again, I'm just glad it isn't Invisible Sister.

 - Again continuing the topic, apparently the fact that DC-AiB ended up being the 100th DCOM caught nearly everybody unaware (yeah they don't exactly really keep on top of this stuff). Judging by their reactions Sabs and Sofia apparently became aware of this when they were directly told this as part of a Radio Disney interview when they were shooting the "Wildside" lyrics video, which at the earliest was when DC-AiB was already in post-editing. Either way, the point being is that there wasn't like some decree from Disney Channel execs saying that the honor of being the 100th DCOM must go to a remake of a cheesy 80s teen comedy for some reason. It just happened, a fact that was realized well after the movie had already been made.

 - For that matter DC-AiB had been in the works and Development Hell for over a decade, originally conceived as a buddy flick starring Raven-Simone and Miley Cyrus. Being caught in Development Hell isn't exactly strange for big Disney productions anymore - see Frozen in particular, originally a project started by Walt Disney himself back when the latest in animation technology was a guy bending over a drawing table - but it's relatively rare for television projects especially on a channel like this. If for some reason it doesn't look like it'll work out, especially early in production, it just gets dumped and people move on. I guess someone at Disney Channel was just that dedicated to remaking AiB.

 - There's also apparently some controversy regarding whether or not DC-AiB really is the 100th DCOM. It's not counting either 16 Wishes or Nancy Drew: Blog Wars (fair enough, since those were actually co-productions started by outside vendors and then Disney Channel brought in later) but it's also not counting some of the first made-for-TV movies to actually feature the "A Disney Channel Original Movie" opening title card (including the very first, something called Northern Lights). Depending on who you talk to and what movies you include, the actual 100th DCOM is between the four of Cloud 9, Zapped, How to Build a Better Boy (if it were up to me, and again based solely on the criterion of what I like the best, this'd be my preference) and Bad Hair Day.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Henry Danger Reviewed: Danger & Thunder (Thundermans Crossover)

Yay! A crossover always brings out the best in each show! It certainly doesn't smack of desperation! The priorities are always creative and not driven by marketing or.....

Okay, that's enough.

Quotes from "The Simpsons Guy"

What is it? Hour-long (44 minute) multi-cam crossover special of two multi-cam kidcoms
Where did it air? Nickelodeon
Who stars in it? Jace Norman, Riele Downs and Cooper Barnes given that it's a Henry Danger episode. Oh, and I heard of a rumor that Kira Kosarin of The Thundermans is in it somewhere too.
Why did we review it? Because it's the first major crossover Nickelodeon's had since iParty with Victorious, not counting Sam & Cat (something I'm sure the network itself is desperate to forget). Oh wait, I forgot The Haunted Thundermans was a thing, though I'm sure the network forgot about that too.

You know, a long time ago, I read an A.V. Club interview with Dan Schneider, and there was something he said that has stuck with me ever since. When asked if he watches his competitors' shows, he pretty much stated that he doesn't because he either doesn't care, he doesn't want to be influenced by them, or he's just too busy. No matter the case, it didn't really seem like he cared about other kids shows besides his own. I don't know if this crossover means his views have changed since then or he was just doing this because the network thought it would be a good idea. I'm leaning towards the latter because this whole crossover looked and felt like a network idea. 

You want to know if this is worth the price of admission? It's an extended Henry Danger episode with Thundermans characters in it. I wouldn't really recommend this crossover to anyone, even people who love crossovers. And I actually do love crossovers. The quote above is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but the thought of two shows that are similar to each other merging together and interacting is always exciting to me. I remember how big a deal it was in 2006 when That's So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and Hannah Montana crossed over. I remember how amped up I was five years later for iCarly and Victorious to cross over. And of course, "The Simpsons Guy" was the crossover I knew that was not only must-see, but can't-miss. At the end of the day, I'll always be in love with the idea of crossovers, but if you don't care about the possibilities and just coast through the event like an everyday episode, you get crap like this.

I even suggested a Henry Danger/Thundermans crossover a while back. It just made logical sense to me and felt like it could work perfectly with enough effort. But there was very little effort here. This episode could have been made without the Thundermans characters being in it and it would be exactly the same. That's how little the crossover aspect mattered. And seeing as how the last time The Thundermans was put in this kind of setting, it worked very well ("Haunted Thundermans"), there's no excuse here. It's a very sterile, unremarkable 44 minutes.

Okay, so let's take a look at it. Phoebe finds out that there has been a serious crime wave over in Swellview, so she decides to volunteer and help out. The rest of the family is on vacation because this is a Henry Danger episode and with that in mind, none of them matter in any way, shape, or form. Max, however, is not on vacation and finds out what Phoebe is doing. He's unable to keep her from going and that's that. The opening scene was pretty decent, but it really doesn't get better than that.

Meanwhile in Swellview, Captain Man (Ray) and Kid Danger (Henry) not only have to contend with the crime wave, but one of their old enemies Dr. Minyak has escaped from prison. Henry is also depressed because his girlfriend left him to go join some reality show, just like in the first season where his other girlfriend did the same thing. Not only is this a little sad, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the episode. Henry's depression is never brought up again even though it could have been part of the story and I'll get to why later. So some villains known as the Three Muchachos come into Junk-N-Stuff and they engage in a fight with our heroes, which they lose. They're also Canadian, so they have to have stereotypical Canadian accents and punctuate all their sentences with "eh." Seriously, when was the last time something like that was funny? Family Guy? At least they brought up the stereotype to make fun of it. Here, the stereotype is the joke, like every other show that's done this. Also, the episode constantly reminds you that they're Canadian. Really? Come on, son.

So the heroes find out from the villains that they were headed to a secret meeting for villains trying to destroy Captain Man and Kid Danger. They decide to take the Muchachos' costumes and infiltrate the meeting, but not before Phoebe mistakes them for the actual villains and starts assaulting them. And of course, Henry wants to get inside Phoebe's guts. I mean, don't get me wrong, Kira Kosarin is beautiful, but we all saw it coming. I saw it coming before I even watched the promo. And this is where I present my theory. Obviously, nothing was going to happen between Henry and Phoebe. But if he was so depressed, Phoebe could have helped boost his confidence and complimented his heroism, or told him that another girl's going to be waiting for him. I mean, Henry seems to get a lot of girls so that's not unbelievable. But no, we really don't get any interaction with Henry and Phoebe that's meaningful. It's just Henry having a crush on Phoebe and her rejecting him. I'm glad these two met so I could see them do exactly what I expected them to do.

