The first episode of Lizzie McGuire starts with a baby-faced Hilary Duff looking nervously at a poster for cheerleading tryouts and cuts to Cartoon Lizzie, who says the first line of the series: “Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Me, Lizzie McGuire, cheerleader? What up with that?”
That’s a weird way to begin a series. Why would we be thinking that? We have no idea who this character is yet. In fact, everything about this episode drops you so immediately into the story that it’s kind of jarring and disconcerting. Turns out there’s a reason for that, which is that Disney decided to air the pilot completely out of order for no reason. You can tell which one’s the pilot because of how it starts with Lizzie saying “My name is Lizzie McGuire” and then introducing all the other characters and how they fit into her life, and also because it’s shot in a completely different house and school. But we still have three episodes to go before we get to see any of that.
So we’re stuck figuring out this one, where Lizzie wants to be a cheerleader. Cartoon Lizzie admits that “cheerleading is like some plot to make girls feel bad about themselves” but still wants to make it, introducing a key motif in the series: cheerleaders being the most important people in the world.
There’s then this really surreal moment where the doors open on two stony-faced cheerleaders as an electric guitar solo starts blaring and the cheerleaders glide forward on some track while glaring ahead and doing some angry cheer moves. It’s a really bold weird choice on the director’s part, especially in the first minute. That’s cool and confusing.
Then we meet Miranda, who I think is supposed to be Lizzie’s “alternative” friend judging by whatever the fuck is happening on her head. Because this is not the pilot, no one calls her Miranda or establishes anything about her, but that’s Miranda and she’s played by the mysteriously mononymic Lalaine. She asks why Lizzie would try out for cheerleader and humiliate herself in front of the whole school, which is bizarre. Does everyone in the school watch cheerleader tryouts? During school hours? That’s a waste of school resources. Lizzie’s other unidentified friend who I’m going to reveal is Gordo says that “any group activity that forces others to be happy is by nature evil” which is actually a good introduction to that character. Gordo’s that guy. He definitely went on to major in philosophy in college. Gordo complains about herd mentality and then gets excited about chicken nuggets which is maybe a punchline but I don’t know why. The show doesn’t seem confident you’ll get it either, so they add a slide whistle sound to make it funnier.
Cut to cheerleading tryouts! Lizzie is next-level garbage. I would think that she should be following some sort of routine, but this is just Lizzie flailing about in her own impersonation of cheerleading. Note that the entire school is not present and Miranda’s a hyperbolic asshole. Cartoon Lizzie sums up the scene with “The only thing worse than my cheerleading was…nothing,” which strikes me as maybe originally being a placeholder joke that they forgot about and kept in by accident.
Then we finally get the theme song! That was the longest cold open of all time. A happy-sounding rocker lady sings about just tryin’ to get by while the main cast members play with various bouncy balls in some alternate dimension made of colored lines.
In the McGuire household, Lizzie’s parents console her and Lizzie’s dad calls her Lizzie McGuire so we remember who she is and what show we’re watching. We get a glimpse of Hilary Duff’s go-to character posture here, the ol’ Shrugging Shoulders. You’ll see this a lot. She also seemed to bust it out for every single marketing image ever shot for this series.
At a certain point it started freaking me out and I got legitimately confused as to what Hilary Duff’s actual neck looks like and if she has one and spent a long time Googling her now to see if it’s possible she got some sort of neck elongation surgery.
Anyway, we then get an exasperating bit with Matt, Lizzie’s little brother and one of Disney Channel’s favorite archetypes, the annoying younger sibling. Matt is played by Jake Thomas, who does a serviceable job being the worst character. Matt gives his dad an enormous binder of instructions for caring for their new lizard so I guess the McGuires have a lizard now. That plot was not well-introduced.
Lizzie’s mom pulls her aside to ask if she’s really okay and tries to cheer her up. The show then slips into another bit of surrealism, where Lizzie’s mom starts listing reasons why Lizzie’s great and her head appears in a tiny bubble while the reasons appear on screen. This is also where we get the only joke of the episode that I found actually funny, which is that one of the reasons is the unrelated and very Mom-ly phrased “Gordo and Miranda are wonderful kids.” It’s a good rambly Mom bit. I liked it.
Matt ruins the moment cuz that’s his thing and Lizzie goes upstairs to do a book report.
There Lizzie appears in the world’s most intense pajama outfit: a turquoise cami with a Paul Frank pajama shirt unbuttoned on top of it, with spotted pajama pants, slippers, and a whole new hairstyle. I honestly hate everything about the costume design of this show. This outfit is inexplicable. It makes me angry looking at it. This is more complex than what she wore to school.
