Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Tweening of America, or The Week Justin and Jonas Hijacked Grownup TV

I  thought it was just us, at first.  I thought that my husband and I were unique in totally surrendering our entertainment choices to our children. It happened little by little.  Instead of hearing NPR or the Clash when I’d start up my car, Raffi or Elmopalooza would blast out of the speakers.  I learned that I prefer starting my day with Sesame Street, in a happy multiculti world where everyone gets along with one another and can count to five in several languages, rather than watching the depressing reports on the news, and I grew to like PBS kids shows like Arthur even more than my kids did.

But soon kid entertainment became my entertainment.  Any punk /rock cred I may have ever had is gone; the last concerts I’ve seen were Laurie Berkner and the Jonas Brothers.  The last movies I’ve seen in an actual theater and not through the magical confluence of Netflix and Wii were Despicable Me and Megamind, and I have a date with my son to see Rango when it comes out because the only way I can get any Johnny Depp in my life is to hear his voice come out of an animated chameleon — at least until Pirates 4 comes out this May.  I knew when I had kids I would not spend my Saturday nights out in bars or clubs or smart restaurants.  But I didn’t know I would spend them watching  iCarly or True Jackson, VP (two funny shows, actually) or, worse still, Big Time Rush, and then collapse into bed exhausted or, maybe, stultified.  (At least I still have a grown up vocabulary).

And it turns out it’s not just me, because other parents have admitted to the same devolution of their entertainment (devolution? remember Devo and Mark Mothersbaugh?  He now scores lots of kids’ shows and appears drawing funky things on a whiteboard on Yo Gabba Gabba). And this week, the teenage dreams came for the shows we grownups hold as a beachhead of sorts against the tweening of America:  Justin Bieber returned to CSI and Nick Jonas appeared as a narcissistic brat rocker on the new Matthew Perry vehicle, Mr. Sunshine.

Now, I don’t  really think the tweens are taking over and preparing to hold the whole world hostage, binding us tightly by silly bands, for two reasons:

First, most parents of tweens probably didn’t let their kids watch CSI last night and both CSI and Sunshine are on after 9:00, when most tweens are or should be in bed.   (Guilty admission:  my daughter likes The Office and it’s acceptable enough family fare for me to skip the bedtime battles with her brother and let them both stay up on a Thursday night to see what “that weird looking guy”, Dwight Schrute, is going to do.)  Because while Nick and other 24/7 kid networks solved the problem of what kids can watch after 5PM, there’s still a lack of things kids and adults can watch together, with the exception of those optimistically-named talent shows like American Idol and Live to Dance (I watched the latter and was torn between rooting for Kendall and the brilliant and comical tangoing pair of DeAngelo and Amanda).  Such shows have proliferated for this reason of shareable viewing, I think — the only other alternative is Wipeout, if you have a high tolerance for watching adults in wetsuits being pummeled by padded rotating paddles or jettisoned by machines with names like the Ball Buster.  My seven-year-old loves it, but if it weren’t for the commentary of John “Skunkboy” Henson from Talk Soup I’d be wishing the show’s Strike Zone would take me out, or at least strike me insensible.

And second, the tween stars’ appearances  on these shows mark, more likely, their bid for respectability as serious multi-talented performers, or they provide a means for them to invite those fans at the top of the age demographic to join them in the next phase of their careers —  though I doubt that Justin Bieber is going to be the next Ray Liotta when it comes to playing charming psychos.*

The first inkling  this sweeps week that the networks were going to leave it to Bieber occurred on Tuesday on Glee, a family-hour show that is not really family-hour fare, as I’ve discussed in earlier posts.  Bieber did not grace the halls of William McKinley High with his adorable golden mop of hair, but the similarly blond and mop-topped Sam (Chord Overstreet) made a bid to win back the heart of Quinn (Dianna Agron) by donning a purple hoodie and singing “Baby” to her.  The girls loved it so much the other males in Glee Club, except Finn (Corey Monteith), wanted in, and the Justin Bieber Experience was born.  (Puck even covered his Mohawk with floppy bangs attached to his hoodie).  Even though they didn’t want to like him, or even acknowledge him, the men of the glee club were forced to recognize that Bieber is a force of nature that no girl can resist.  The tunes are just too catchy, the hair too perfect, the smile just too adorable.