Okay, here's another problem with the episode: The pacing. I have said this before, but Henry Danger is not a good show. One of its major problems is the pacing. Things move too slow, time is spent on unfunny jokes and pointless filler, and the plots feel empty because they were hardly ever developed. And when you have a crossover, you have to do more than just cater to one show. The Thundermans is a non-factor in this. I mean, I know they tried giving Phoebe a role here, but there's no reason why I should think Henry and Ray can't handle this themselves. She came to Swellview for the crime wave, then the story becomes all these villains trying to stop Captain Man and Kid Danger. They also add Max into this, but it just comes off as unnecessary. There's no reason for Max to be in this episode beyond the opening scene. He literally does nothing for most of the episode. I mean, he ends up getting Henry, Ray, and Phoebe caught, but he didn't realize they were in disguise at the villain meeting on his own. Phoebe had to tell him this. This really feels like the kind of story Dan and the crew made specifically for their own show, but at the last minute, Nick asked them to edit it so they could advertise a crossover. This shit could have been a half-hour if they were going to tell this little of a story.

It's also a disservice to The Thundermans which is a much better show than Henry Danger. It's not that good, but the characters are more likable, the stories are thought out more, and it's funny without trying too hard to be funny. Like I said before, the Haunted Hathaways crossover was everything this one wasn't. The writers understood what they had to do to make sure both shows came out looking strong. This one is just tone-deaf and too focused on Henry Danger.

So Captain Man lets Phoebe infiltrate the villain meeting too and it's there that we find out Max is in attendance as well. Why, you ask? Not because he wants to help destroy Captain Man and Kid Danger, which would be interesting and make sense. No, he just wants Dr. Minyak's new invention to take over the world because he's evilllllll. Everything else that's going on doesn't really interest him at all. Seriously, Max serves no purpose in this crossover. No reason is given as to how he got to Swellview or how he even found out about the secret villain meeting. That would require inside information, and from what I saw, none of the villains gave a shit about Max's presence so why would they waste their time telling him about this? He does absolutely nothing to help them. Again, it's just "crossovers and junk and stuff, lol." 

Anyway, the villains find out that Henry and Ray and Phoebe are imposters and they manage to trap Ray inside a large block on top of a train, with the intention to throw him in the river and sink to the bottom of the sea. Henry and Phoebe, who were told by Captain Man earlier to escape, are able to locate him with the help of Charlotte and Schwoz. It then leads to another fight scene, and if you still don't believe me that Max is one of the reasons why this crossover is so awkward, watch the scenes on the train. Captain Man is curious about why Max is hanging out with the bad guys when his father is one of the greatest superheroes of all-time, and Max tells him that he just wants that stupid toy to take over the world and shit. Then Captain Man tells him to blow him.........his nose, as it were. 

Missed opportunity, red flag, flagrant foul, penalty on Schneider-Part Two. How this scene should have gone, and usually goes, is that Captain Man would have talked to Max about the life of being a villain and how he should want to carry on his father's legacy instead of wasting his time committing petty crimes. Then Max would end up saving the day just as Phoebe is about to be finished off. At this point, it's obvious that Max is no threat to anybody and he's not really evil. He's just a harmless prankster acting out because he wants to be better at being evil than Phoebe is at being good. They brought this up in the Hathaways crossover and it ended up creating legitimate drama in the climax. Instead of taking the time to utilize these characters, you just have them sit around and do nothing, or do your lame jokes. And since the iCarly/Victorious crossover was much more entertaining despite running too long, you would expect these people to know a thing or two about what it takes to make a crossover work. Of course, Max does nothing on the train because he ends up getting caught on this thing by his foot and could have potentially fallen to his death. Then the heroes win, the villains are finished and Max gets taken home on the helicopter while hanging on a cable suspended in the air. I'm pretty sure he dies when the credits stop rolling. Also, why are they upset at Max for blowing their cover? He's there to help the villains, what did you expect him to do? If Phoebe didn't tell him anything, he would have never figured it out.

Wait, this is actually Captain Man's fault because he told Phoebe to find out why Max was there, knowing that he might get them caught. What? I'm done here.

I'm thinking about how much better this episode would have been if the Thundermans writers had more of a say in it, or just handled it themselves. I mean, based on the way Phoebe and Max act here, it's obvious the Henry Danger writing staff did their homework. Either way, this is the kind of episode that really didn't need the crossover aspect. It just feels like it was tacked on at the last second so Nickelodeon could have something cool to promote. Don't believe me? Watch this and then watch Haunted Thundermans and see the differences between the two. As a Henry Danger episode, it's not even that engaging. Henry and Ray being forced to confront several of their enemies at once is an interesting story, but the execution falls flat. There's not much of a struggle, they just fight and they win. I have to talk about the subplot, but it adds nothing to the crossover and could have been cut out completely. I don't know, what else is there to say? This episode can go die now.

Episode Grade: C-
Episode MVP: Cooper Barnes, because he provided the only good joke in the entire episode. Ray tells Phoebe that he missed Thunder Man's funeral because he had to go see a game that day. Phoebe tells him that her father is still alive, and Ray says that when Thunder Man does die, he'll make sure to go to the funeral unless he has something else planned. The delivery combined with the joke itself was great.

-Actually, there was another good joke with Schwoz. He tried convincing Charlotte that he looked like Uncle Jesse from Full House, but she didn't see it. I've always liked Schwoz. He reminds me of Klaus from American Dad in a way. 

-I just realized that no opening sequence was made for this. I don't get it. I mean, this was pretty much just a Henry Danger episode with Thundermans characters in it. You could have used the regular one.

-The subplot was just stupid. Piper ends up being unable to move her neck because she spends all day looking down at her devices, so she gets this condition called "text neck." Yeah. Then she has to wear a cone for the rest of the episode because apparently, she's a freaking dog. Jasper helps her with her texts, and it turns out he's surprisingly good at being her. But then he ends up inviting the wrong person to her friend's sushi party, her friends show up to the house in an unfunny exaggerated fashion, Jasper takes responsibility, and they beat him down. That's it. Also, Henry's dad was here and he infuriated me. Jasper said that he has to treat the neck injury with ice, but they're out of ice so he sticks Piper's head in the freezer. Instead of, you know, taking her to the hospital like a normal person. Then when Piper asks to be led into the house because she can't see, her dad lets her fall to the ground because she has to do it herself. I hate Henry's dad. I don't think I've ever liked him at all. This is especially bad because that one gag made me feel bad for Piper, one of the worst characters any Schneider's Bakery show has ever had. Yeah, I don't like a lot of the characters on this show.

