Season 1, episode 16: “Obsession”

Hello, and welcome back to LMR after a holiday hiatus! That’s the term I’m going to use for last week’s unplanned break when I accidentally got too drunk to write a review.

I blame the episode, honestly, because I cannot make heads or tails of this one. Usually Disney tries to shove a lesson into every single episode and it’s definitely trying here. But I do not know what that lesson is.

This one starts with Miranda and Lizzie bagging groceries for a food drive. The opening four lines of dialogue punch you in the kisser with exposition. Their social studies teacher congratulates them on “the most successful food drive Hillridge Middle School has ever seen,” to which Lizzie replies that it was actually fun and Miranda implies she did it for the extra credit. Man, how I want the show to let Miranda’s snarky bitch flag fly. Then their teacher says they have a knack for…organizing food drives, I guess, and that someone wouldn’t go hungry tonight because of them, and they should take on a new volunteer project. And those four lines set up all the crazy that is about to happen.

Lizzie’s entire family shows up because Lizzie forgot some cans at home, and I guess that’s a normal excuse to shove them into a school scene. Matt is ashamed because he has to wear a “Hall Monitor Safety Patrol” belt. Which is asinine because he’s not at school. He should just take it off.

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“Hall Monitor Safety Patrol” sounds like they shoved two positions into one, but more importantly, if you had to pick a kid to enforce rules, why would anyone pick Matt McGuire? Matt is like a trickster god reincarnated into prepubescent boy form. He’s never in school! This child killed the class pet. And now he’s ashamed because apparently Hall Monitor Safety Patrols are the epitome of geekiness. I wish this were about Matt turning into a geek, because any new personality traits would be an improvement, or about Matt being bullied, because watching someone else pummel him would be therapeutic to me.

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Later Lizzie berates Gordo on the phone for not coming to the food drive, but he says he was preparing for the Science Olympics to beat Tudgeman for once. Oh man, a Gordo/Tudgeman rivalry? That’s amazing. Two nerds, equally unlikeable for different reasons. I hope Tudgeman takes him down about twelve pegs. Out of nowhere, Lizzie yells at Gordo for not being available to help recycle with her and then tells Miranda to meet her at the Digital Bean the next day to kick off a new recycling project. As a side note, I don’t know if kids at this point were very familiar with the word digital, as the kid actors on this show often pronounce it in a sort of stilted, phonetic way. Add that to my list of reasons the Digital Bean is a dumb concept for this show.

At dinner Matt brags about all the kids he’s reprimanded as Hall Monitor Safety Patrol. Didn’t Matt hate this job a scene ago? Now he’s on some kind of power trip, which is much more in character. Lizzie announces her recycling project and asks for her family to start recycling and they’re completely annoyed by the idea. The McGuires don’t recycle?? If this took place in the 50s I’d understand that, but it’s 2001, people!

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At the Digital Bean, Lizzie makes Miranda sift through garbage because apparently the Digital Bean doesn’t recycle either. Miranda starts off complaining about the task being gross, which is fair, but then questions the usefulness of recycling plastic (because it doesn’t save the trees) and completely scoffs at the idea of cutting up plastic six pack rings to save dolphins. “Are we saving dolphins too? Cuz I thought we were just saving the earth!” she snaps. I don’t really understand that burn. This scene is set up such that we’re supposed to be sympathizing with Miranda and thinking Lizzie is insane, but Miranda isn’t making any good points at all. And Lizzie is! But we’re supposed to see Lizzie as a complete nutjob all of a sudden.

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And why do all of Lizzie’s loved ones seem so instinctively opposed to recycling? I expect Gordo to show up and tell Lizzie global warming isn’t real. Miranda goes to pick up their food – I always forget that the Digital Bean sells food because why would it – and brings back two burgers to the table. Some girl pulls up a chair and announces that she thinks what they’re doing is really great. Lizzie and Miranda both look confused but thank her, and the girl starts going on about environmentalism. This scene is really confusing. It totally seems like the girl is going to ask them to join Greenpeace. She and Lizzie gush over how so few people realize the earth isn’t an infinite resource, and again, we’re supposed to think they’re idiots even though that is also a good point?

