Friday, December 7, 2012

Disney Channel Reviews

When my brothers and I were younger, our Saturdays were spent watching Even Stevens, Lizzie Maguire, and whatever other shows that ABC imported from the Disney Channel. Ever since then, I have tried to keep up with most of the Disney Channel's programs. There's something about them that offer a break from reality in a way that regular sitcoms do not. For one thing they are cleaner, but for the most part I just find them to, overall, be funnier than a lot of what you find on regular TV.

Since I've been in school the last couple of years I've had to severely limit what I watch, or I'd spend way too much time in front of the TV. Since school is stressful enough, I have found that I prefer the silly fluff from the Disney channel to the usually more cynical comedy on regular TV.

Since most of my "TV Time" has been shows from the Disney Channel, I decided to do mini reviews of each show from the Disney Channel and its "Brother" Network, Disney XD. For those who don't know, Disney felt that not enough boys watched their station, so they made another channel with the specific intent of targeting a male audience, Disney XD.

The best show currently on the Disney Channel is Shake it Up. The very basic plot is two girls, join a dance show called "Shake It Up Chicago." The show revolves around Rocky and CeCe in their regular lives, as well as behind the scenes of Shake It Up Chicago.

When it first started, I wasn't really sure about this show. I thought the dance music was catchy, but the humor was not nearly as good as Wizards of Waverly Place. "Wizards" had previously been my favorite. However, the show has really grown, and it is now one of the most consistently funny shows on the Disney Channel. This is due not only to the writing, but also to the great characters they have created. Especially the secondary characters, namely Gunther and Tinka, the foreign exchange student siblings, the main reasons I kept watching in the beginning.

Aside from the characters, I love the music and the dancing. I've always liked techno and electronic type dance music, and that is what the soundtrack of the show is built upon. The dance numbers are usually very creative, and they've had some great guest dancers on the show. Sometimes it's just jaw-dropping to watch the way they move. It leaves me wondering how some of their moves are even humanly possible. All in all this show gets my highest recommendation.

The next show is "Good Luck Charlie." 20 years ago this would have worked well as a show on a regular network. It's just your regular family sitcom. There is no "Gimmick" used to sell the show like most Disney Channel shows. There are no rock-star kids, wizards, psychics, twins on cruise ships, families from the future, or anything else that one might find on the Disney Channel. It reminds me of the shows I used to watch when I was a little kid, Full House, Family Matters, The Cosby Show. Shows about families where the comedy is driven by the characters themselves.

In the first season, the plot usually revolved around Teddy Duncan, the teenage daughter. The title comes from her catch phrase that she uses in her video diaries that she makes for her baby sister, Charlie, (Charlotte) to watch when she gets to be her age. But that aspect of the show is not quite as important anymore, since the other members of the family almost all get equal screen time now.

Unlike most other Disney Channel shows, the parents also play a significant part in the show. In most other Disney Channel shows, the parents are side characters who are not seen very often. Most of them aren't even featured in the opening credits any more. In Good Luck Charlie the parents are always around, and even though they have quirky personalities, like most Disney Channel characters, the parents are not treated as stupid, which I have found to be refreshing.

Aside from the parents, Teddy, and her baby sister, the rest of the family consists of Teddy's older brother, PJ, and her younger brother Gabe. P.J. is the stereotypical "Dumb guy" but he is written in a way that is just hilarious. Gabe is pretty much the "Bad Child" of the family. He is always getting in trouble and has been involved in an ongoing feud with their next-door-neighbor Mrs. Dabney, since the beginning. This season, (season 3) Charlie is now a toddler with a speaking role, and their parents have given birth to a fifth child, a baby boy named Toby. This has not done too much to change the dynamics of the show, as there has always been a baby present, but it has made the show a bit more interesting.

The writing on Good Luck Charlie is consistently good, and all the actors are great. Combine that with the nostalgia factor of the "Family Sitcom" and this show is one of my top favorites.

A relatively new show is Jessie. This one is another family sitcom, but it is about a very non-normal family. The mother and father are a famous model and filmmaker, who, in addition to their one biological child, have adopted 3 more kids from various places around the world. The parents are almost always away, so they they have a nanny and a butler to care for the kids.

