Finally! Four episodes in and we finally get to the pilot!
I mentioned in my first recap that Disney decided to air these episodes out of order for some reason. It makes absolutely no sense. “Pool Party” is clearly the pilot – it introduces all the characters, sets up the world, and was shot in different locations than the rest of the series.
The cold open shows Lizzie flailing awkwardly in P.E. – and boy, do I feel her pain there – and has a (very rough, early) Cartoon Lizzie explain she doesn’t quite fit in any clique. “Lizzie McGuire: not nerd, not jock, not brain, not rebel, not diva,” she says. “I guess you’d say I was d: none of the above.” That’s an interesting approach to a school-centered sitcom, I guess. So far we’ve gotten “unpopular” from Lizzie, but I haven’t really realized she’s supposed to be the everyman.
Cartoon Lizzie also flashes us back to a montage of scenes of Mrs. McGuire trying to teach Lizzie about hormones and growing up. It sets up that Lizzie’s overbearing mom will be a key element of her navigating adolescence awkwardly. So far it’s mostly seemed like Mrs. McGuire just makes a lot of arbitrary rules, so the information that she’s trying hard to relate to Lizzie in her preteen years gives her some motivation. I see why this should have aired first!
I have to say, these cold opens seem to have been imposed by the network or something. Usually cold opens are used for one-off gags, but the show seems to plop them down after what they’d intend to be the first scene and it always feels jarring when they cut to the theme song.
We get more setup in a bus ride scene: Miranda is Lizzie’s best friend. Gordo and Lizzie have known each other since infancy. Say whaaaaaat? That’s an adorable fact I wish the show would bring up literally ever. Here Gordo points out how dumb it is that the girls are making dreamcatchers and complains about other kids playing truth or dare in exactly the way a smart boy with no social skills would. I have to say, Gordo is the most fleshed-out character on this show. He’s just such a perfect mix of really smart and really obnoxious about it, but in a way that obviously comes from insecurity and nervousness. Somewhere down the line he’s gonna start quoting Nietzsche and he might go through a fedora period. Everyone knows someone like Gordo. I’m still not sure I know anyone like Lizzie, even though she’s supposed to be the audience’s proxy.
We also find out that Kate Sanders (Sanders this episode) used to be their other best friend until she got a bra. Bras are really important in the Lizzieverse. I could go on and on about the acting on this show, since none of the kid actors are particularly talented, but Kate remains the worst. In this scene they keep cutting to her supposedly gossiping with her girlfriends and while everyone is ad-libbing she’s clearly just moving her mouth a lot. It looks horrible. The extras are clearly better at acting than one of the main characters!
Danny Kessler gets introduced as “the closest any of us will get to Brad Pitt” and I keep wondering when they’ll kick his ass to the curb and bump up Ethan Craft. Danny invites Lizzie and Miranda to a pool party and they lose their shit and Danny goes to the back of the bus to make out with the cool chicks. Saucy!
Damn, look at that weird kitchen that we never see again for the rest of the series!
Lizzie tells her mom about the pool party invite and her mom knows all about Danny and how he’s always mackin’ on the cool chicks and she’s excited for Lizzie to be invited to a cool party. Mrs. McGuire seems like a very sweet, involved parent. Cartoon Lizzie spends this entire scene whining about what an overbearing bitch her mom is. Your mom is great, Lizzie! She has funky glasses and an offbeat haircut. I don’t know why they don’t just make Mrs. McGuire a lame square all the time if Lizzie’s supposed to be always whining about her. Lizzie’s dad is a lame square but she never really acknowledges him. In this scene he’s dopey because he’s a dad and Matt is bratty because he’s a Disney Channel Younger Sibling.
It turns out Lizzie can’t go to the cool pool party because it’s her grandma’s birthday party, which causes her to scream “Does anyone care about me or my happiness?!” and storm off without eating dinner. It’s weird that Lizzie’s the protagonist because with a slightly more satiric bent this show could be about how unbearable middle schoolers are during puberty.
At school Miranda vows not to go to the pool party without Lizzie but then Kate asks Miranda for some kind of temporary tattoos that she has? for some reason? for the party and Miranda gets really, really fluttery because Kate is actually speaking to her and then decides to go to the party to impress Kate, I guess. It’s a pretty different Kate/Miranda dynamic than we usually see. Kate usually treats Miranda like her mortal enemy and in this episode Miranda treats Kate like a celebrity. Neither way really makes sense with the former best friends thing. I wish we saw more of their long-lost friendship. But that would probably involve more Kate, so never mind.
Miranda starts hanging with Kate’s crew and Lizzie is sad and betrayed. At home she finds her mom on the phone lying to get out of some homeowner’s association thing and yells at her mom that it’s unfair that she can shirk her responsibilities but Lizzie can’t. She ends up throwing herself on her bed melodramatically while Cartoon Lizzie says she doesn’t need friends or family. Mrs. McGuire tries to get Mr. McGuire to talk to Lizzie and he makes a lot of confused faces because he’s a husband and a dad and therefore a big dumb idiot. But he finally ends up talking to Lizzie and we get this really cheesy Lifetime movie shot of Mrs. McGuire looking sadly out the window as Lizzie opens up to her dad as sad piano music plays:
Lizzie had just shut herself in her room before this scene, so there’s this completely unexplained jump to her and her dad being outside just so they could have this terrible shot. She even touches her hand to the glass wistfully as sad electric guitar comes in and it is really something.
I guess Lizzie got no clarity from talking to her dad, because at school she makes sad eye contact with Miranda as the sad electric guitar plays on. Then she hangs out with Gordo in the back of the library and it seems like a prime makin’ out spot but Gordo just gives her annoying psychoanalytic advice (his parents are therapists because Gordo is the only character with a satisfying backstory). However, he ends up by saying “My best friend was going to go to a pool party without me, too” and Lizzie’s all “oh really” and Gordo reveals that the best friend he was referring to was Lizzie all along! And Lizzie is shocked and heartwarmed despite the fact that they introduced Gordo just ten minutes ago as someone she’s known since she was one day old so you’d think this wouldn’t be a surprise. Lizzie and Gordo make eyes at each other.
As in “Picture Day,” this goes on for about ten seconds, with the camera cutting back and forth with no irony about six times. Emotional keyboard music comes in.
And then in a bizarre deus ex machina, Lizzie’s mom tells her she can go to the party after all because her grandma’s entered herself in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Okay then!
Lizzie and her mom have a heartfelt moment and Lizzie decides to skip the party after all and she and Gordo tie-dye sheets in the backyard while her parents and Matt cheer her on because sure why not. A Smash Mouth cover of “Why Can’t We Be Friends” comes on because holy hell was this shot in the year 2000. Interestingly, the sound mixers don’t take down Smash Mouth scream-singing “I remember when you drank my wine” as Gordo and Lizzie run around the backyard during a voiceover, a move that strikes me as shoddy work for the Disney Channel. Miranda naturally shows up with an insane hairdo and says the party was lame after all.
And then there’s a big ol’ Smash Mouth dance party. It’s actually completely cute and fun in a way the show isn’t usually. Lizzie is always so angsty for no reason.
While the stuff with her mom was comically overdramatic, the pilot sets up some interesting stuff that the rest of the show so far has mostly ignored. I actually liked this episode! There are actually character relationships and motivations that the show should push further more often. And there was very little Kate and Matt here. This is the new gold standard. Maybe that’s why they didn’t air it first! So the show wouldn’t go downhill immediately.