On Wednesday, at the request of Matthew Perry**, Nick Jonas played a teen rock star with an enormous sense of entitlement and the show took a shot at the Biebs by making the jerk teen rock star’s hit song “Baby No Baby.”  (Check out a clip at  http://perezhilton.com/2011-02-17-nick-jonas-on-mr-sunshine-abc .) Perez thinks Nick “shines”, and Nick does put his sourpuss expression to good use here as a brat who boasts “`I cancelled a concert in Toronto once because they couldn’t find me a spicy enough crabroll.  And I hate seafood.”  Lines like that and “`Here’s the problem:  I wasn’t parented well and I’m very rich and that’s a brutal combination'” can make even a novice actor look great, as long as he delivers them right, and Nick’s got experience in the  Theat-uh (Les Mis), so it works.  Next month, tweens can decide if he’s a better actor than his brother, Joe, as they duke it out at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards for Best  Actor (against the the Sprouse twins, Dylan and Cole). While Disney dropped Jonas LA, despite its being in the Top 5 programs in the tween (9-14) demographic, Joe Jonas also hit the sitcom circuit back in August as the son of Valerie Bertinelli’s character on TVLand’s Hot in Cleveland.  This show made fun of Justin Bieber, as well, making me wonder why these Jonas guys are so anxious  — Joe’s character corrects Betty White’s for thinking Bieber is a girl, but Betty remains skeptical (“They keep saying it, but I’m not buying it.”)***  You can watch dueling clips of the boys and vote on your fave JoBro’s acting skills at http://www.buddytv.com/articles/remote-patrol/joe-vs-nick-which-jonas-is-the39418.aspx if you can’t wait til March 1 to vote on nick.com/kca.

Finally, on Thursday, there was Bieber himself, back on CSI as troubled teen Jason McCann, out to avenge his brother’s death that occurred in the season opener.  He played a member of a radical group accused of bombing a police funeral in both episodes, with an airtime of two minutes in the premiere expanded to four or five minutes in last night’s episode.  As has been widely reported, the Biebs’ character goes out in a hail of bullets, but both before and after, his hair remains perfect and the bruise on his cheek does little to mar his adorability– it looks more like some inexperienced makeup artist applied too much blush and chose a shade  too dark.

So while it may make you scream like Bieber below, the tween stars are ready to make their mark on “grownup” pop culture.  Miley’s finished filming  a movie in which she plays an FBI agent (who goes undercover in a sorority house) and her (former) Disney cohorts are making their own forays into the mainstream.  Funny or Die’s “F-Bomb of the Week”  featured Joe Jonas, and while he didn’t literally drop the F-bomb, the other actors did (as well as the word “bitch”, though Joe warned them not to go there with a cautionary, “Dude!”).  Joe looked abnormally scruffy in this video he uploaded as part of his bid to be a comic star, and this more masculine, more adult scruffiness seems to be the wave of the future, marking the end of squeaky clean and the beginning of something a little more grownup.  (After all, Justin Bieber’s girlfriend, Disney wizard Selena Gomez, has reportedly taken off the purity ring).  I’m not sure yet who the new, more mature heartthrobs will appeal to, so stayed tuned. We may have no other choice.

* According to Marc Malkin’s blog on today.msnbc.msn.com, Bieber’s costar George Eads called the Biebs a “cool kid” but noted that “he has a lot to learn” about acting, even though he was “fine for what he was doing there. . . It’s CSI. It’s four or five lines, it’s not a Rubik’s cube.”

** TV Guide‘s website reports that Nick got the call from Perry while on tour.  He “`walked back into the bus and . . . [his] brothers were like “What happened to Matthew Perry?” They thought he had died, and [Nick] was like, “No, much better than that. He asked me to do the show.”‘”

***Reportedly, Joe found “`watching Betty knit. . . just so adorable'”, according to MTV.com, and if Joe had to be a Golden Girl, he’d be Rose, though he seemed a little insulted by the question (not to mention unfamiliar with the show).

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Mastertween Theatre: Nick’s House of Anubis

Nickelodeon’s House of Anubis is on hiatus this week, so I thought I’d get in a quick post about a series that has captivated many of the fifth-grade girls I know*.  Based on a Dutch-Belgian series (Het Huis Anubis), House tells the story of an American girl named Nina Martin who begins classes at a British boarding school and stumbles into a mystery surrounding treasures from King Tut’s tomb that may be hidden in the students’ dorm house  that involves possible mummies’ curses, kidnappings, sacrifices, and an elixir of life that prevents people from aging.  It’s the first Nick offering filmed outside the US , made in Liverpool during the summer of 2010, and provides American Nicksters with a good Brit-based soap/thriller, a sort of Masterpiece Theatre lite.  Like most Euro shows, its episodes come in 11-minute installments, and Nick has been showing two back-to-back, usually five nights a week.  This week, they’re letting the tension build as we wait to discover how Nina and her cohorts will solve the mystery after the only person who could help them has passed away.