The main character of the show is not any of the kids though, it is Jessie, their nanny. In the pilot episode she moved by herself when she turned 18, to New York from Texas. She winds up with no place to go and is discovered by the youngest daughter, Zuri, adopted from Africa, who has just terrorized her most recent nanny into fleeing. She gets Jessie to come home with her, and Jessie winds up accepting the job of nanny to these four wild kids. The other main character is the butler, Bertram, who pretends to hate the kids, but you can tell he secretly loves them all. Aside from the humans, the other main cast member is a 6 foot monitor lizard owned by the most recent adoptee, a ten year old boy from India named Ravi.

I really like this show. Unlike a lot of recent Disney Channel Shows, it started very strong, with great writing, and has pretty much stayed strong. Along with Shake it Up, and Good Luck Charlie, Jessie rounds out my top three favorite shows on the Disney channel.

Now we come to the not so great among Disney's programming. That's not to say that these shows are necessarily bad, but they aren't as good as my top three.

A recent trend on almost all of the Disney Channel Sitcoms, Especially on Disney XD is to make what I would call a "Live-Action Cartoon." Basically, there is absolutely no way that the things that happen on the shows could happen in real life, nor are the characters themselves the least bit believable. This is not always a bad thing, but it took me quite awhile to get used to it. The first show that I started noticing it on was Pair of Kings on Disney XD.

Pair of Kings is about two brothers who discover that they are joint heirs to the throne of a tiny tropical island nation. It is an okay show, but you can definitely tell it's a "Kids" show. They rarely even try to write it for adults as well, unlike the shows on the main channel, whose humor can usually be appreciated by anyone. The best part of Pair of Kings is the kings' evil younger cousin Lanny. I always like evil characters when they are played for laughs. Sadly, the kings themselves are usually way too "Over-the-Top" stupid to make me really like them as characters, which is too bad because the actors themselves are pretty good.

I don't expect this show to last much longer. The longer this show has been on the air the worse it has gotten. Michel Mussoe, one of the actors who played one of the titular brothers, has now left the show, so they invented a third brother from out of nowhere to replace him, and the writing has really gone downhill. I rarely find it funny any more. I can't say that I recommend this show to anyone, unless you're pretty bored and just want an amusing diversion for a half an hour.

The next show that I noticed the "Live-Action Cartoon" feel to, is called A.N.T. Farm. A.N.T Farm airs on the main Disney Channel, and as a "Live-Action Cartoon" it is significantly better than Pair of Kings.

A.N.T. Farm is about a group of child prodigies who attend a special program for prodigies at a high school. These are all kids who are not High school aged. Most are around twelve. The show follows their exploits as they try to make their way through school with all these kids who are so much older, but so much dumber than they are. When the show first began, I was expecting a regular sitcom, not a "Live-Action Cartoon," so when the grown-ups and other older characters started acting like complete idiots, I thought it was one of the stupidest shows I'd ever seen. It had no plot development and completely one-dimensional characters. What I didn't realize at the time was, that was the point. None of the stupidity came from bad writing, everything was written like that intentionally. Once I realized that you were not supposed to take ANYTHING on the show seriously, I found that it was actually very funny.

A.N.T. Farm is silly fluff with no substance, and that is a good thing. It's just random and funny. It almost fills my "Random" void left when Wizards of Waverly Place ended. To give you an example of how unrealistic the show is, the school mascot is not even a real person. It looks like a man in a wolf costume, but it isn't. It's basically just a living costume. It probably lives at the school, It doesn't eat, It doesn't even speak, but somehow everyone still understands it. It's things like that that make the show so random and off the wall, that I really enjoy it now. If you like random humor, I highly recommend that you watch A.N.T. Farm.

Back on Disney XD, we have the show Kickin' It. It's about five karate students and their teacher. I can't say I recommend this show though, even though I really like the characters and the actors. The writing is usually so weak and juvenile that it rarely ever gets out of "Mediocre" territory, which is too bad, because there is some good talent working on this show.

Similarly, Disney XD has another show called Lab Rats. I like this show better than Kickin' It but I have the same criticism. Weak writing. Lab Rats is about three Bionic Teens and their step brother. I like the characters, but the writing swings from really good, to really bad, so I still can't recommend that one either. A.N.T. Farm really improved since the beginning though, so I'm still holding out hope that Lab Rats could do the same.

