Monday, September 24, 2007

Nickelodeon's Current Crop of Tween Shows

So, recently, I've been watching Nickelodeon. To my surprise, and general amazement, they actually have some pretty awesomely hilarious live action TV shows right now. This is surprising to me, because I haven't really liked much of what they put on with living people in at least 8 years, and probably more. What was even more surprising to me, however, was that all these awesome shows are created by this random dude named Dan Schneider. When I realized this, I thought to myself, "Wow, this random dude must be some kind of genius. I need to learn more about him."

It turns out that this guy pretty much is the creative force behind all of Nickelodeon's good live action stuff, even from when I was watching Nick regularly, like 8 years ago (okay, not all of them, because he wasn't involved in Pete & Pete, but otherwise, everything). Suddenly, the reason why I liked these new TV shows made sense: They have the same humor I thought was funny 8 years ago.

My personal favorite show of his creation is called Drake and Josh. It's about a pair of step brothers who are in the same grade. One is the cool, heart-throb who I assume is popular with the 12-year-old girls this show probably targets. The other is the intelligent, but totally spastic, source of physical comedy (because every good kids show needs a large dose of physical comedy). The other main character is their little sister (who also played the evil, bitch girl in "School of Rock"). She's pretty much an awesome villainess who mercilessly tortures them (by being significantly smarter than either of them and taking advantage of it to play tricks on them and otherwise abuse them).

And, well, that pretty much sums up the show. The brothers screw around while Drake randomly hooks up with chicks and Josh waves his arms wildly and screams. What can I say, the show is brilliant.

His other current show that I appreciate actually stars the little sister from the previous show, and it's called iCarly. This isn't surprising since she was very nearly the best part of that show (just a hair behind Josh and his random screaming). I'm not actually sure that this show has a story (I don't think any of them do, really, since they're all basically sitcoms). It just has her, her best female friend, and some boy who's shorter than either of them and is supposed to have a crush on her (which she abuses by making him do tons of favors for her, which is pretty true to life, I think). Oh, and her older brother, who supplies the physical comedy that was reserved for Josh in the previous show.

In case you're curious, Dan's previous show catalog includes: All That, Kenan & Kel, and The Amanda Show. Oh, he's also got some show starring Britney Spears' little sister, which is not as awesome as the other two shows (Zoey 101).

Anyways, obviously all these shows are very similar. Firstly, it's a very small group of main characters. Drake and Josh officially have two, but the little sister adds a third, although she is seen far less than them. Zoey 101 actually has a much more diverse cast, with at least 4 main characters and a significant number of less relevant characters (I'm not as sure on this one, since I don't really watch it). iCarly also has four main characters, but it's really three with the older brother thrown in as a source of physical comedy.

Next, adults are not relevant in the lives of any of the main characters. It's quite impressive really, but his characters live in a fantasy world where adults don't really rule. Drake and Josh have parents, but they're basically only around to side with the little sister characters. The only adult we see regularly is Josh's boss (and she basically delegates everything onto Josh anyway). In Zoey 101, I think they're at some boarding high school or something, because they live in dorms. And, um, that's all I know (I haven't seen any adults there either). In iCarly, she shares a very nice loft, apartment with her older brother. The parents are nowhere to be found. And, considering that her brother is the source of physical comedy, it's safe to say he doesn't act very much like an adult.

To me, this is an interesting trend for kid's TV shows. There literally aren't adults in the world that these kids inhabit. All of the shows are very simple formulas, really just a set up for the kids to have snappy dialogue (and for cute boys and girls to try to impress each other, but that's just to satisfy the 12-year-old girl demographic). Obviously, it's not hard to imagine why kids enjoy this fantasy, and it allows for relatively simple plot allowances, since there's basically no one watching over the kids, so they can get into all sorts of hilarious, but perfectly safe, trouble.

The one disappointment to me, however, is that the shows don't even attempt to address any real issues. I think it could potentially be really interesting to push the boundaries of this fantasy world and call on the kids to help each other deal with problems that normally would be responded to by going to an adult. Without risking doing anything un-PC, I can imagine the shows still tackling things like managing time between friends and school and sports, or the loss of a pet or anything like that. These are simple topics that real kids face in the real world, and it would be interesting to tease the comedy and the solutions to those types of issues into this fantasy world as well.

I bring this up because I think many of Nickelodeon's animated TV shows do a great job of bringing in those kinds of episodes. "Hey Arnold" dealt with the struggles of the main characters in a variety of situations and often excelled when it was trying to address semi-serious issues. Same with "Doug". Even my current favorite Nickelodeon animated show, "Avatar" manages to bring in commentary about war and the effects it has on the innocent. So, in all honesty, the bar has been set quite high, and well, I'd like to see them try to rise to meet it.

In any situation, Dan Schneider is still doing some great work for Nickelodeon and I am most certainly a fan.

That is all.


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