The theme song gives us our first clue that this is not going to be a scare fest.  There’s no weirdo Dr.Who-style music or some kind of bizarro take on Egyptian sounds — just an upbeat tune that tells us we’re in for more of a romp than an exploration of the dark side.  (Perhaps the conspiracy theorists at vigilantcitizen.com should have waited to the hear the theme, if not to watch the show itself, before declaring it a dangerous means of luring impressionable American tweens into the world of the Illuminati that presents an “evil agenda” and represents “an abomination in the Lord’s eyes.”)

The show focuses on the eight students who live in Anubis House and offers realistic teen delights and dilemmas alongside the mystery — in fact, several of the students are not even aware that there is anything creepy going on in the basement of Anubis House (weird pseudo-Egyptian rituals with people in cloaks and dog masks?  Quite possibly. We’re waiting to see).  Mick, for instance, just wants to survive academics long enough to embark on a sports career, Mara wants to be liked (especially by Mick) as more than the house brainiac, Alfie is obsessed with aliens, and Patricia, at first, just wants to know why her friend Joy suddenly left school.  The first two to catch on to the mystery are Nina and Fabian and are encouraged by the addled Emily from the local nursing home, who turns out to be Sarah Frobisher-Smyth, the daughter of two of those involved with the opening of King Tut’s tomb.  When her parents died (presumably of the curse associated with the opening of the tomb), Sarah came to live in the home that became Anubis House, along with a slightly sinister young boy named Victor Roddenmeyer, who is now the housemaster for the students.  But why does he look as young as he did in the Twenties, while Sarah has aged?  Victor’s a malevolent sort, to be sure, and not just because he makes the kids go to bed at ten — he just may kill and preserve stray cats and seems to be the master of spooky ceremonies in the basement held with other faculty members like the headmaster, Mr. Sweet, and an English teacher, Ms. Andrews.

Francis Magee, well known to Brit TV watchers for his role on the long-running soap Eastenders, makes a wonderfully creepy Victor.  As many viewers have pointed out on message boards about the show, not all the actors on House are as convincing in their roles. Nathalia Ramos, who played teen model Dakota North on True Jackson, VP,  is rather wooden as Nina and as Patricia, Jade Ramsay seems to be working under the assumption that if she says everything really loudly and with great emphasis, it will take on some kind of import. But Eugene Simon brings some spark to the snarky Jerome Clark, who seems aloof and even cold but just may reveal hidden depths of sensitivity if he can get over his parents’ abandoning him at school, and Brad Kavanagh’s Fabian Rutter is the sort of kind, supportive, low-key and handsome boyfriend many viewers would want for themselves.  While her character is a bit schizophrenic — typical blonde mean girl one episode, sweet ditzy friend in the next — Ana Mulvoy Ten’s Amber Millington is probably the most amusing character, and a favorite of the girls I know who watch the show.  She schemes to get Mick back from Mara, believing that someone as pretty as she is deserves a boyfriend who gives out as many gifts as Mick does, but she’s also somewhat helpful as the founder of the sleuths’ group “Sibuna” (Anubis backwards) and seems dead right that Victor has to be the head baddie because “he has such evil hair.” The odd kids out, at least at first, are the students of color, Mara Jaffray and Alfie Lewis, and many viewers can relate to the struggles to fit in and be accepted that lead them, at times, to allow others to take advantage of them.  Consequently, we’re  happy when the smart, reserved Mara ends up with two suitors (Jerome and Mick) but we hold little hope that Alfie will either win Amber’s heart or discover the aliens he is convinced have taken over his school.

Check out the trailer at http://www.nick.com/videos/clip/house-of-anubis-promo-N13071-01.html and catch House of Anubis next week, two episodes at 7 EST.  It’s fun, a decent mystery, and an excellent introduction to the breadth and variety of English accents.

*This blog has been on a sort of hiatus as well, not that anyone has noticed.  Since I started it in part to establish a "web presence" and provide a sort of "platform" for myself as a YA writer, I thought I ought to get back to a little YA writing myself.