-This was a small moment, but it still bothered me and got me thinking about something. So Henry, Phoebe, Charlotte, and Schwoz are looking for Captain Man while they're in the helicopter. Henry is tracking him and says that he's moving really fast, so Charlotte says that he must be in a car. Henry then says that he's moving at 60-65 miles per hour, so he must be on railroad tracks, which he doesn't get because you can't drive on railroad tracks. Everyone knows where Captain Man is, but Henry doesn't, so Phoebe has to explain to him like he's a toddler that Captain Man is on a train. Henry doesn't hear her and says that he's probably on a train. Okay, I have to ask, when did Henry become so stupid? I noticed throughout the episode (and on other occasions) that sometimes he'll say something a little pointless or idiotic and there's no reason for him to. It's not like he's naive or lacks common sense, he just says and does genuinely stupid things like Jasper would. Why is being an idiot one of his character traits all of a sudden? I don't remember that being the case in season one. We already have one stupid main character, we don't need two.

-Also, a lot of these villains are non-threatening. I didn't see any of them capable of causing real damage except for Dr. Minyak. When Charlotte shot a grenade into the brick to free Captain Man, everyone thought he died and the villains were gloating about it. But they did absolutely nothing to kill him. They don't even question why he's dead before they could initiate their plan, they just start celebrating. And everyone thinks Captain Man is dead even though he's indestructible. Crossovers, lol. 

Great review, BTW. I'm trying to think of a way to phrase it that's humble without crossing into humblebragging (a word I desperately hate, BTW) but I'm absolutely glad Mike's a solid member of this blog. He's certainly been putting his 50% share at least and his opinion isn't just valued, it's spot on. This review of Danger & Thunder being absolutely no different.

First I want to address that little tidbit Mike mentioned in the very first paragraph, about Dan not watching other people's shows because he either doesn't want to be influenced or doesn't care - and I'm going to be addressing both of those points, in fact. Artists - whether they be what we think of in terms of "classical" artists like painters or sculptors; neuvo avante guarde (I'm probably misusing all three of those words) artists like performance artists and what have you; songwriters; novelists - even scriptwriters like Dan - sometimes talk about not wanting to be influenced by their competitors. Part of it's because being taken as original is serious business in the art world, part of it (especially in multi-cam sitcom writing) is just being afraid of having your pants sued off for plagiarism (to the point where if you submit an original script to a TV show staff they take it from the mailbox straight to the trash without even opening it, for fear that if they even look at it you're going to come back with a lawsuit claiming some idea from some random episode was stolen from you). The idea of somehow being free of outside influence is virtually a holy concept in the creative world. Orson Scott Card - yes, the same Orson Scott Card that gave us Ender's Game (that one movie that had Hailee Steinfeld and Rico from Hannah Montana in it) and wrote an essay on why we should literally have another Civil War if gay marriage was approved (too bad for him I guess) actually wrote a pretty decent short story about taking this sentiment to the extreme some years before he went crazy with the homophobia (this from a writer who has included multiple LGBT characters in his various works, go figure). 

But the whole notion of somehow avoiding outside influence making you a better artist is just hubris, plain and simple. In fact it's hubris of a very high order and a very fatal mistake, especially for new artists. See, all art is a reflection of culture - whatever culture the artist grew up in, including the artist's family, community and the popular culture that artist is exposed to. When you grow up in a cultural vacuum (something you don't have to worry about because based on what I just said, that's virtually impossible), the art you create is going to have all the substance of a vacuum. It's important to be influenced by outside sources - it's how you basically "get with the times" and mold your art to the tastes of the public, or look at the mistakes other artists have made for you and improve upon that (or just improve upon what's already culturally there otherwise - hence, Hunger Games -> Insurgent -> Maze Runner, etc). 

I see the whole "I don't want to be influenced by the outside and have my art be pure" argument as being a close cousin to a quote oft attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, as literal a father to suspense-on-film as you're ever going to find. You probably know the one I'm talking about without any additional hints: "If you want to be a good director, watch bad films and learn from their mistakes." Except it doesn't quite work out like that. See, we humans, particularly we creative humans, are more prone to learning by imitation than learning what's wrong through example. This means that if you expose yourself to bad art only, you're going to be producing bad art. This is why most actual film schools, directors and actors will tell you you need to double-down on good examples of art, or at least what's considered to be popular and successful examples of what you want to do. So why would the great Hitchcock even say something like this? Well first of all quotes get misattributed all the time, so actual proof that he even said this could very well be nebulous. Second, Hitchcock was notoriously paranoid about competition and trying to get the upper hand against other directors - including if not especially up-and-coming ones. He knew he had a lengthy career ahead of him (he started producing his first theatrical-release movies shortly after WWI - in fact he's also the father of Britain's first "talkies" - and he didn't die until 1982, being involved in film and TV production all the way to the end) and even if he actually did say that quote, it's entirely possible he was trying to deliberately sabotage future directors before they gave him serious competition. 

My point being, Dan's sentiment of not wanting outside influence - provided that's even the truth behind it - is pure bunk. And it's also a bit ironic if not even a little hypocritical as one of the things Dan had always been praised for, all the way back with All That, Drake & Josh and the Good Burger movie but especially with iCarly and even moreso with Victorious, is that people were impressed with how in-touch he was with tween/teen pop culture of the eras those works are from. Good Burger isn't just a decent teen comedy movie, it's actually a pretty good insight into life back in the 90s (please please please don't ask me why I know this). Victorious is a pretty good insight into the mind of a teenage girl during the early third of this decade, and is more or less still recent enough to be valid today. To get that kind of praise is impossible without allowing outside sources to influence you. That's the whole point of letting outside sources influence you. Being too busy isn't much of an excuse either - one of the things that makes television writers busy in the first place is scoping out and researching the competition. To completely ignore your competition as a scriptwriter is to simply not do your friggin' paid job.

So more than likely it's just Dan actively showing disdain and contempt for his competition. I'm assuming Mike's referring to this interview specifically which coinsided with the end of iCarly. iCarly and Victorious had pretty stiff competition - pretty much name any famous multi-cam show in Disney Channel history. Hannah Montana, both Suite Lifes, Shake it Up, Good Luck Charlie, Jessie, Austin & Ally - basically anything older than Liv and Maddie and Girl Meets World (which would've been competition to Dan's last show aimed at this demo so far, Sam & Cat). And don't forget Sonny With a Chance, which depending on who you believe is a sore spot for Dan (again, according to these same sources is based on effectively a stolen very early draft for iCarly with Sam - the original main character - was cast to be a part of a variety show). For that alone he would've had reason to ignore the competition out of contempt, but it's extremely disingenuous to claim that you're doing it because you're too busy or for the sake of protecting your art. It's also no secret that Dan's sense of humor is very different from the corporate-mandated humor style that permeates all the Disney multi-cams - and that it's a very big reason why iCarly and Victorious had a tendency to be seen as more "hip" than their Disney Channel counterparts. In which case go ahead and admit that you're ignoring the competition because you think they're dumb and have nothing to offer to you. If anything that earns you style points because it acknowledges you're just that hopelessly superior to the competition. Granted it would've been a more valid sentiment during The Amanda Show, Drake & Josh and Zoey101 days, when his stiffest competition was Lizzie McGuire, That's So Raven and Even Stevens which probably came closest to matching his shows, or even moreso during the All That and Kenan and Kell days when Disney Channel's live-action competition was either virtually or literally nonexistent. But no, the "I'm too busy" or the "I don't want outside influence" arguments don't really hold much water.