Lizzie has an instant message from the slightly more sensibly-pajamaed Miranda, and let’s take a minute to laugh at their computers but also puzzle over why they have their own personal computers in their room even though this was 2001. I also call bullshit on Miranda’s Christina Aguilera poster. Miranda is alternative as fuck, set dressers. If you’re not gonna commit to full Linkin Park territory at least give her a Gwen Stefani poster. (Note: Miranda is not actually alternative as fuck, but I think we’re supposed to think she is, because see above hair choices.)
Anyway, Miranda wants to prepare Lizzie for “major devastation” – seriously did anyone ever talk like this? – by warning her that Kate made cheerleader! This means nothing to us because this isn’t the pilot and we don’t know who Kate is but we’ll later learn that it’s Lizzie’s nemesis, whose last name changes from Sanders to Saunders occasionally because someone on set was lazy.
Lizzie responds that that’s only because KATE STUFFS HER BRA. This introduces another motif that the show loves: bras and worrying about them. Was bra-stuffing a real middle school problem? I don’t know. Luckily I had American Girl’s The Care and Keeping of You, which was a book about puberty that said someone will catch you if you stuff your bra and then you’ll be embarrassed, so I avoided this particular pitfall of adolescence.
Miranda’s computer freezes so she smacks it and then it sends the instant message to everyone at school! That is not how computers work or have ever worked. However, I would like to point out that one of Miranda’s contacts is named “PoopyHead.”
The next day we see Kate Sanders/Saunders at last! Disney really dropped the ball on this casting because Kate is one of the worst actors on the show. Also the costume director is doing her no favors if she’s not supposed to look like she stuffs her bra here. Kate demands to know WHICH ONE OF THEM DID IT which is really weird because it would have been sent from Miranda’s account, right? Even if it was sent anonymously, why would she assume it was one of this trio? Do they have a rivalry? Why was this episode aired first??
Lizzie panics so Miranda takes the blame for her because she is bold and her hairstyles say so. Kate says she better WATCH IT and Miranda asks if that’s a THREAT and Kate says it COULD BE and she’d SEE HER AROUND and Miranda says she’ll BE AROUND and it is all not very specific and they bump shoulders aggressively. Again I don’t know that this level of conflict actually goes down in middle school. I yelled at a girl in P.E. once for making fun of me for liking Gwen Stefani, but that’s only because I was alternative as fuck.
Lizzie is sad that Miranda took the blame for her but Miranda says it’s just because she doesn’t handle conflict well. As an example she cites Lizzie eating strawberry ice cream at a birthday party even though she’s allergic, a fact I bet will have as much continuity as Kate’s last name. Miranda says she’s not afraid of Kate and in the show’s defense she does look straight-up insane here so that checks out.
After a quick parent subplot (they think they lost Matt’s lizard and there’s a frantic stop-motion montage set to an angsty alt-rock song), we get to see Kate’s revenge! Some girl tells Miranda that Danny Kessler wants to talk to her so Miranda asks him about it and he’s like “Huh? I didn’t want to talk to you.” That’s it. That barely qualifies as a prank. But the cheerleaders laugh and their acting is awful and Miranda looks embarrassed and her acting is awful and Lizzie shrugs with confusion and her acting is awful and I can’t see her neck.
Back at home Matt barges in on a Razor scooter, hashtag just 2001 kid things, and this is really noteworthy because he enters through a stable door. Why do the McGuires have a stable door in their house? Some things about this show are quirky for no damn reason.
Matt says his teacher let him go home early to check on the lizard which is utter nonsense. At this point we deduce that it’s a class lizard, which was never set up, and that still doesn’t explain why the kid who gets to take home the lizard gets out of class early. This is also a waste of school resources! His parents are nervous because they think they lost the lizard but it turns out she was just sleeping. Ha ha, parents are idiots. They’re really relieved but – surprise twist – the lizard is totally dead because Dad didn’t change the water. Parents are idiots. Matt screams that he’ll never be able to show his face in school again. The McGuire kids are the social pariahs of this town. It’s like Freaks and Geeks but terrible.
Back at school we get a prank montage. Miranda fills Kate’s locker with tissues with a note that says “In case you run out!” and that’s a good, thematically-appropriate prank. Simple, but keeps making Kate feel bad about her body image issues. Kate fills the school with posters with Miranda’s face on them that say “LOST DOG: Answers to MIRANDA” and that one is not good but at least counts as a prank more than the Danny-Kessler-wants-to-talk-to you embarrassment. Miranda slips hair dye into whatever Kate puts on her hair every day during school. Seems unrealistic, but sure.