Then she notices their burgers. I knew this was coming. I have a bias here, because I’m a vegetarian, but I feel the need to point out that the meat industry is a strain on the environment (because of the resources required to raise, process, and ship meat) so it’s totally logical to bring it up as an option for someone whose passion is environmentalism. I don’t think that’s crazy. The show, however, definitely does, because it doesn’t make any sort of connection between meat and being eco-friendly. It just has the girl point out that Lizzie is eating dead animals and storm away screaming, “MEAT-EATER!”

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“Can you believe how weird Parker is?” says Miranda, which stunned me because they totally set it up as if a deranged hippie had wandered up to their table sensing her kind and not like someone from their school was dropping by to say hello. (Note: I looked into it, and apparently she’s been in two episodes at this point. Though I don’t remember her ever speaking before this and I didn’t recognize her. Further note: she sucks at acting and I don’t want to see her again.) Lizzie was swayed by Parker’s yells for some reason, so now she’s a vegetarian.

Back at school, Gordo and Tudgeman cram for the Science Olympics and taunt each other. These two are maybe the only kid actors on this show who can actually act, so it was a pleasant change of pace. Tudgeman reminds Gordo that he always wins and Gordo gets up in his face and says, “You know that little voice in the back of your head, that says, oh I’m not good enough, I don’t think I can win? That’s me, Tudgeman.” JESUS. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if Gordo ended up a serial killer. The scene ends with him growling, “I own you” and me shuddering.

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Back at the McGuire household, Matt brags about setting a new record for citations and Lizzie collects her old clothes to donate. Again her parents act annoyed by this and again, I don’t get what’s happening. Is this show trying to discourage children from volunteering and donating their unused clothes? What the shit? Cartoon Lizzie considers telling her parents that maybe she wouldn’t have to go overboard if their generation didn’t fuck up the planet so badly. That’s a GREAT POINT, ACTUALLY, CARTOON LIZZIE. But this scene makes Lizzie look like a paranoid harpy, shutting off the water so her mom can’t use it and yelling at her dad for still not recycling.

The messages here are so mixed. Lizzie tells her dad she’s frustrated because he said he would recycle and he didn’t follow through. “If I did that, you’d be mad at me,” she says. These are all good points! Her dad snaps, “That’s correct, but I think you need to recycle your attitude, young lady.” Man, Sam McGuire with the dad jokes.

I know I harp on this a lot, but having Hilary Duff scream her lines 90% of the time is a bad idea. It’s a bad idea because it makes Lizzie unlikeable when Hilary Duff is the most charming and likeable human alive. It’s a bad idea because it makes the audience annoyed with the protagonist and influences younger viewers to be mean. And it’s an especially bad idea when it comes time to film episodes like this one, where Lizzie is supposed to be so far gone with her new hobby that she’s become a menace to her loved ones. But this plays like any other episode of Lizzie McGuire because it’s just Lizzie snapping at people unnecessarily!

The doorbell rings and Miranda appears in a blue jacket. “Oh shit,” I thought, because I knew what was coming next. That’s one of Lizzie’s jackets. It’s recognizably Lizzie’s jacket – in fact, it’s so recognizable because it’s what Lizzie wears in what I’ve argued is the most iconic Lizzie episode, the bra one.

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Miranda jacked Lizzie’s clothes! She stole Lizzie’s clothes that Lizzie was donating to the homeless! “Where did you get that?” Lizzie snaps, and for once I am ready for Lizzie’s yelling. Miranda stole from the homeless! DRAG THAT BITCHHHHH.

“At the mall, isn’t it fab?” squeals Miranda. What. This is supposed to be a new jacket. And Lizzie is yelling at her because it’s made of leather.

