Season 1, episode 22: “Untitled Stan Jansen Project”

I’ve now watched 22 episodes of Lizzie McGuire, and I still can’t make heads or tails of this show. The characterizations are so thin that I can only make vague objections when someone does something out of character and even the joke style changes from week to week. It doesn’t have a strong voice, and I can’t figure out why. A rotating staff of writers? Interference by Disney Channel producers who wanted different things all the time? An elaborate staff bet to come up with the worst show elements possible?

This week Lizzie and Miranda are excited that a film crew is making a TV documentary at their school. No reason is given for why their school is the subject of a documentary. Gordo, being a wet blanket, isn’t enthused at all. “Yeah, it sounds cool in theory,” he says. “But they’re gonna talk to Kate, and they’re gonna talk to Ethan, and it’s gonna be the same sugar-coated, ‘ain’t life grand?’ junior high documentary that we’ve seen thousands of times before.” Damn Hollywood! Constantly churning out sugar-coated “ain’t life grand?” junior high documentaries without ceasing. We’ve been saddled with not just hundreds but thousands of them and yet showbiz types keep ramming them down our throats. Why, if I had a nickel for every sugar-coated “ain’t life grand?” junior high documentary I’ve seen in my lifetime, I could retire right now.

Everyone at school is throwing themselves at the cameramen – Kate most shamelessly – while Gordo gripes that it’d be better to be behind the camera anyway. So guess who the filmmakers pick to center their documentary on.

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“I like your energy! Love the angst,” raves the director, Stan Jansen. Don’t encourage him, Stan! Gordo asks to follow him around and learn how to be a director, and Stan kind of agrees while saying the documentary is going to focus on Gordo and that’ll help Gordo get discovered as a director. It makes no sense. It’s one of those times the writers are deliberately vague about what’s happening because they’re not really sure themselves. They want Gordo to cause a lot of his signature angst on film, so they’re motivating it by having him ask the director for directing lessons and having the director nonsensically respond by basically saying “yes, you’ll be in front of the camera the whole time.”

As always, there’s a pretty clear way to solve this writing issue. This scene should have been actually motivated by his interest in filmmaking. He could tell Stan that he wanted to be a filmmaker and Stan could respond, “Really? Let’s make the film about you making a film. You probably know the ins and outs of this school, so that will help us get an insider’s perspective on what middle school is really like.” But nope.

Super weird note: Lizzie congratulates Gordo by telling him he’s “the King Kong of this monkey house” – sure – and we get a shot of Cartoon Lizzie getting picked up by King Kong’s hand. But for the first time, the animators added a computer animated 3-D element to a Cartoon Lizzie bit. It looks absolutely bizarre.

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The next day, the McGuire family is eating breakfast, and, as is often the case, it’s lit like it’s at least noon. They clearly shot this in the middle of the day. They’re also eating a huge pancake breakfast and making fun of Lizzie for changing her outfit three times that morning, so I assumed that this was a Saturday for the duration of the scene. Once again I demand to know what time school starts in this school district.

Matt is wearing a sweater vest. Why???

This scene gets points for a great mom line for Jo, who responds to Lizzie’s distress over picking out the best outfit to stand out in with “Honey, you look beautiful, and if the documentary people can’t see that, they need glasses.” What a mom! The writers drop the ball on dad lines, though. Sam gets a catchphrase for this scene – “I’m just eatin’ my pancakes!” – and it is fully as corny as it sounds.

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Lizzie decides on an outfit and Matt tells his parents he has detention because a master prankster named Melina Bianco framed him for putting a snake in the teacher’s desk. He’s impressed with the prank and says Melina was brilliant for framing him. Jo asks Sam if he could explain their kids to her, but Sam’s all like, “I’m just eatin’ my pancakes!”

At school, Lizzie and Miranda compliment each other’s outfits, which were chosen for their planned “full-frontal fashion assault” to get the filmmakers’ attention. These looks have to be the Lizzie McGuire-est outfits the show has brought out yet.

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Stan tells Gordo to act natural, then immediately cuts the scene after a second of natural conversation to demand conflict, which he says is “the root of drama.” Fair, but you’re shooting a documentary, dude. This documentary is a mess, by the way. Overexcited kids keep jumping into the frame or inserting themselves into the scene.

He asks for more of Gordo’s “devil may care, shoot from the hip, Rebel Without a Cause attitude.” You know, that Gordo je ne sais quoi that I usually just shorthand to something like “Gordo being an asshole.” Kate, who I have not missed in her four-episode absence, shows up to ask Gordo to walk her to class so she can be in the film, so Gordo insults her for conflict. Getting a thumbs-up from the director for it, he then lays into Kate with a monologue that ends with him snapping, “I don’t like you! You’re a stuck-up snob who thinks that because she’s a cheerleader she’s better than everyone else.” Damn, that’s some next-level Gordo being an asshole. Kate leaves and Lizzie and Miranda say that his pop-off was enjoyable to watch but mean. Gordo says he was just telling it like it is. So if you’re wondering if the point is that the camera crew is making Gordo worse than usual – nope, he’s just being himself.

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Matt has Melina over and tries to impress her with fake trophies and stories. Melina repeatedly calls his bluff. The kid actress who plays her has a dull, monotone way of talking and a dead look in her eyes that makes her seem legitimately sociopathic. It’s pretty good casting. She ends up painting all over one of Sam’s lawn gnomes when Matt isn’t looking. The McGuire parents yell at him for it, even though that’s not really a Matt prank at all. Right? This is one of those moments where the characterization is so weak that I honestly can’t tell you what Matt’s pranking style is, just that this moment feels off. Matt and Melina have a conversation right in front of his parents about how she did it, then Melina tricks Matt into taking the blame and he gets punished even though his parents just saw them talk that out.

