You guys. We’ve arrived. It’s the bra episode.
This has to be the single most memorable episode of Lizzie McGuire. It’s cited in every Buzzfeed listicle about the show, the actor who played Gordo apparently named it his favorite in an interview on the basis that it was “so realistic,” and the screenwriter in charge of it considers it her career highlight. (Seriously, her Twitter bio is “I wrote the bra episode of Lizzie McGuire.”)
On a more personal note, this was always going to top my list of most memorable episodes because of the intense mortification it inflicted on me when it came on when I was watching TV with my two younger brothers when I was around Lizzie’s age. Weirdly that ended up righting itself this weekend, since said brothers were home for Thanksgiving and they watched this episode with me when I prepared for this week’s review. I was no longer inwardly screaming with discomfort now that I’m over a decade out of the throes of puberty, so this episode and I have some closure at last.
So let’s get into it! “Between a Rock and a Bra Place” is another title that doesn’t make that much sense. Can you imagine if it was super literal and the Rock had a cameo as a bra salesman? I want that desperately.
This one starts with Lizzie and Miranda complaining that some nerdy band geek named Jenny is now super athletic and Miranda says it’s because she has a bra now. They say it’s exactly like how Kate got a bra and got popular and both get upset that they don’t have bras yet. I have no idea how realistic any of this setup is. I went through Catholic Puberty, which is like regular puberty but with a lot more shame and praying, so my frame of reference is off for big moments like this.
Lizzie and Miranda talk shit about Jenny and say they need a bra more than she does, which is rude, and decide that it’s their time to get bras since they’re thirteen. That seems late but I won’t judge. Middle school is a cruel and confusing time for anyone.
As a side note, Miranda’s hairdo this episode features two big fluffy pink balls on each ponytail. I’m assuming it wasn’t consciously mammary-inspired because that would imply the costume designers thought anything through, but I feel it’s notable regardless.
The two vow to go shopping that afternoon and decide to lie about it so Lizzie’s mom won’t tag along and embarrass them. Miranda proposes they say they’re shopping for school supplies for a project. What kind of mall has school supplies? And why wouldn’t Mrs. McGuire go with them anyway? Isn’t she supposed to be super overprotective?
Lizzie felt guilty about lying to her mom last episode, but this episode she has fewer morals than this show has continuity supervisors. She has no qualms with lying but worries that she’s not good at it and that Miranda will have to do all the talking.
A very sitcommy scene follows as the girls try to casually talk to Mrs. McGuire. She seems a little suspicious but not nearly as suspicious as she should be. She mentions Lizzie’s stupid stuffed pig Mr. Snuggles and Lizzie sees this as an opportunity to transition into the topic of her maturity by brattily snapping that she’s an adult. It’s supposed to play as a real moment of asserting herself, but it’s exactly the same as every other scene of Lizzie treating her mom like shit. They ask for a ride to the mall and Mrs. McGuire totally buys “school supplies” as a viable excuse to go to the mall until Lizzie gets noticeably nervous. The phone rings and Mrs. McGuire answers it, so they run away to avoid more questions.
Matt and Mr. McGuire walk into the scene to introduce their subplot for the week: Matt wanting to audition to be Jet Li’s sidekick for a new movie. Mr. McGuire tells his wife that they should let him audition since he won’t get it anyway and that would give them cool parent points, and he volunteers to help Matt write his entry essay. Since when do you take your role as a father seriously, Sam McGuire?
Gordo shows up because apparently it was him on the phone when it rang and Mrs. McGuire didn’t give the phone to Lizzie but just told Gordo to come on over so he could get some school supplies too. Gordo says he doesn’t know of any school project they have and Lizzie tries to lie but finally snaps and screams her head off in one of the most iconic moments of Disney Channel history.
(This isn’t relevant, per se, but I highly recommend checking out this YouTube video that I found while searching for this clip. It is a tiny child giving advice on how to talk to your mom about bras, and it’s amazing.)
Everyone is very uncomfortable with Lizzie’s outburst except for Mrs. McGuire, who’s thrilled. “I should have thought of this weeks ago!” she exclaims, as if Lizzie had hit puberty at an exact moment in the recent past. She races out the door with them and the men stand around uncomfortably and talk about sports to break the tension. Masculinity! It’s weird. Gordo stutters that he has to go home immediately, I guess because he’s a 13-year-old boy who just heard his crush scream about her boobs and he probably has some business to take care of, but Mr. McGuire asks him to help with Matt’s Jet Li contest entry. Of course they all decide to make a dumb video.