Now I have to drag a bitch. @ this costume designer:
1) what the fuck, just in general
2) why would you re-use such a recognizable costume piece on a DIFFERENT character?
3) honestly that looks more like pleather?
4) a black leather jacket would be a much better choice, because it would read as leather regardless of whether it was or not, and because it wouldn’t be so obvious that you were repeating a costume piece, which
5) you could totally do, because they’ve used a black jacket before

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Absurdity of this scene aside, I finally do get a taste of the snarky Miranda I so long for. Lizzie yells at her for wearing leather when they were “going veggie.” Miranda replies that Lizzie was going veggie. Lizzie yells that the jacket is made from cow and cow is meat and she doesn’t eat meat. “Fine,” snarks Miranda, “So don’t eat my jacket.” Damn, son! This goes back and forth and ends with Lizzie asking what will happen when all the garbage on earth piles up so high it blocks out the sun and makes humanity freeze to death and Miranda yells, “At least I’ll have my jacket to keep my warm!”

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Ziiiing! I love snarky Miranda. Although I’m confused again by the last scene. This episode just seems to be mocking activism. I don’t get it.

At school Miranda tries to get Gordo to help her deal with Lizzie. Have I pitched my idea for a Disney Channel version of the Bechdel test, where an episode passes if the two best friends have a conversation about something other than the protagonist? Gordo is working on paper airplanes for the Science Olympics. Lizzie storms in wearing a LITERAL BURLAP SACK and yells at Gordo for using paper. Lizzie, what on God’s green and occasionally gray with pollution earth are you thinking? Paper can be recycled. Just recycle the paper. Also, did she buy a whole bunch of new clothes to replace her old ones? Reduce, reuse, recycle, Lizzie.

The messages remain murky. Gordo yells about the Science Olympics and Lizzie yells that the planet is more important. I get what they’re doing here. Gordo is obsessed with beating Tudgeman, Matt is obsessed with power, and Lizzie is obsessed with activism. The moral is that they’re all annoying to everyone else. But saving the planet is important. It was 75 degrees on Christmas. This planet is a disaster.

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Matt power trip montage! Usually I skip Matt montages, but I want to point out some things about this one: first, it’s shot in the same hallway of the same location they used for a flashback of Sam in middle school earlier, which is lazy. Second, Matt gives a kid a citation for not wearing his helmet when Razor-scootering in school. What? Even in 2001, kids didn’t Razor scooter from class to class. Third, it uses two lazy references. Matt tries to give a teacher a citation and pulls a “Don’t call me Shirley” when the teacher says surely he must be joking, and then he yells “RESPECT MY AUTHORITY!” which I think is supposed to be a South Park shoutout. Fourth, this last reference occurred when his teacher picked him up and dragged him away, which is unprofessional teacher behavior bordering on child abuse.

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Gordo and Tudgeman have a funny Old West-inspired scene where they glare at each other and a tumbleweed rolls by. It’s absurd in a really different way than the usual Run, Lola, Run editing zaniness of this show. It’s a Ned’s Declassified moment. And hey! I looked it up and confirmed that the director actually directed a lot of episodes of Ned’s Declassified. Can I list “knowledge of the visual styles of early 2000s kids shows” on a résumé?

Gordo brags to Miranda that he and Tudgeman are now tied – Tudgeman won the egg drop, he won the paper airplane contest – and says the final event, the slow bicycle race, is that afternoon. One of these things is not a science event. Gordo is ready to pass out because he keeps pulling all-nighters to study and prepare. He’s studying how to ride a bike?

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In class Miranda and Lizzie bicker some more about whether Lizzie is obnoxious or if saving the planet is important (why not both?) and their teacher announces a pop quiz, shouting to wake Gordo up. Lizzie stands up and screams her head off about her teacher wasting resources by not printing the pop quizzes double-sided. Again, Lizzie actually is making a real point here, though of course she’s being insane about it. “Why won’t anyone help me?” she yells, and her teacher responds that she will help her. “I’m sending you home to get some sleep!” she says.

