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).