And again, in Dan's case, it's not like not bothering to watch the competition out of simply not caring or outright contempt is unearned - you cross-shop Victorious and Shake it Up for example, and while SiU is a good show on its own merits Victorious just simply "got it" more. SiU was successful in aiming straight for the escapist fantasies of its demo, but Victorious actually "got" its demo and understood it better. Victorious understood the daily crap, the daily boredom and even the daily triumphs that its core demo would likely go through, and provided a more realistic, more grounded fantasy escape for that core demo. You know, that whole be relatable to your audience kind of thing. Victorious not only excelled at that, but it did it better than all but a very slim few of kid-centric comedies ever got. Yes, Victorious exaggerated its world as much as any other kidcom, but here's the thing - unlike most Disney Channel fare that exaggerates to comedic effect, Victorious exaggerated to the same degree its audience did. If you've ever read the comic strip "Zits" you know what I'm talking about - teens do see the world a little bit skewed, and Victorious tapped directly into that. Again, it's what makes the show genius in this regard. The same teenage girls who were scoffing at SiU and its over-the-topness were watching Victorious and going, hey, I know a  teacher who's exactly like Pscyhowitz! or Lewbert reminds me of that one jerkface (yes the same thing more or less applies to iCarly but I feel Victorious is a better illustrative example)!

But anyway, yeah, I think Mike's dead-on about Dan not caring for other shows, including ones on his own network. Again, this wasn't a problem at his height when he pretty much was the network but it's a problem now when for the first time in about a decade and a half if not closer to two, the most successful live-action show on the network isn't his. There are rumors that he's kind of vicious about other shows too - like how How to Rock, despite fighting in the same ratings weight class as iCarly and Victorious, was canceled pretty much due to Dan's direct influence (it might also help explain why BTR's third and especially fourth season scheduling was more than a little wonky). I have a feeling Boy/Girl Meets World's very own Micheal Jacobs is of the same attitude too, or if not Disney Channel itself is doing it for him - like burying the Series Finales of Jessie and I Didn't Do It under Meets Texas, or burying the Liv and Maddie Season 3 finale under Meets High School. I used to think Jacobs was doing this intentionally to try to screw all the other shows over in favor of his own, but unlike Nickelodeon the actual show creatives and staff have a lot less say in how their own shows get scheduled. But that's not quite here yet - I'll get back to this more when I catch up on Meets Jexica (spoiler alert: it involves my theory behind the creation of "Jexica" herself).

Anyway, yeah, needless to say I agree with Mike in that the crossover just smells of network brainstorming, specifically about five minute's worth. Unlike Disney Nick isn't real big into crossovers - while Disney has a major event a year at least (if you insist on keeping count, I got it up to nine including "one-sided" crossovers and Monstober '15 as one giant event and not counting the Show With Crossover in its Very Premise, Lab Rats: Elite Force) the only ones I can name in the "modern" era are iParty With Victorious, The Haunted Thundermans and Danger & Thunder (again not counting the Show With Crossover as its Premise, Sam & Cat). And of those three, exactly one- The Haunted Thundermans - is officially not a completely one-sided affair (despite actually giving equal attention and pretty fair treatment of both shows' casts, or at least better than some Disney crossover events, iParty With Victorious is considered just a very long iCarly episode with Victorious characters in it). I have a feeling Nick might be smelling some of that Disney crossover success though - the Jessie crossovers actually brought in DCOM-like numbers and the one with GLC spanked Nick's Jinxed movie - and right now they're in desperate enough straights to forget any lessons learned from the Sam & Cat fiasco. And given how thoroughly one-sided it is (it's even more one-sided than the so-called Jessie/LaM crossover) it's pretty clear Dan didn't really want to have much part of it. Dan could've just instantly made up some super-generic superheroes previously unmentioned that Ray could've snidely mentioned were his role models and the episode would've worked just as seamlessly. 

On to Mike's third point - yes, I do love crossovers. I was outright all get hype when Disney launched Infinity, and saddened when they announced they're pulling the plug a couple months ago. I actually enjoy the crazy, very loose extended universe the Disney Channel live-action sitcoms have ad-hoc build around each other despite whatever tone and sentiment I let off in this essay (though I do think it's just getting too out of hand - moderation, people!) On that note - I actually do have not only a mental map of the DCLAU all laid out, not only do I have a plan on how to actually sort things out while letting everything keep its canon status, but I did it in the best way possible - by formulating the entire plan into its own, multi-spinoff TV show, essentially Descendants: Wicked World-style (it basically involves original characters from the Star Wars universe, of all things, from the time gap between Episodes VI and VII specifically, interacting with Disney Channel live-action, animated, and Marvel characters in a CGI-cartoon). I just haven't shared it because, well, it's one of the few things even dorkier than sharing details about that really hot female firemage you created for that one game of D&D six years ago. 

So, uh, where was I? Oh, right. Yeah, Mike's right. It is a very sterile 44 minutes and, uh, stuff happens. It's extremely paint-by-numbers as far as all these big-name supervillians from past episodes get together only to be predictably anti-climatic. I really don't have much to add, but I do want to emphasize Mike's point about The Haunted Thundermans being a much better crossover written to actually include both shows, not exclude one because Dan doesn't have a monopoly on the network anymore. That crossover actually knew how to create general implications for both shows without stepping on the toes of either for immediate (i.e. the very next episode) implications, something even the Disney Channel crossovers plainly flat-out don't know or simply refuse to do. Danger & Thunder can be summed up as "Well we know you really like Kira Kosarin because you either look up to her or think she's really cute, and you really like Jack Griffo because you think he looks cute so here they both are, on Henry Danger! Yay....."

Episode Grade: The AV Club's Gentleman's F (that is, the same C- Mike gave). I'm tempted to give it a D+ but having an excuse to say "Gentlemen's F" sounds cooler.
Episode MVP: The pretty-ish stunt lady who played the one security guard villain who's entire career is probably doing very light stuntwork for multi-cam kidcoms at this point (yeah this is a pity MVP award, might as well, not like anybody legitimately deserves it). 