What? Guys, what? Is that a thing? Preschoolers take naps when they’re fussy. You don’t send a middle schooler home to get some sleep! And BESIDES, there is a kid literally falling asleep in class right in front of Lizzie who has to stay and take the quiz! Sleepiness is Gordo’s problem. Lizzie’s just a maniac. And now she gets out of the pop quiz.

At home Matt is also home early. Is this why he’s always at home? Teachers just send kids home to take a nap when they get rowdy? Lizzie makes fun of Matt but her parents say she and Matt have a lot in common, and almost break the fourth wall to yell “The episode is called ‘Obsession,’ get it?”

The parents say both kids need some rest. Is that the moral of this story? Sleep more? They pull Lizzie aside to give her a lecture on having a big heart but burning herself out too much and explain that she can’t help anyone if she doesn’t take care of herself. Wait, is this episode about the importance of self-care for activists?

They insist she take a nap – everyone is really into the nap remedy even though Lizzie was never shown staying up late – and Lizzie reveals she donated her mattress to the homeless shelter. “I’ll call the shelter,” says her dad. They’re gonna take it back?? They donated to the homeless and they’re taking it back? I guess they did just have to replace Matt’s entire room so maybe they can’t afford a new bed for Lizzie. Still, it seems harsh to actively take a mattress away from the homeless.

Lizzie changes out of her ugly sack by the time she shows up to cheer on Gordo at the slow bicycle race.  I guess this event is scientific because of wind resistance? Fuck if I know at this point. This episode is confusing as shit. Gordo comes out in a crazy costume which I assumed was an Evel Knievel look. Wouldn’t that make sense? Dressing as Evel Knievel for a bike race? It’s even subversive or ironic or something, because Evel Knievel did cool dangerous bike races and they’re doing a slow stupid bike race. But apparently he’s Elvis because why should anything make sense ever. Gordo almost “wins” the race by going slower than Tudgeman but falls asleep on his bike and falls off.

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I guess the lesson here is never care about anything. Right? In this episode characters cared about helping people, science, and rules, and were all proven to be wrong. This one was a mess. Lizzie’s activism came out of nowhere, probably so we wouldn’t be invested in it when they knocked her down for it. I guess they couldn’t show her forming a connection with a homeless person at a soup kitchen only to make jokes about her caring about causes later on. But it was so random. Why couldn’t Lizzie become obsessed with something legitimately vapid?

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Anyway, this episode ends with Tudgeman biking past the trio on the sidewalk to mock Gordo. He bikes offscreen into an intersection and Lizzie screams “LARRY, LOOK OUT!” and there’s a crashing sound.

Did Tudgeman just get hit by a fucking car? Is that how they ended this episode on why you shouldn’t care about anything? With the kid who just won a contest losing his life? Is this episode a nihilistic look at why nothing matters? They all laugh at Tudgeman’s offscreen, probably crumpled body.

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Happy 2016, y’all!

7 thoughts on “Season 1, episode 16: “Obsession”

  1. I totally knew what “digital” meant way back in the early ’80s and I’m not exactly what you’d call “tech savvy.” Maybe the director thought they were sounding mumbly when they said it? That could happen.

    The Digital Bean might be run by the same people who run Starbucks in Raleigh. They don’t recycle either.

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    1. THEY DON’T RECYCLE IN STARBUCKS?!

      Thank you for your feedback on “digital;” I will add this issue to my list of “Shit on this show that’s wrong for no damn reason.”

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  2. I wasn’t sure why or how Gordo was pulling all-nighters to “study” for carrying eggs, making paper airplanes, or slowing riding a bike. Aren’t those things you PRACTICE for? As in, physically? They’re also not that hard to do, so losing sleep over it was a stupid concept. As a kid who supposedly likes science, Gordo should have known that not sleeping would have hurt his chances of winning even more.

    Tudgeman probably ran into a trashcan or something, and waved to them saying he was okay. They should have at least shown that onscreen. It actually would have been funnier that way.

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