Mrs. McGuire drags the girls to a department store in the mall, where she loudly announces that they’re shopping for their first bras. I thought I remembered that the salesgirl scoffed at them for being so flat-chested and said they might not carry bras small enough for them but then I realized that actually had happened to me when I got my first bra and I’d just repressed the memory.
Lizzie is a passive-aggressive brat the whole time and her mom remains oblivious about the embarrassment she’s causing. To make matters worse, all of a sudden their hot English teacher shows up in the bra section! For some reason! He says he’s “buying a present for his wife” while holding up a pink nightgown, which seems suspect as hell. Mrs. McGuire hands them a bunch of bras right in front of him while Lizzie and Miranda die of embarrassment.
Lizzie goes into the changing room and her mom throws open the curtain to hand her more bras and Lizzie screams, “Mom, I could have been changing!” Usually I don’t support Lizzie screaming at her mom but WHAT THE FUCK, JO MCGUIRE. She laughs, “Oh, it’s just us girls here,” even though she just talked to their hot English teacher there a second ago and the changing rooms are right by the register. Lizzie could have just accidentally flashed her teacher!
This is the final straw for Lizzie, who screams at her mom that they want to be treated like adults. Mrs. McGuire reacts very kindly and just gives them money to shop on their own and goes to wait in the food court, but sad music signals that her heart is breaking even though her child talks to her like that every single episode. Miranda rebukes Lizzie for being so mean to her mom even though Lizzie does that every single episode and Lizzie feels guilty even though she does that every single episode. Lizzie was exactly this mean to her mom one scene ago!
At home the McGuire men and Gordo try to film a martial arts video but it sucks.
Lizzie and Miranda end up really confused by all the “letters” and “numbers” involved in bra shopping and then Kate and Claire show up because man is this an episode of a sitcom. To the writers’ credit, almost all of the lines in this scene go to Claire, who acts circles around Kate despite being relegated to sidekick territory. This is why the actress who plays Claire is still acting and the actress who played Kate is now a lawyer who does criminal defense and worked on legalizing medical marijuana.
One lame-as-usual bullying scene later, Lizzie and Miranda end up so overwhelmed by bra shopping that they decide they need Mrs. McGuire after all.
Back home the martial arts video is still sucking but guess what! Mr. McGuire called in a favor from another one of his famous friends because he has famous friends for some reason. You’d think that would come up more often. This episode it’s David Carradine! The original “young Grasshopper,” Bill from both Kill Bill movies, and the IRL brother of Robert Carradine, who plays Mr. McGuire. This connection clears up a question I’ve had for a while, which is how Lizzie’s idiot dad ended up in Django Unchained.
The show has hella jokes about how meta this guest appearance is. David calls Matt “young Grasshopper” and Mr. McGuire says David is “like a brother” to him. Ha, ha. With his help they make a martial arts movie with lots of foreign film tropes like gong sounds and bad dubbing in what sounds like slight Chinese accents. It’s definitely problematic-adjacent.
Back at the mall Lizzie and Miranda find Mrs. McGuire, who apologizes for embarrassing them and not treating them like adults. Mrs. McGuire deserves better children. Lizzie apologizes for throwing a temper tantrum even though that’s totally normal for her. They all go back to buy bras together. Matt ends up winning the Jet Li contest so he’s going to star in a movie. I wonder if this is another plot they’ll drop immediately or if next week I’ll have to deal with more Matt than usual.
So…that’s it. That’s the episode. I have mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, it’s a lot more focused than some of them. It takes place over only a few hours, and the main conflict is very simple and emotional. On the other, not much about this episode stands out besides the famous “I WANT A BRA!” scene and the baffling logic that bras turn people into pro athletes or popular bitches.
I guess it’s so memorable because of how fucking weird it was to see someone screaming about bras on the Disney Channel, honestly. Most Disney shows have some kind of hook – the protagonist is psychic or a secret pop star or a wizard – but Lizzie was just supposed to be about a girl going through her middle school years (with the sort-of twist being you’d see her thoughts on her awkward situations). I’d argue – and have – that it’s not effective at this in the slightest, but it does mean it’s the only show of that era that was grounded in reality enough to deal with a plot like this. And that’s cool, I guess. It’s a storyline devoted to an important moment in a girl’s life and it deals with it with an appropriate level of awkwardness, just cranked up to sitcom levels. I can’t say I found this episode likeable in any way, but I get what it was going for and I give it credit for that.