I don’t watch a lot of TV. This is not from any hippy-dippy hatred of TV; I just don’t have a lot of time for it. Apart from Game of Thrones, Doctor Who and sports, I’d rather spend my limited spare time reading or watching movies. And this is particularly true of sitcoms, which I’ve slowly grown less tolerant of.
But there is one exception: my daughter has gotten heavily into Disney channel TV shows. They are always on when she’s in the room (and we allow the TV to be on). So I’ve become very familiar with their shows and I thought I’d write a few words about them. Because reasons.
Disney has a process, at least as far their sitcoms go. They find young marketable stars (mostly female). Said stars should be good-looking, in a wholesome way, but also talented: able to sing and dance. Disney uses a similar process for recruiting princesses for their theme parks: looks are good, but talent is what they really want. They then flog the hell out of their stars, building a TV series around them and creating made-for-TV movies starring them and other members of the Disney Players. They occasionally do little bits about the personal lives of their stars or have them do PSA’s about bullying and so forth. They do cameos on each other’s shows. Some characters cross over into other shows.
The shows tend to be built around well-off multi-cultural groups: smart kids at an academy or families with adopted children. They have occasionally had LGBT characters — mostly notable a lesbian couple on Good Luck, Charlie that provoked shameful threats against some of the young stars. Girls tend to be smart; boys tend to be dumb; parents tend to be clueless goofballs — a dynamic clearly aimed at a young female audience. The shows also tend to have a stupid gimmick — some “hook” to market them.
Typing it out like that, I realize what they’re doing: they’re creating a “Disneyverse” filled with familiar faces like an extended multicultural family. Kids can turn on the TV and feel like they’re hanging out with their friends (and of course, if other kids watch, it gives them something to talk about with real-life friends).
And … the process works. I don’t mean in an artistic sense since most of their sitcoms are just dumb sitcoms (actually, even worse: dumb sitcoms aimed at kids). It works because kids don’t just like the shows, they like the network. Abby turns on the Disney channel in the morning and basically leaves it on as long as she can get away with. She doesn’t watch it most of the time, but she frequently has it on as background while she does crafts or plays with friends. But it’s become a background noise in her life, hence a background noise in mine.
Having seen way too many of these shows, I have someone opinions of them. Keep in mind that I don’t generally like sitcoms. The rhythms annoy me and most sitcoms make their characters stupid instead of funny. A perfect example of this is Friends, which was good for a while when it had decent characters but then decided to wrap each character around one specific character trait and tailed off. I think the optimal lifespan of a drama is six or seven seasons. For a sitcom, I think it’s more like 3-5. After that, it tends to grow stale.
But anyway …
The Show: Jessie
Star They’re Trying to Flog: Debby Ryan, but I suspect the younger stars will move onto shows of their own eventually.
Stupid Gimmick: She’s a nanny to an extremely wealthy adopted multi-cultural family.
Verdict: I’m not fond of this one. The family is so rich and spoiled, I find myself actively disliking the kids at many points. The parents are almost never around. The most appealing characters are the ones who aren’t rich, especially the butler who gets most of the best lines. Ryan is a natural comic and tries but a lot of the jokes tend to fall flat for me. They seem to be trying to redeem the kids in recent episodes, but that just makes the show maudlin.
The Show: A.N.T. Farm (since cancelled)
Star They’re Trying to Flog: China Anne McClain (possibly Sierra McCormick as well)
Stupid Gimmick: A bunch of genius kids live in a private school in a high rise. Wacky hijinks ensue.
Verdict: Abby loved this show; I didn’t. I just found the characterizations ridiculous. As noted above, Disney parents tend to be goofballs. The parental figure in the academy was such an absurd doofus, I wanted to the turn the TV off every time he said a line.
The Show: I Didn’t Do It
Stars They’re Trying to Flog: Olivia Holt and Piper Curda
Stupid Gimmick: Every show starts with the characters in an absurd situation and then goes back to explain how they got there.
Verdict: It’s too early to judge this show. One thing that is an improvement is that the characters rarely act “funny” while they’re in school (e.g., loud and stupid). But it does try too hard at times. And the guys on this show are ridiculously dumb and shallow.
The Show: Dog With a Blog
Star They’re Trying to Flog: G Henelius
Stupid Gimmick: The dog … um … blogs.
Verdict: I really don’t like this show. The dog is annoying add-on, the main character is frequently given grating character traits, the little sister is a tiny wisecracking adult and the parents take clueless goofball to an absurd extreme. Henelius is fine, I guess, but I think Blake Michael is actually the better talent and his character is less annoying.
The Show: Austin and Ally
Stars They’re Trying to Flog: Ross Lynch and Laura Marano and Laura Marano’s enormous eyes
Stupid Gimmick: They’re teenage singer-songwriters.
Verdict: Well, it has actually made me laugh … once or twice. I do like that they’re taking chances by having the main characters get together rather than doing an endless “will they or won’t they” thing. They also significantly changed the show this season, with the characters pushing aside their careers to teach music. So it’s not horrible.
The Show: Girl Meets World
Stars They’re Trying to Flog: Rowan Blanchard and Sabrina Carpenter
Stupid Gimmick: It’s a successor to Boy Meets World, where the main characters of the previous show have had children.
Verdict: It’s too early to judge. Right now, the show is in growing pains, particularly trying too hard to make the character of Maya wacky and doing too much touchy-feely “very special episode” crap. I think Disney will stick with this one for a while, though, as they have a lot riding on it. I never watched Boy Meets World, so there are frequently guest stars who draw cheers from the audience but mean nothing to me. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to reinforce the “very special episode” dynamic.
The Show: Liv and Maddie
Star They’re Trying to Flog: Dove Cameron
Stupid Gimmick: Cameron plays twin sisters through camera gimmicks and body doubles.
Verdict: Cameron is great and the rest of the cast are solid, but this show tries way too hard. It goes to an absurd degree in its wackiness and this is really a distraction. When the show tones down the silliness of its characters — for example, making Liv less of a diva — it’s a lot less annoying. I do think, with the bugs worked out, it could be decent.
The Show: Good Luck Charlie (now ended)
Star They’re Trying to Flog: Bridgit Mendler
Stupid Gimmick: Teddy, the oldest sister in a family of seven, records video diaries to help her youngest sister (Charlie) survive their family once Teddy goes off to college.
Verdict: This is the only one of the shows that I actually liked. I liked it probably because it’s one of the only ones focusing on a working-class family rather than rich privileged jerks, complete with money problems and worries about jobs. I’ve only seen some of the episodes, but they are usually at least a little bit funny and build the humor around believable characters. Mendler is a natural on camera. Bradley Steven Perry is good. Leigh-Allyn Baker, despite the occasional idiocies larded onto her character, is great. The credits sequence is usually something surreal and funny (and non-canonical). And kudos to Disney for ending the series on the proper time table instead of dragging it out forever. I’m not saying I’d watch this if my daughter weren’t a devotee. But I am saying I liked watching it with her.
The Show: KC Undercover
Star They’re Trying to Flog: Zendaya
Stupid Gimmick: She’s a teenage secret agent. Yeah.
Verdict: Too early to tell. It’s not a good sign that they brought in a robot child two episodes in. It disrupts one of the few good chemistries of the show: that between KC and her brother. The chemistry between Zendaya and co-star Veronica Dunne is also pretty decent and the parents are reasonably smart. So it’s possible that this show, despite its absurd premise, will turn out OK.