On a three-way phone call Gordo says being the star of the film is awesome and that Lizzie and Miranda would get more screen time if they weren’t so boring and dumb, and none of this is played as malicious and the girls treat it as good advice.

The next morning, Stan tells Gordo to stir up some more conflict, so Gordo straight-up bullies Larry Tudgeman until he snaps and runs away. Classic Gordo! He seems conflicted about his on-camera douchebaggery this time, at least. Lizzie and Miranda show up and Stan asks how long they’ve known each other. They say they’ve been friends for a long time and that they tell each other everything and keep each other’s secrets. I assumed this meant the whole trio, but then Gordo asks what secrets they were keeping from him. Miranda immediately blurts that Lizzie had a crush on Gordo in fourth grade. WHAT!? DRAMA BOMB!!! This changes everything!

Sadly we don’t get more information on this, though I want it. Lizzie, infuriated, responds by glaring at Miranda and snapping, “In the fourth grade, she used to come home and snack on doggie biscuits!” with so much attitude I expected a Z-snap at the end. Hilary Duff sells the hell out of that insane line. Everyone ends up yelling at everyone else and storming off.

We get a dumb prank montage where Matt and Melina keep framing each other for the terrible nonsense they inflict on everyone and they make a “date” to be little shits together after school. Matt is wearing a plaid button-up shirt and slacks in this scene. Is he supposed to be dressing up to impress Melina? His costuming in this episode is completely out of the norm but it’s never explained.

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Lizzie has a heart-to-heart with her mom about this week’s issues with her friends and her mom tells her friendship is important, and it’s all pretty standard. She apologizes to Miranda the next day, and Miranda apologizes too. Gordo tries to beef with Ethan, who responds with a good-natured but disappointed, “Gordon. Why you gotta be like that?” and peaces out. God bless Ethan. Lizzie and Miranda call Gordo out and tell him they won’t talk to him on-camera anymore.

Later, at the Digital Bean, Matt and Melina show up to try to get into the movie and Matt is dressed like a big fucking nerd again. I don’t get it.

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Gordo tells the cameraman off in a pretty Gordo way – it’s petulant and self-righteous and it made me want to punch him. He says the documentary doesn’t show who he really is or how he really treats his friends. False, buddy! Stare into the worst parts of your soul and repent.

And then the entire episode devolves into hella hijinks and shenanigans. Stan puts down his camera, so Melina covers it in ketchup and frames Matt for it. Stan chases Matt around like grownups often do in kids’ shows, in a supposedly threatening way even though I hope their intention isn’t to beat the children. Matt, despite having no issue with the director otherwise, squirts a bottle of ketchup all over his face. What a dick! Stan then grabs a soda nozzle from behind the counter, where no employees are working, and sprays Matt with soda. Why is this adult stooping to Matt’s level? Then Gordo throws Matt some more ketchup to retaliate. Why is Gordo stooping to Matt’s level? Then Lizzie and Miranda find large buckets of hot fudge and whipped cream just hanging around and pour them on the ground so Stan slips and falls into a face full of whipped cream because the writers have officially lost control.

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Gordo apologizes to Lizzie and Miranda for letting the documentary become more important than their friendship. For those of you keeping track, that makes three out of the last four episodes that have ended with Gordo apologizing to Lizzie and Miranda for being an awful friend. Matt says that Melina is an insane person and he hopes she’s his girlfriend now, and I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be a commentary on how crazy bitches be or just a reflection of Matt’s terrible personality. And that’s it, that’s the episode.

The documentary premise was extremely weak and executed lazily. Stan frequently interjected things like “Keep it up!” or “Let’s see where this is going!” where a real documentary filmmaker wouldn’t talk over his subjects, and kids kept jumping into the frame constantly in a way that would ruin a real documentary. And for an episode that kept harping on conflict, the one here was also pretty milquetoast. Miranda accidentally let a secret slip on-camera (an accident) and Gordo was a little bit more of a dick than usual, with few repercussions in general.

There was some interesting direction in this episode, so shoutout to guest director Anson Williams (of Happy Days) for that. Lizzie and Miranda had a lot more giggling asides and twice ran off holding each other’s hands in solidarity, which made their friendship seem more close and real than usual. They also had some real pain in their conflict scenes, which was different than the standard shrieking seen in dramatic moments – Lizzie played embarrassment and betrayal well when Miranda blurted out her secret, for instance, and both girls seemed ashamed when they apologized to each other. Also, the running gag of kids trying to stand out in the background (with increasingly bizarre costumes and props) of scenes was pretty funny, if unrealistic. But the writing felt like a first draft.

Weird never-popular youth culture slang: “dirk” again.

Unnecessary references: Tudgeman does a Sean Connery impression when talking about James Bond.

Notable fashion moments: Lizzie wears a shirt that’s laced up the sides, showing her bra. There is no way that’s within dress code.

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Other interesting tidbits: There were two other jarring computer animated Cartoon Lizzie bits throughout this episode. Weird!

5 thoughts on “Season 1, episode 22: “Untitled Stan Jansen Project”

  1. Did one of the pranks have something to do with the drawing of the beaver in Matt’s notebook? Because he’s looking at it really intently. like-I don’t know- he had a pet beaver when he was little and it died horribly and he’d managed to not think about it for about a month but now somebody drew a picture of it in his notebook. That drawing is really upsetting to him.

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  2. I’m noticing a trend of several episodes dealing with one of the trio (usually Lizzie or Gordo) being a bad friend and having to realize it and apologize at the end. Is it just me or does it seem like that’s what a majority of the episodes are. It’s like it fell into a storyline rut.

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