Extra Thoughts:

 - speaking of which, yeah, we can pretty much agree that given that it's a canon fact that train was going over 60 MPH that Phoebe, Max, Henry and Captain Man straight up murdered at least some of those people they threw off the train, at the absolute least those extras we'll never see again (and by that, I mean the actors themselves in pretty much the remaining history of television). I'm pretty sure at least Minyak is going to come back, but if we never see Van Del or The Toddler ever again, yeah, you know what happened.

 - and speaking of that Van Del was a lame villain to bring back, he didn't even really qualify as a villain. What he stands for barely qualifies as a crime anymore in most major cities. I know they were reaching for recurring villains since oddly enough for a show about a superhero Henry Danger is kind of lacking in actual major villains, but seriously. C'mon, man.

 - Last I remember that little take-over-the-world toy Max was so obsessed with is still hanging onto the side of that train, which means it's still doing better than pretty-ish stunt lady (yeah that's her character's official name now. You can look it up on the episode's IMDb page, even).

 - Schowz doesn't remind me of Klaus because Schowz is better.

 - Beyond what Mike already said the subplot isn't even worth wasting keystrokes on.I'm sure the writers themselves were thinking this, as they were writing it.

 - I'll offer the theory that Henry has temporary lapses of being an idiot because Dan really misses another Cat Valentine-like character (Jasper is more of a Robbie Shapiro and the other two lackey friends are more like Sinjin clones).

 - Oh crap I just again reminded myself that a vastly superior Dan Schneider show exists.

 - A lot of people would consider someone who's just stuck doing light stuntwork for kidcoms to be stuck in Hollywood's version of perpetual loserdom, the acting career equivalent of permanently gluing pocket protectors to every article of clothing you have, but I'd still consider dating that stunt lady. Yeah I'm running out of things to say, or at least non-skeevy things to say.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Girl Meets World Reviewed: Girl Meets Jexica

When Riley decides to add a little "Jex" appeal.

I tell you right now, the boy died happy. Yeah, this is the type of quote (and the context it was said in) that's automatically gonna shoot to the top.

It took a lot out of me trying to think of an opening sentence for this review.

I knew I should have done this sooner. In fact, I was considering drafting this the night the episode aired but my procrastination got the better of me. Plus, with a new episode last night, I'm going to have to break even. I've heard the near-universal praise that this episode has gotten in the past week, and let me just say that I'm starting to think it's a little reactionary. Don't get me wrong, this episode is definitely good. In fact, this is one of the best episodes the show has put out in more than a few months. But I wouldn't call it top five of GMW or anything like that. It's not as hilarious as "Mr. Squirrels" or as game-changing as "Yearbook" and the Texas trilogy. It's just a really solid episode from a show that is very bipolar in terms of quality. One week, it can give you complete dog shit like "Gravity," and the next week it will turn around and give you a classic like "Pluto." I don't get it. I mean, this show has had potential to be great for two years. The inconsistency has always been a major problem with Girl Meets World. It seemed like season two was going to go on an unstoppable rampage with a bunch of good or great episodes, then it fizzled out and ended with uncertainty. But you know what, I digress. Let's take a look at "Jexica," and how it managed to get me more excited for season three than the actual season premiere. 

It starts off in the halls of Abigail Adams High School. Seriously, these writers have a weird obsession with the Adams family. I wouldn't be surprised if their next Halloween episode didn't have Abigail Addams High School as the name. Anyway, the kids are filling out their profiles for the school's social media site, and Riley realizes she has no interests to put down. Wow, this episode is already cooking with gas. Riley just realized she has no interests. This has been three seasons coming, but finally the show admits it. Riley is afraid that the other kids won't like her because she's boring, but Maya comes up with the idea of an alter ego. She likes everything Riley likes, but her profile has a different name. Riley decides to call her Jexica, and it works like a charm because her profile becomes the most popular in school. 

By the time we get to the first classroom scene, I feel like I'm falling in love all over again. This episode had a phenomenal first act that never lost steam. Every scene was entertaining, there were a lot of chuckle-worthy moments, and the lesson is being taught in a way that makes sense without being beaten into you. The execution has been delicious so far. Also, extra points for the classroom scene. This one is the best in a very long time. Cory's not being interrupted, his lesson corresponds beautifully with the kids' activities, and the lesson is one that everybody can chew on, not just the target audience. Who wrote the first draft of this?

Mackenzie Yeager? She's new, and if the Google search images match up, she's quite the looker too. Lock her up. Throw her in the Disney Channel basement, keep her around for as long as possible. She gets this show. I wouldn't be surprised if she watched Boy Meets World growing up either.

So this is where the episode starts to slip into old habits, or so it seems. Riley is basking in her newfound popularity as Jexica, and when Lucas messages her for advice, she comes up with a really stupid plan. She decides to dress up as Jexica and make Lucas fall in love with her so she can solve the love triangle........which may or may not exist. I don't know, the storytelling has fallen off a great deal since "Texas." I know what you're thinking, this is horribly contrived zany sitcom garbage. It's even lampshaded when Riley admits that something horribly wrong will occur and ruin the plan. Fortunately, the show is one step ahead because they immediately skip from Point A to Point D when everyone in school decides to take credit for Jexica's popularity. The next day, everybody is over Jexica because as Cory said in class, the next cool new thing came around and made her yesterday's news. That's when Riley realizes she wants the school to know her for who she really is, and updates her profile to accommodate her adventures and her friends.

Once again, Girl Meets World has a dud season premiere but rebounds with a much better follow-up. I say certain things all the time about this show, but as Mr. Enter just recently stated, the best criticisms are the ones you hear the most frequently, because they have yet to be defeated. Girl Meets World had a decent plot on its hands and made it shine through with great execution. The lesson was not only valuable, but taught very well throughout the episode and never annoyed the viewer. It was just reinforced by events we actually saw and were entertained by. There were small jokes and big jokes throughout the entire episode, and almost all of them hit. I haven't even gotten into the subplot yet, but it's definitely worth the price of admission as well. 

What can I say? When the show knows what it wants to do, has a more subtle and thoughtful approach to telling stories, and emphasizes comedy over drama, you get episodes like this or "New World." "Jexica" was goofy, it was hilarious, it was sweet, and it actually had something to say about the social media age. This episode had one of the best lessons in the whole series. Now is this top five of GMW? No, stop smoking. But it's definitely one to check out and a shot in the arm that this show desperately needed.

