Monday, April 10, 2017

Hunter Street: S1 Reviewed

Saganash! Or something. I dunno. That's one of the major pitfalls of doing these reviews so damn late, you easily forget even "memorable" quotes

What is it? Single-cam 30-minute KidCom/suspense mystery made by Nickelodeon's Netherlands studios (yes they have those)
Where did it air? Nickelodeon. In the US. As for in the Netherlands, I have to assume on Nickelodeon too although it's kind of interesting that they'd go all the way to the Netherlands to make a series with English-speaking actors isn't it?
Who stars in it? Well not anybody anybody in the US would immediately recognize at least. Interestingly enough there are a fair number of actors born and raised in the US in it, including Mae Mae Renfrow who plays Tess (she's from South Carolina, apparently) while Stony Blyden (Max) is from...that capital of Iceland that is impossible to spell, so people just copy-paste here folks, and anybody who tells you differently is a liar. Cue a billion people who will tell me differently in the comments.
Why are we reviewing this? Well it's from Nickelodeon, therefore fulfilling the Nickelodeon obligation of Nick and Disney Channel Reviewed, something we haven't done for a while aside from venturing into Nick Jr. with Mutt & Stuff.

Nickelodeon's actually had a bit of a tradition with English-language productions from their Netherlands studios, most famously with House of Anubis and I think The Troop was too? I don't know, I've never actually seen The Troop. I have seen House of Anubis (fun fact about this very blog: ...well, actually another blog I wrote for that I was roped in with this one guy who turned out to be a bit of a weirdo, writing reviews for HoA. We published exactly one post before it completely folded) which aired its most recent episode...what, close to four years ago now, at the soonest? Since then Nick has turned to its own Latin America studios, actually and conveniently located in Miami, for its "imports" (in the form of Every Witch Way and later, spin-off WITS Academy and semi-/spiritual spinoff Talia in the Kitchen - which this author will note he still loves, since none of those three shows get enough of it) as well as doing joint productions with Canadian studios or outright just straight-up importing them from said Canadian studios and networks (Make it Pop!, The Other Kingdom, Max & Shred, I'm willing to bet Ride too, at least certain portions of Rank the Prank, enough to make it qualify as Canadian in my book). I think this is actually the first time Nick has turned to their Netherlands branch since, well, House of Anubis.

And you can always tell these imported/foreign-produced English-language shows on Nick because if nothing else of the really, really crappy way Nick treats them - air them all at once in a really big daily run for a month, and then act all disappointed when the ratings don't do any better than typical daily programming for that demo in that time slot. It's really amazing Make it Pop! and perhaps even Every Witch Way got as far as they did, and I honestly have to suspect Hunter Street is pretty much one-and-done now. I'm pretty sure I remember HoA given weekend premieres like Nick's own home-grown lineup.

I mean, for crying out loud, TeenNick Top 10 is treated better than most of these imports. And for something like 98% of the subscriber TV subscription-base (including net-based streaming services, where in a lot if not most cases TeenNick original programming isn't even offered anyway), TeenNick is still stuck in standard-definition only, for some incredibly bizarre reason.

Anyway enough ranting about Nickelodoen, as for Hunter Street itself - it's serviceable. If you've been paying attention to my previous reviews I've already spoiled my thoughts, but...it averages out to, well, average. It does some things...decently. It does other things..less than decently.

This is really a symptom of both the genre and the demo, so congratulations, network and writers, you might actually be off the hook for this one.The problem is creating a suspenseful and even spooky mystery...without it being too scary. And then somehow meshing comedy into it, because it's still a kiddy comedy. Not that the comedy really hurts or interferes with the suspense because at the end the suspense always ends up being so soft anyway, the comedy is actually welcome filler. This is why it's virtually impossible for me to get behind any of the Goosebumps TV series or movies made (with the exception of the Jack Black movie, which I've just never seen and can't judge, given how it is aiming for that nostalgic Millennial audience, a marketing/creative move that has both ruined the media at large before - see Girl Meets World and yes this is this review's GMW Dig #1 for those of you participating in the drinking game at home - and generally makes me weep for being a Millennial, but I digress, it could also mean that the self-awareness of the movie might make it good). By the time they've actually started making those things, I'd pretty much aged out of the demo, or at least by that time it was...just hard to take them seriously. I mean, which is arguably the point but...it's hard to be self-aware when you're just not demonstrating an iota of actual self-awareness.

Hunter Street gives us a big-stakes suspense plot point - the Hunter parents have been kidnapped - and wraps a mystery around it - we don't know by who, we don't know for what motives, and we don't know what it will take for the kids to get their parents back (other than plucky guile, of course). The more savvy (i.e. adult) members of the audience know that there's only certain limits Nick will be willing to greenlight, and this is where a writer's skill really shows being confined within those limits. Unfortunately they kind of take a cheap way out - throwing twist after twist after twist almost Death Note-style. This makes the show seem like it has ADD and indeed other than the constant reminder that these kids aren't supervised the fact that their freakin' parents have been kidnapped immediately falls by the wayside as the kids focus on getting that diamond this and contacting this person that. It's nothing new - in fact, it's pretty standard for this genre in this demo, and the whole thing about the Hunters living in a literal museum full of strange artifacts, each of which could serve as a plot device at a moment's notice, should've been our first clue, perhaps.

As for the humor, it's...pretty much matching what adults think is appropriate and appealing for kids, say, Sal and Annika's ages. The comedy is very much tied in with the side plots, and the side plots have even more ADD than the twists in the main plot. Again, it's nothing new and in fact standard for the demo in general regardless of genre, but it's still distracting (perhaps more for the adult viewer than the actual demo, given how the adult viewer may be more prone to noticing and questioning) when characters seem to be invented out of whole cloth and inserted to serve the "comedy" portion only to be dropped and never, ever mention again, or treated like they're semi-regulars we've always been familiar with when their total screen time throughout the course of 13 or so episodes is something like 8 minutes.

And then we get to the ending which, admittedly is actually satisfying enough and goes a long way to giving this series the "+" in its final score. No doubt the biggest "watercooler" moment (wow that was an old term even when Seinfeld brought it up) was the big reveal and consequent, out-of-nowhere heel-face turn of Sophie's, erm, pretty much entire existence, but sure I'll go with it. Give Daniel a very pretty girlfriend who he doesn't have to make uncomfortable by stalking her while she's working her job as a police officer, but then make said girlfriend his adoptive sister so it can still be creepy, he deserves it after all.

Season One Final Grade: C+. See, there's that "+" modifier for having a satisfying conclusion! As I said, it does certain things decently. It does other things less so decently.
Season MVP: I dunno. The acting's pretty even. I'm just going to say Stony Blyden because as Max he's the main character and thus his character does help move the plot along perhaps more than anyone else. Yup, no other reason necessary. Not even for "just being the hottest chick in the series so far" (see I'm working towards living up to that new year's resolution!)

Extra thoughts:

 - if I'm not deluged by references to Tiny Toons or Street Fighter in the comments section for using the phrase "plucky guile," I'll be a very disappointed Millennial in addition to a weeping one.

 - If I had been given definitive proof that Nickelodeon was going to put out Season 2, I might've been a little disappointed that the resolution came so quickly and cleanly, but since I'm that confident this show is one-and-done I'm actually very happy they solved everything after all. Now they did include a little bit of a sequel hook but...c'mon let's get real here guys.

 - Sonic Boom!

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