Kate storms in screaming “SANCHEZ!” because I guess popular people refer to dumb plebeians by their last names in this universe. Miranda snarks “Welcome to the club” and points to her own alternative as fuck hairdo and Kate sighs and walks away. Anti-climactic. Lizzie tries to get up the courage to tell her she started the rumor but chickens out. Kate sighs, “Whatever.” Anti-climactic. Why are they afraid of this person? She just sighs a lot. The writers don’t seem to know what to do with Kate. The actress doesn’t help much. IMDB says she stopped acting after this show, a decision I applaud.
The McGuires have a funeral for the lizard. Matt says she was a good friend and that makes Lizzie feel guilty for not being a good friend. This show sucks so much sometimes. Their mom says Matt might want to rethink bringing home the class hamsters next month. How many pets does this class have? Matt repeats that he can’t show his face in school without the lizard and says the girl who stepped on the class centipede had to switch schools. Is he in some kind of child veterinarian school? What is this? Also a class centipede sounds like a horrible pet. How was it not eaten by the class lizard? This school system wastes so many resources!
Lizzie’s mom asks what’s wrong with her and gives her a vague pep talk about telling the truth. Lizzie then practices telling Kate the truth in that backyard set that Disney Channel used for all of its shows (seriously, this show has the same backyard as Phil of the Future and Even Stevens and a bunch of other shows).
This is all really noteworthy for the timing, because Lizzie then goes to school in this same outfit. Did this funeral take place before school?? They put on funeral clothes, they had a funeral, Lizzie changed, Lizzie got a pep talk, Lizzie practiced standing up for herself a bunch of times, and they went to school? Did Matt go to school? How can he show his face without the lizard?
At school we get another confrontation with Kate that ends with her saying (rushing all her words together in the way of an actor afraid they might forget their whole monologue), “That’s it, I’ve gone easy on you, that little stunt with Danny Kessler and the posters all over the school, those were nothing, I’m a cheerleader, I can turn the whole school against you.” Cheerleaders! Damn this world that’s ruled by people good at doing backflips! If only our society didn’t revolve around them!
Back at home the parents read that lizards hibernate and appear dead when they’re actually sleeping, which seems like it’s maybe not a fact that’s true about all lizards. They dig the lizard up and call Matt in. WHY ISN’T MATT IN SCHOOL? He’s still in his funeral duds, so it’s clearly the same day. Did he really just skip school because he couldn’t show his face without the lizard? What a spoiled brat. His parents definitely straight-up killed the lizard by burying it, but they tell him to take the dead lizard in “because it’s hibernating.” That’s a horrible plan. At least they could buy a new lizard and send in an actual alive animal. That’s what happened when a kid in my brother’s class killed the class hamster. But more importantly, they are lying to Matt and want Matt to lie to his classmates! Lizzie’s mom just gave her a pep talk about telling the truth!
At school Kate drops hints that Miranda’s about to be super humiliated and Lizzie cracks and says she has to tell the truth. Well, do that, Lizzie, but just know your mom’s a two-faced lizard-killer and her pep talk to you meant nothing.
Lizzie struts up to where the director had told her to stand. You can tell because THEY LEFT THE SPIKE TAPE IN THE SHOT. Get it together, Lizzie McGuire crew!
Lizzie finally tells Kate she started the rumor and she’s sorry. And then, though the pep rally hasn’t started and Lizzie, Gordo and Miranda are still standing on the floor, the cheerleaders huddle for a second and then launch into their LIFE-RUINING REVENGE, which is doing the “U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi” chant and ending it with “2-4-6-8, who’s the girl that we all hate? Lizzie, Lizzie! Biiiiiggg loser, loser! Lizzie, Lizzie! Biiiiiggg loser, loser!” It doesn’t really work as a chant very well and also the girl playing Kate has terrible cheerleading form so seriously why did they cast this chick?
Afterwards everyone in the school mocks Lizzie because the cheerleaders are their overlords and they have to obey their cheers. But Lizzie says she feels “empowered and strong” because she stood up to Kate. She should feel “repentant and like an asshole” for starting a bullshit rumor to begin with but that’s not addressed at all. Then a kid runs up and says Larry Tudgeman was caught on tape picking his nose and eating it and Gordo, keen observer of human behavior, says “Well, you’re officially yesterday’s news. The herd’s moved on” and they decide to go see if they can find the tape. That sounds disgusting but sure, that’s a way to end this episode.
Then we get the credits, with the post-show bloopers that the show likes to do, and that’s it. I learned conflicting lessons about lying and as a pilot it’s terrible because it wasn’t the pilot. We gather that Lizzie tries to do the right thing and that her family fails at a lot of things and the school is run by cheerleaders. I might do 64 more episodes of this. Man.