Episode Grade: B+
Episode MVP: Mackenzie Yeager, you the real MVP. No, I'm just kidding. Rowan Blanchard did a great job in this episode, and Riley was genuinely interesting and entertaining for the first time in a long while so she picks up the trophy. I said it more than a year ago, but I think Rowan's strong suit is comedy and Sabrina's is drama. When you give these actresses their strengths to play on, they become so much more engaging to watch.

-When was the last time this show had a bad opening scene? I'm really trying to remember here. Even in terrible episodes, the show tricks you with a really good scene to start it off. But fortunately for this one, the rest of the episode just builds off of it. Riley's explanation for Jexica's name, Farkle's favorite song being the sound of his computer opening up (Corey F. really nails the facial expressions and body language there), Zay's favorite movie being The Notebook and his love for Celine Dion. I'm having fun here. I'm having fun with my Girl Meets World pals.

-Nice interaction between Maya and Yogi. Also, when I first watched this episode, I was worried that even Riley's friends wouldn't know who Jexica is because the way Lucas and the boys talk about her makes it seem like they honestly don't know. But it turns out they knew the whole time so I was relieved. It feels like the script was trying to trick the audience into thinking it was going to go into standard bad GMW territory and make you look foolish by avoiding it. Also, there's this Mean Girls-type bit going on where everyone faces the camera and talks about Jexica. Zay does the same thing, but he was pulled back into the shot by Lucas. This show has jokes, man.

-The main plot would have been enough for me to enjoy this episode, but the gift just keeps on giving because the subplot is almost as good and just as funny. So Auggie is about to be tricked by an online scammer. I thought about that Family Guy episode "Scammed Yankees" where Peter and Carter fell for the same scam, but it's different here because Auggie's just a little kid and not a complete idiot like Peter or an out-of-touch weirdo like Carter. Cory wants to make it seem like the scam is real, but Topanga doesn't want Auggie to grow up to be a sucker. Cory and Topanga steal the show completely. Their interactions feel straight out of Boy Meets World, with a flashback to the original show to match. Even the ending to the subplot, though very confusing, is really funny and lets you know they weren't taking any of this seriously. This plot did exactly what it needed to.

-I honestly didn't get Riley's plan. Either she's stupid enough to think this will work, or she thinks Lucas will be stupid enough to fall for it. Then the kids impersonate Jexica, which is odd because I have to assume they all have profiles on the site too. That means none of them can be Jexica. Eh, it's a minor speed bump but the episode stays in the fast lane. I really laughed when Riley came out of her closet dressed as Jexica and didn't think Maya knew who she was. "I know it's you, you nimrod."

-Man, those classroom scenes were really something. If we could get more of those every now and then, it could really validate Cory as a teacher. The best part was when Cory asked the kids if they knew the capital of Minnesota or where polar bears/penguins lived. No reaction. He mentions "Charlie bit my finger" and everyone starts imitating the bit. The joke was used twice, and it was just as funny the second time as it was the first time.

-"I'm tired all the time." This was the best line of the whole episode, bar none. I love the way Lucas said it and it just accurately describes how confusing this love triangle is. Seriously, I hope they resolve it soon. I can only hope.

Haha, I know all about procrastination, Mike!

Previously I would've probably just interjected that right into the green text but I'm starting to realize that seems like stepping on your toes, so from now on out I'm doing this strictly "Christian and Sean-style" where we have our blocks entirely separate. Why am I mentioning this when most of you and probably even Mike himself won't even notice? I don't know.

First thing I want to mention is the opening shot of Riley and Maya, and especially the lighting, is really slick as hell. That's the type of shot composition frankly most Disney Channel (and Nick) directors don't really seem to want to be bothered with in their rush to just churn these multi-cams out like sausages and act like they get a significant bonus proportional to how under-budget they get. Seriously, 99.99% of the time they absolutely do not want to deviate from "well we have our three cameras already positioned here, and we've got whatever lighting happens to already be in the studio which will forever be set to 'indoors at high noon'" so any time they express even the slightest in shot composition creativity it has to be noted. I have a feeling this episode's a natural set-up for Rowan to take Episode MVP, but runner-up's going to be whoever directed this episode just for this opening (I wouldn't be surprised if it's the Rider/Shiloh team). I bet Christian and Sean would be a lot less dismissive of Jessie or Liv and Maddie if their directors bothered to show some anti-drone mentality like this (in Jessie's case it's mostly either Rich Cornell or Bob Koherr, who together direct something like 80% of all Disney Channel multi-cam episodes, and have been doing so since FOX Family was a thing and Disney ended up inheriting them from the changeover to ABC Family; in LaM's case it's either going to be Jody Margolis I believe her name is?, and Andy Fickman, both of whom were not only essentially hand-picked by Beck and Hart and have been a part of their team since well before Disney hired them but also have more than a fair deal of theatrical movie experience under their belt, so I'm actually a little confused by their lack of daring). 

When I first heard about Meets Jexica, my biggest worry is that it would just be a rehash/redo of Meets Popular - which incidentally was GMWReviewed's first review (did they mention this in their review of Jexica? Yeah I actually haven't gotten around to reading that yet). In a lot of ways it is - Riley invents herself because she wants to be more, well, popular. In Popular it was born out of frustration and angst - so it was really Riley's own all-too-in-character interpretation of becoming Goth, actually - but here it's an online persona that's gotten out of hand and she's now forced herself into acting out in the real world. Given that I'm typing this out after having just seen the credits and intro, I'm still not convinced it really is all that different from Popular. I have a feeling this one's gonna rise and fall based entirely on execution over concept (considering that strength-of-concept has been enough to help GMW get off the hook waaay too often up to this point).

Ok so it turns out there is a twist compared to Popular - rather than becoming...*I actually can't find a reference to what Riley called herself without having to refer back to and re-watching Meets Popular* as a Harujuko...Harijuku...Japanese anime girl, Riley's actually threatened by and competing against her alternative persona. By this point it's not exactly an uncommon concept in teen-centered media but...and even I hate saying comes off fresh when this show does it. What I mean by that, and what I mean by "even I hate saying this" is given the bulk of past episodes - Meets Fish, Meets Gravity, Meets The Tell-Tale Friggin' Tot - yeah, the show has a history of falling in love with stale plot points. What I'm mostly looking forward to is seeing how Riley's going to react to something of her own creation. Most of this show - including all that I listed above - is really about Riley reacting to the outside. Especially in Meets Gravity in where she was supposed to be reacting to her own narcissism and self-centeredness but in the end only ended up reacting to how people perceive her to be that way, hence that episode being an ungodly disaster. In other words, most of the show has been about Riley reacting to something external, even if it ends up being Maya a lot of times. I find it interesting if not necessarily ironic that in an episode that's again supposed to be about Riley's preoccupation with being popular it's about her reacting to very much a reflection of herself, or at least a reflection of what she thinks she should be. soon as I heard "...prince from Nairobi," yeah, this is another subplot that I'm probably going to let Mike's words already written take care of and not waste additional keystrokes on (Episode Subplot Grade: F-).