Back on the main channel, there is a show called Austin and Ally. I think this is Disney's attempt at recreating the success of Hannah Montana, except in this case, the main character/singer is a guy. It is the least cartooney of the cartooney shows, but all the characters are still very one dimensional. I don't mind this in the side characters. I think they are hilarious, but the two main characters I sometimes find rather annoying. They are very talented musically but they don't seem to be able to just "Be funny" like the side characters are. The show is not terrible though, and it can be funny, so while I don't give it a very strong recommendation, I will still keep watching it myself.

I was going to finish this post with my review of this next show, since it is the newest show on both Disney and Disney XD, but I really wanted to end the post on a positive note, so I'll end with the second to the most recent show and get this one over with first.

The newest Disney show is called Dog With a Blog. Believe me when I say that I hate that I am writing this, but Dog With a Blog is the worst show that the Disney Channel has ever had. It's about a family who gets a dog that can talk and he has a blog. It has decent acting, but the writing is downright awful. Maybe I'm being too quick to judge the show, but it has been five episodes so far, and it has shown zero improvement. In fact, the most recent episode I saw was the worst one yet. So many moments where I literally cringed with embarrassment at how bad it was. I almost feel like never watching it again, but I am still holding out a sliver of hope for improvement.

I hate that I am being so negative to this show because I really wanted to like it. The star is G. Hannelius, who has had previous roles on other Disney channel shows,such as Sonney Witha Chance and Good Luck Charlie. I really liked her in those roles, so I was happy to hear that they gave her her own show. Sadly, she deserves so much better than this. I hope the writers either get their act together or Disney execs just axe the show and start over. I liked G. Hannelius on the other shows, but with the material she has on this show, I can not even say I like her character here. The best part of the show is the youngest girl. She is an awesome little actress. She is very funny, and usually the only bright spot on the show. I see real potential in her. All in all, my recommendation is do not watch this show. Instead, switch over to Disney XD and watch their newest show, Crash & Bernstein.

Crash & Bernstein is about a boy named Wyatt. He is the only boy in his family. He has no dad, it's just him, his mom, and three sisters. He hates how girly his life is. To make matters worse, on his birthday his sisters bring him to "Build a Bestie" which is like the Build a Bear Workshop, except you make a doll. He get's so mad at his sisters for this "Gift" that he starts yelling that he wished he had a brother to do guy stuff with. A brother who had weapons and they could destroy stuff together. As he's programming the machine to build the doll he's yelling a litany of violent characteristics, and ends up typing them all in as descriptions for what he wants the doll to be like. And then he names the doll Crash. When he gets home, the doll comes to life, bursts out of the box, and proceeds to wreak havoc on the household. It's exactly what he wanted in a brother and he loves it. And all of his sisters hate it.

What makes this show so funny is that this doll is basically a purple Muppet. Though this is not an "Official" Muppet, this thing is most definitely a Muppet. It is operated by Tim Lagasse, who is also a puppeteer for Sesame Street and the Muppets, so he has the "Muppet" humor down pat. The writing is hilarious, the comic timing is spot on, and the actors are all great.

Crash & Bernstein, is so far the absolute funniest show that Disney XD has ever had. I loved it from episode one, and I genuinely look forward to new episodes. In fact, I think I look forward to Crash & Bernstein almost as much, if not MORE than I do Shake it Up.

These last few weeks of school with finals bearing down on me and my stress levels at their highest, watching Crash & Bernstein has been a huge stress relief for me. It is a welcome dose of laughter whenever I get a new episode to watch. I can not recommend this show enough. :)

So there you have it. My reviews of Disney's current line up of live action sitcoms. As you can see, they have a wide range of quality, from really good, to really bad, but there is probably something there for anyone. Unless you hate hilarity or require profanity to find something funny. If so, then I doubt you'd be looking to my blog post about the Disney channel for advice on what to watch.

The Disney channel is not the only thing I watch though, and coming soon I will have another blog post about the cartoons I watch as well. I did a whole post on Gravity Falls recently, but I have a bunch of other animated shows that I watch as well that every animation fan should be aware of, so stay tuned!

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