After watching 31 episodes of Lizzie McGuire, I’m halfway done with this project!
The first season was all over the place. As a first season of a TV show, it does a remarkably poor job of setting up the world. This must have been partially production-related, because the early episodes feel so different that they must’ve been shot before the show got picked up and then never reshot. The consequence of that is that we get weird, unfamiliar sets and characters like Danny Kessler who just disappear into the void after a few episodes.
Regardless, though, there’s a reckless disregard for continuity throughout the season. There seems to have been little thought put into things like Kate’s ever-rotating posse, for example. Kate is flanked by different girls every episode. Her supposed sidekick Claire doesn’t even show up for nine episodes, and even after her introduction she’s often omittted from episodes because the showrunners wanted to use extras instead of paying Davida Williams for a credited appearance as Claire.
Nothing feels fully defined on this show. Sometimes Lizzie and Ethan talk a lot, sometimes she’s a stammering mess around him. Sometimes Jo is an involved parent who gives good advice, sometimes she’s overbearing and imposes nonsensical demands.
I so, so desperately want to find an interview with the writer on the show so I could understand their process. It doesn’t seem like they gave half the characters personality descriptions besides labels or archetypes. How did they pitch this show? “It’s a show about a middle school girl and she, you know, likes girl stuff. She has two best friends, one who is also a girl, one who is a really nerdy aspiring filmmaker whose parents are both therapists and who loves hackeysack and philosophy. She has a mom who’s just like a regular mom, and a dad who is a dad, and a hellion younger brother. She doesn’t like the school mean girl because she’s mean.”
In so many ways, this show is just not very good! The jokes are so weak. A good third of the time the kid actors don’t even seem to realize they’re making jokes. That’s down from the 100% of the time that was the case at the beginning of the season, but it also speaks to just how bad the writers are at coming up with jokes for kids.
As an experiment, I re-watched an episode of my favorite Disney Channel show, Even Stevens, to see if it held up. It totally did! It’s a much tighter, more energetic, funnier show. What passes for humor on Lizzie McGuire is a character complaining that cafeteria food is bad then a close-up of gross food with a screaming sound effect. The show became much more reliant on sound effects in general over the course of the season. How unfunny does a show have to be for the show runners to decide they need sound effects to signal when they’re making jokes?
I knew all of this going in, though. This show drove me nuts when it was on the air. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was how much I’d hate characters I thought I liked. I remembered Miranda as Lizzie’s ballsier, more alternative friend and Gordo as her trusty, level-headed best friend. Boy, was I mistaken! Miranda is weirdly obsessed with popularity. It’s nonsensical and a real bummer. And Gordo. Gordo!
I had absolutely no memory of how absolutely terrible Gordo was. Especially towards the early part of this season, Gordo gets a lot of gross, leering bits where he ogles female characters, which is horrifying. And there are several episodes centering around Gordo’s temper tantrums and irrational anger towards his friends. It’s massively unpleasant! Lizzie and Gordo are the original OTP for a lot of people in my generation, and I had nothing but nice feelings towards their pairing before re-watching. Now I want Lizzie to run as fast as she can before she’s stuck in a jealous, verbally abusive relationship all through high school.
If this was your favorite Disney Channel show, a) I am so sorry for shitting on it once a week, and b) please let me know why in the comments! That sounds like I’m itching for a fight. I am not, and I totally respect that this show tapped into something fun and nice and real for kids. I’m working on a big essay about Lizzie’s appeal and success to post at the end of this project, so I’d love to hear from people who weren’t curmudgeons from birth like me who yelled at the TV all the time. And if Lizzie wasn’t your favorite Disney Channel show, let me know what was! I will try to conceal my pro-Even Stevens bias in any discussion that arises from this.
I think the second season gets a little bit more cohesive. Here’s hoping! This one was a mess.