Actually there are three points: 1. Apparently it really isn't about trying to teach Auggie a life lesson on why he shouldn't wire money to African princes who introduce themselves as life-long friends through email, 2. There's being naive, there's being naive to protect a child's naivete, and then there's Cory Matthews doing his best Cat Valentine impression (late Victorious/Sam & Cat Cat Valentine no less), and 3. They need to just either see if they can get away with stretching the image, zooming in on the image or some combination of both next time they flashback to Boy Meets World. The fuzzy, blurred area that's filling in where good old black bars would normally go is pretty distracting, and just leaving them black actually manages to be marginally worse. I think most shows in the Hi-Def era when faced with this problem do exactly what I suggested, a combination of trying to stretch the image and zoom in until that space is filled. It's not perfect, but most of these cutaways are short enough the audience probably won't have time to really notice anyway, and it's less intrusive and obvious than what GMW has done so far (just black bars to start, now "fuzzing" the image to fill that area).

Now I want to pause during Cory's classroom speech because it's actually very interesting. In no small way, the crux of Cory's speech hits at the core of why this very blog exists - or for that matter, GMWReviewed and even Disney Channel itself. If you want to cheat and use the broadest category possible, social media as cultural output - and therefore all forms of cultural output - have common roots (those same ones Cory mentioned, going back to cave paintings), have the same purpose (sharing information, whether it be stories and narratives or raw information like what's the weather like and how many saber-toothed cats are out there to try to eat me) and how and what information to be remembered is determined in large part by popularity, especially contemporary to that information. Lucas and Zay mentioned that this decade is going to be remembered by dancing cat videos and that nobody cares about the discovery of new planets (although despite what Meets Hurricane is trying to suggest Lucas is probably too young to remember the "New Planet Craze" of the 00's and how it got so out of hand it actually contributed to Pluto being smacked down out of planet-hood by the scientific community) but it doesn't necessarily mean that, from a cultural and social media standpoint, one is more valid than the other. Take the 70s for example - a lot of things happened during that decade. It was the decade people thought was going to bring the end of the world as the Soviet Union and United States inched ever closer to the inevitable nuclear war. It was the decade the Vietnam War ended and the US populace started a deep rethink of foreign policy (that unfortunately hasn't lasted into the present day). It was the first decade in the United States when people of color could walk out and apply for whatever job they wanted to anywhere in the United States or go to any place of business with a federal guarantee that they wouldn't be discriminated against from being hired for that job or treated with respect as a customer (at least by legal theoretical). It was the decade when humankind started actually exploring the Moon in person and first sent spacecraft to Mars and even outside the solar system itself. It was the decade of the first U.S. Space Station and when despite that previously mentioned threat of nuclear war the Soviet Union and United States actually put aside their differences and made a space station together - granted it only lasted for a short while before the spacecraft parted ways but it eventually paved the way for Mir and later the International Space Station. It was the decade that saw the birth of the microprocessor and from there, video games, personal computers, phones that you could take with you and talk on while you were walking to work or the store and from all that the social media Lucas just got done talking about where we like to see our dancing cats.

And yet what are the things people actually remember from that decade? Crappy disco songs, crappy disco styles and even crappier cars. 

My point being, there's no point being worried or hung up about what people are going to remember from this generation for future generations, because chances are people are going to think it's crappy anyway. That's the naturalistic inevitability of cultural evolution - things change because tastes change, and we'll inevitably think of past tastes as crappy because being an earlier iteration of what was once popular it must be crappy now, otherwise it'd still be popular. It's like dumping your XB360 in the trash because you just got an XBOne - the XB360 is older, ego it must be inferior, ergo it must be crappier. That doesn't make the XB360 any less valid for what it is. It's the same logic for pop culture - we think disco was crappy because if nothing else it's old, so it must be crappy (just like what you think of everything your grandma likes). That doesn't make disco any less culturally valid, and it doesn't make dancing cat videos any less culturally valid. In fact, on that note, supposedly disco's making a comeback but I've yet to see any proof of that myself.

Also, Cory's approach is a little bit flawed when he finally gets to his point. You can "lifestyle" the Internet only as much as you can any form of media and "lifestyle" TV - which at that point really resembles a lack of lifestyle. Yes, you can get into gossip culture, but that's gossip culture, not "lifestyling" the Internet. Moreover Cory (or rather the people who wrote this episode) don't really grasp the meaning of "memetic" - you know, where the word meme comes from. The reason why memes work is that they're simple patterns with a few key memetic "hardpoints" that the brain can latch onto, whether it's cuteness or humor, and so it's incredibly easy for it to ingrain into our minds, and things that are easy to ingrain into minds also tend to be easy to spread for the very same reasons. What do I mean by referring to these memes as "simple patterns?" Anything, really, whether they be say character traits or plot or narrative points or even literal patterns like visual or audio patterns. This is why very few, if any, internet memes are more complex than say a minute or so-length video. The sneezing panda is easy to remember because, well, it's a sneezing panda. The "Charlie Bit my Finger" thing Cory references is a great example of that more literal pattern recognition - it's very simplistic, easily repeatable dialogue (it's all there in the meme title itself). When you start going more complex, the memetic recognition starts to break down - what's the one thing people most remember from The Dark Knight Rises - is it Bane's speech to Batman about why the old corruption of Gotham needs to be toppled at any cost, even if it means literally nuking the city, or for that matter is it more complex plot points about why Bane and his master Miranda (spoiler alert for a four-year-old movie) are motivated to do all this destruction in the name of toppling corruption, or is the whole Baneposting speech that culminates with Bane pointing out to Littlefinger from Game of Thrones that he's a big guy for you and that the next step of his master plan is crashing this plane, with no survivors! See, we can remember the whole Baneposting shit because it's a simple pattern with humorous points that serve as anchors for our brain to latch on to. Remembering which pole has polar bears and which has penguins...ok, that one's pretty simple and Cory's class should just be ashamed for not knowing. But memorizing the capitals of all 50 states is much more complex in comparison (not to mention pretty useless, even well before the common use of the Internet).

