Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nickelodeon and the Groovy Ghosts of TV Past

I have a confession to make.  I've never seen an episode of "House."  I've never watched "Glee."  Nor any of the 300 versions of "CSI" that are on the air.  The last network TV series I watched faithfully was "Lost," and even then I had to play catch-up on DVD because it took me so long to jump on the bandwagon. 

Don't get me wrong:  I'm no TV snob.  I watch plenty of television.  But I'm strictly a low-hanging-fruit kind of viewer.  If I have time to pick up the remote, I'll flip around the channels until I see something good, and I'll watch it.  That pattern doesn't lend itself to following story arcs or sticking to programming schedules.  It does lend itself to things like old movies, home-improvement shows, documentaries, and cable series that show episodes repeatedly at random hours of the day and night.

And don't mention the DVR; the thought of dozens of episodes of a single show piling up, daring me to make time to watch them, gives me hives.  I'm neurotic enough without feeling that I'm somehow inconveniencing a metal box that I pay for.

But if there's any program on television that I'm a sucker for, it's "iCarly" on Nickelodeon.  When Precocious Daughter starts watching it, I can't help myself.  No matter what I'm doing, I almost always stop and sit down with her, and pretty soon I'm giggling like another 11-year-old at the antics of Carly, Sam, and Freddy.  And Gibby - OMG I love Gibby! 

Fact is, I watch a lot of shows on Nickelodeon.  I'm not ashamed.  They're generally well-written, well-acted, and really funny.  Prime-time TV used to be full of family-friendly sitcoms that everyone could enjoy; nowadays, those kinds of shows are almost exclusively on the kids' networks.  Bonus: Nick doesn't show show a steady stream of erectile dysfunction commercials.  I don't have to explain away inappropriate content or embarrassing advertisements.  On the other hand, I can tell you anything you want to know about Zhu Zhu Pets and the competing varieties of acne treatments available.  Fair trade, I say.
I do wonder how Nickelodeon (and especially Dan Schneider, the creative genius behind many of its most popular shows) manages to consistently create programming that appeals both to tweens and their parents.  Besides their obvious quality, I mean - I'm told there are lots of quality programs targeted to grown-ups, but besides the matter of time, I just can't muster the enthusiasm for them that I do for, say, "Victorious."  Why would an educated, sort-of mature adult prefer to watch programming created for her kid?  It's almost as if there's something in the mix that quite deliberately pulls in viewers of a certan age along with their offspring.


I did a little research (this is what you get to call random Internet surfing when you're a Writer), and I realized that Dan Schneider has filled his programs with familiar faces. I don't mean actors that you recognize from other shows.  I mean that archetypes from my childhood are sprinkled liberally throughout Nick's schedule, like crumbled Oreos on an ice-cream sundae.  I can't resist that shit.  Not the Oreos, not the fact that every time I watch TV with PDaughter, I'm seeing old friends dressed in new clothes for her generation.  Sneaky, Mr. Schneider.  Very sneaky.  And brilliant.

Let me show you what I mean.

Miranda Cosgrove, the star of "iCarly," is Nickelodeon's biggest star.  She's talented, funny, and growing up to be a dead ringer for another dark-haired beauty who was surrounded by wacky, lovable TV friends and neighbors:

You're going to make it after all.
Miranda Cosgrove is Mary Tyler Moore!  There's even an episode of "iCarly" where she throws a hat into the air.  See that? Huh?

Meanwhile, Miranda's co-star, Jennette McCurdy, is following in the footsteps of another beloved sidekick from my childhood:

I hope and pray she doesn't get talked into a remake of "Mama's Family."
Vicki Lawrence could be Jennette's...grandmother, I guess.  Wow.  They share not only a physical resemblance, but a very similar sense of humor and a penchant for goofy accents.  (By the way, the Disney Channel put a neat twist on this whole doppelganger movement by having Vicki Lawrence guest-star as Miley Cyrus' grandmother on "Hannah Montana."  Just keep roping in the parents.)

Want more?  Let's look at "Zoey 101," another Dan Schneider production.  That show starred Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney's less-nutty sister, at least until Jamie Lynn went and got pregnant, which is not the sort of real-life event Nickelodeon wants written into its shows.  Especially since Zoey is a sweet, popular, slightly kooky, blonde California girl.  Sort of like...

Marcia, Marcia, Zoey!
Maureen McCormick, meet your 21st-century successor.  Jamie Lynn, stay off the cocaine.  (Seriously, have you read Maureen's autobiography? Marcia Brady was a fiend for blow.)

Also from "Zoey 101," we have Erin Sanders, who played genius Quinn.  Quinn was an eccentric free spirit with a penchant for gypsy scarves and flowy clothes.  Hello, 70s?  We found your look.

Still think I'm making this up? HA!

Both Erin and Valerie Harper assumed a more glamorous look later on.  Quinn never got a spinoff, the way Rhoda did.  Of course, Mary Tyler Moore didn't get knocked up in the middle of her show's run, either.  Still.  Look at them!

One more from "Zoey 101."  Lest you think this is a single-gender phenomenon, I give you Sean Flynn, who played bushy-haired Chase.  Chase was lovable, goofy, and frequently overlooked as boyfriend material.  In other words, he was Peter Brady.

Damn hippies.
Both Christopher Knight and Sean Flynn have since shed their white-boy 'fros.  But Sean still has this going for him:  He's the grandson of Errol freaking Flynn!  How cool is that?  Plus that whole "Brady Bunch" vibe, of course.

Speaking of 70s teen hearttrobs, how about David Cassidy, huh?  Well, if you watch "Drake and Josh" you know that Keith Partridge is alive and well and living in Drake Bell.

Drake would look even better with hair wings, though.
Rock star, ladies' man, wearer of hideous shirts...if Drake had a few more brothers and sisters and a psychedelic bus, "Drake and Josh" would be a virtual redo of "The Partridge Family."  Aww, look at those soulful gazes!  Aren't they dreamy?

And finally there's "Victorious," starring Victoria Justice as a student at a performing arts high school.  Her character, Tori, has big dreams of stardom.  She's drop-dead gorgeous but a little ditsy and is always getting caught up in crazy situations that make her look ridiculous, although things turn out well in the end.  Of course, she's Marlo Thomas in "That Girl."

In a few years Victoria will become an outspoken feminist and marry a talk-show host.
Now, Tori's wardrobe doesn't hold a candle to Ann Marie's, which was mod fabulous, but at least she doesn't have a dippy boyfriend who really should lighten up.

So now I hope I've laid the groundwork for some cross-generational pollination.  You whippersnappers out there, find out about these great shows that made your parents laugh back when they still had a sense of humor and weren't all grumpy about the world today.  Parents, if you think they don't make TV shows that are good, clean fun any more, check out Nickelodeon and be pleasantly surprisied.  Just don't watch "Degrassi."  Holy crap, PDaughter will be married with four kids before I let her see that.  What the hell are kids watching these days, anyway?


  1. Ok - I totally agree with you on Degrassi as it exists today. But the Degrassi of the mid-80s, the one that showed on PBS was absolutely breathtakingly good.

    Controversial? Oh, my yes.

    But brilliant. I bought the DVDs. And I'm 36. And I don't have kids. So, yeah.

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