Anyway, it's really easy for scriptwriters to say that historians are going to remember us as a society obsessed with clicks and likes (and it very well may be true), but remember - popular culture remembers the 70s as being that decade where people drove incredibly crappy cars while wearing incredibly ugly clothes to the disco where they can practice incredibly dorky dance moves to incredibly awful music. Actual historians remember the 70s as that decade where people of color managed to successfully fight for their societal rights, humankind started the first steps towards colonizing space, the Soviet Union and United States began the first steps towards ending the Cold War, and the first microprocessors were slowly starting the inevitable path to this very social media Cory's talking about. Popular culture may very well remember the 2010's as being the decade of Twerking parodies, forced memes and of course cat videos (actually cat videos have been cultural touchstones since last decade but whatever) but actual historians will likely remember this decade as the decade of rising fears about foreign assimilation or lack thereof, renewed interest in space exploration from the private sector and when an explosion in entrepreneurship finally made possible the electric car that can drive itself no less and being able to shoot 1080p video from devices that we can literally hold in the palm of our hand while simultaneously talking to someone, texting to a different person and scoping out Twitter. 

Back to the episode at hand...yeah, Lucas knows it's really Riley. Duh. C'mom Riles. The unicorn thing really gave it away. I mean who else does that?

Oh and here's another thing that distinguishes Jexica from Popular. Just as I predicted, it continues the theme of Season 3 of trying to make Bay Window and Triangle into a whole damn season.

I understand Riley's obsession of Lucas' inevitable choice but c'mon, man. You know that whole lifestyle thing Cory was talking about? Yeah, Riley, you're making your angst about Lucas' inevitable choice become an actual lifestyle now.

Commercial break, and the revelation that everybody's pulling a Spartacus on Jexica of those completely-out-from-left-field-yet-brilliant things that made Boy Meets World a show so well-remembered TeenNick is scrambling to put up 15+ year old reruns of it. I mean, seriously, I thought it was a real wtf? moment but I can see where...whoever wrote this going with it. Again, memetics.

Ok, more ranting time, using Cory's own argument against him. Yes, Charlie Bit My Finger (you can tell a scriptwriter is middle-aged if memes from four years ago or more are being referenced) isn't valuable knowledge if it's not going to be valued or remembered the next day...but then again is knowing what the capital of Minnesota really that valuable either, unless you either happen to be living in Minnesota or shipping something to St. Paul? There's a reason why kids remember the capital of Minnesota for about as long as they remember the meme-flavor of the hour. It's not particularly useful information. You know what's really useful information? Basic understanding of the core subjects: math, language/literature, science, and history (you should, you know, kind of know a thing or two about that last subject Cory). Beyond really depends on the individual. Cory would probably argue that knowing the ins and outs of an Edelbrock four-barrel carburetor jetted for high output at high RPM speed isn't really that much useful knowledge - but for someone working at a speed shop or custom car shop, yeah, that's going to be pretty useful knowledge to the point where that person's day-to-day livelihood and ability to grab a paycheck is dependent on it. Cory might argue that knowing what district Katniss Everdeen is from isn't important - unless you happen to be, uh, whoever the director of Hunger Games was and having a basic grasp of what you're shooting is going to have a big impact on ensuring the crew working on your movie is actually able to bring home some of their salary. As a history teacher Cory might argue that memorizing Reynolds numbers might not be that much important knowledge, especially if you don't bother explaining to him what Reynolds numbers actually are (a dirty trick but hey it shows my point) - but for aerospace engineers knowing Reynolds numbers are pretty important for making sure airplanes don't just randomly fall out of the sky and start killing thousands of people. Cory would probably consider knowing the NATO phonetic alphabet to be more fluff knowledge, but even something as simple and silly as that could end up being pretty important knowledge, especially for air traffic controllers where even something as little as that could, you know, again, help make sure that whole airplanes randomly falling and killing thousands thing again.

What ends up being useful knowledge is what you make of it.

A lesson Cory concludes by telling Maya that she disgusts him, and to just go to the bay window because class is over.

Episode Grade: C+. As much as I was slightly more impressed with High School (part 2 at least I guess?), I think I was slightly less impressed with Jexica than Mike and the GMWReviewed team. Cory's sentiment is important and well-meaning (well, at least the whole "you're determined by the actions of your totality, not just today" thing, and that part certainly bears repeating) but the whole "what's on the Internet and these crazy memes that get your attention are fleeting and don't matter, what matters is actual knowledge" thing has been done before, almost to death (Dog With a Blog did it after all) and if it hasn't been done better than here on GMW, it's only because nobody's really bothered. 

That said on the face of it it's not a bad episode and it would've gotten a B-...except the B-plot is so crappy it legitimately demerits the episode as a whole down into C+ territory. it almost saved itself with Cory telling Topanga that all those annoying and dirty little trick-quirks are what he likes about her after all, but then it goes all dream sequence on us in an incredibly stupid way. 

No wonder the only lessons the writing staff learns from Meets World of Terror and Meets Friendship is to give us only more crap like Meets The Tell-Tale Tot and Meets World of Terror Friggin' 2.

Episode MVP: Yeah, I really have to give it a two-way (technically three-way) tie here with Rowan Blanchard, who was a big part in helping this episode aspire to even a B- grade before the B-plot crushed those dreams into a puddle of sitcom trope despair, and the directing team of Rider and Shiloh Strong (called it!) who probably went as far outside the box as their new Disney Channel overlords allowed them to.

Extra Thoughts

 - I did like the interview/Office/Modern Family-style talking head segment, especially the segment where Zay/Amir played it up (Riley's over here, Zay)

 - Looks like another thing I (partially) called - The Hole does indeed look like it's the school's equivalent of The Bay Window after all, only in having our protagonists gather around The Hole as opposed to being stuck down in it. But hey, there was people watching! Insofar as people watching people through their phones and tablets. 

 - I really can't gush about the new intro enough. So far it really is the best thing about Season 3. I really do feel like it's something they should've done from the actual Meets World episode, but I think part of what makes it effective is how the characters actually come off as credible high school students in the intro, like mini-Friends or indeed when the Boy Meets World cast first did it (actually - and I know this is pure blasphemy - but I think the GMW cast actually pull it off much better). I don't think it would've worked as well back in Season 1 or even in Season 2. The reshot scene of Rowan and Sabs dressed in...whatever top hat getup that was supposed to be - on the lunch conveyor belt from Meets the Forgotten doing the jazzhands was probably as close as they were capable of pulling off at the time.

 - Also, confession time - I've never actually seen the entire Season 2 credits sequence. I always make a point of fast-forwarding through it. I only know of that particular part because it's towards the very end and the fast-forward/rewind feature is never precise.

 - I know I kept saying I was going to explain this weird theory I had of Jexica herself and Disney Channel's relationship with GMW and GMW's relationship with the network and other shows...but, yeah, guess what it's gonna have to wait until tomorrow. 

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