Season 2, episode 8: “Just Friends”

When people say they like Lizzie McGuire, chances are good that they’re thinking of episodes like this one. This show came out with the intention of showing the relatable troubles of an average middle school girl, but it quickly went off the rails to become a show about a garishly dressed narcissist facing challenges like starting her modeling career, competing on a Spanish-language game show, and posing as the dead ancestors of her best friend to bully a nemesis for taking a vampire costume from her.

This episode actually hits on all of the likeable beats the series can achieve. It’s fun and cute, it’s a little bit touching, and there are some legitimately funny moments.

The only part that felt messy to me was the cold open, and that’s not due to problems with the writing so much as general issues with continuity and storylines. Tudgeman has a passionate monologue thanking Kate for inviting him to the Sadie Hawkins Dance, only to reveal he’s having a pretend conversation in the mirror. We’ve seen references to him liking Miranda on three previous occasions (“Scarlett Larry,” “Gordo’s Video,” and “And The Winner Is…”) but I think he’s an equal-opportunity creep, so him liking Kate here feels pretty normal. Tudgeman, like Gordo, is so much more realistic and well-developed than the other characters on the show, and Kyle Downes is a fantastic actor for the role.

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Here the cold open gets confusing. Miranda says that no one has asked Ethan to the dance yet, so Lizzie should. (Doesn’t Miranda like Ethan?) Gordo agrees with Miranda. (Doesn’t Gordo like Lizzie?) Lizzie agrees by saying, “I have my own power. I can see it, and I can be it!” (Why does she say that? That sounds like the tagline for a knockoff Power Rangers-type show.) Lizzie immediately falls upon saying this. (Was that necessary?)

But the episode is mostly good from there on! At lunch, Lizzie asks Gordo to pretend to be Ethan so she can practice asking him to the dance. Adam Lamberg’s “Ethan” impression falls somewhere on a spectrum between Ethan and the gruff owner of a Brooklyn pizzeria, but it is nonetheless very amusing.

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Lizzie asks if Gordo has a date yet, and Gordo makes a good-natured speech about how he’s not desirable at the moment, but he knows he’ll be valued later when he becomes a tech billionaire. Part of the reason I liked this episode so much is that it completely retcons serious flaws with the rest of the series. This Gordo is a total 180 from the insecure, insulting Gordo of season one. (Compare this speech to the many times he fumed over girls liking Ethan, who wasn’t as smart as him.) Similarly, the writers finally realized that two best friends shouldn’t like the same guy, so Ethan is only Lizzie’s crush here, not Miranda’s. And nobody treats their friends like shit for once.

I’ve ranted about this dozens of times now, but Hilary Duff has such a likeable quality that the show squanders constantly. This is not one of those times! Ethan walks past the table, so Lizzie jumps up and nervously ask him to the dance. Ethan – very kindly, because he is a gem – tells Lizzie he sees her more as a friend. Lizzie is very visibly crushed. This entire scene is perfect – Gordo being a supportive friend, a goofy gag that was pretty funny, and Lizzie’s vulnerability setting her up for a legitimately affecting rejection.

Note that Miranda is not in this scene, and she’s not in the episode much at all. I assume this was tied to Lalaine’s prolonged absence from season two, but I can’t confirm that because I don’t know the production dates for any of these episodes. As a kid I remember making fun of the show for kicking Lalaine out whenever the writers wanted to focus on Gordo/Lizzie drama, because they aired the episodes out of order so it felt like Miranda came and went whenever they didn’t want a third wheel. In reality, she was away filming one of the least-beloved DCOMs with Twitty from Even Stevens and Spencer Breslin from every movie that needed a cute kid until his sister started acting.

In another bizarre moment for the series, we get a Matt and Lanny scene that’s actually more cute than annoying. Usually Matt’s scenes seem engineered to grate as much as possible, but this one is kind of goofy and funny. Matt and Lanny pretend they’re mad scientists while they mix a smoothie. They realize their concoction is amazing and decide to sell it to their friends.

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Upstairs, Lizzie and Gordo hang out and he rants about what a jerk Ethan was to Lizzie. This is a definite first – usually all three friends will hang out together or they’ll talk on a three-way call, but Gordo and Lizzie have never hung out in her room like it’s an episode of Clarissa Explains It All. Gordo consoles Lizzie and it’s all very nice and completely unlike the rest of the series. They both seem to conclude that Lizzie is too boring for Ethan, which I guess would make sense if the costume choices ever supported that, and Lizzie vows to change so Ethan will like her more.

Matt and Lanny’s smoothies take off among the neighborhood elementary schoolers and – a nice touch – Tudgeman. They decide to expand their business.

Lizzie and Gordo spy on Ethan to figure out what he likes with Miranda popping in just enough to remind us that she exists too. Their spying reveals that he likes golf, Roald Dahl books, and grape soda, and Gordo strikes up a man-to-man conversation with him about chicks to determine that he likes mysterious girls.

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The smoothie business evolves into Club Flamingo, a hang-out spot for children and Tudgeman in the McGuires’ backyard.

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Gordo and Miranda come over to help Lizzie transform herself but Jo warns Lizzie that she shouldn’t change to get other people to like her. She tells a story from her middle school years about how she did the same thing and it didn’t work. This is notable because they score this moment with the jaunty Italian music they use in scenes like Lizzie and Miranda crashing the Italian restaurant. It doesn’t fit here.

Lizzie transforms into a total femme fatale for her next encounter with Ethan, which seems to take place at night for atmosphere even though I don’t know why they would be at school at night. Lizzie says a bunch of trying-to-be-mysterious things (when asked where she got her new clothes, she coos, “Where do any of us get our clothes?”) and drops in references to all of Ethan’s favorite things.

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Hilary Duff is fantastic in this scene, and it’s all very sexy, but it was originally way sexier and Disney made them reshoot it to tone it down. The original is on the gag reel the cast and crew got, which was never released because it’s mostly Disney kid stars cursing, but it was leaked at some point. The original scene is SHOCKINGLY suggestive. It’s borderline pornographic by Disney standards. It’s supposed to be a Lauren Bacall reference but boy howdy does it straight-up sound exactly like a double entendre about fingering.

A mob boss-type kid shuts down Matt’s club because it’s wrecking his business of charging kids to watch his widescreen TV. It’s not a bad gag.

Lizzie, now dressed in golf gear, hangs out with Ethan as he raves about all they have in common. But when Lizzie tries to ask him out again, he still rejects her, saying they don’t have any chemistry. I cannot imagine any 14 year old boy on Earth turning down Hilary Duff, but that’s what he does.  

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Lizzie hangs out at home that night, dateless for the dance. She opens up to Matt and he sympathizes with her without any of the usual “I know you’re my SISTER and I totally hate you” bullshit they usually couch these moments in (see the end of last week’s episode for an example).

Gordo and Miranda come over in dance clothes and ask if Lizzie wants to go to the dance, but she doesn’t want to go without a date. No one’s asked Gordo and Miranda says there was no one she’d want to ask besides Brad Pitt, which is a very convenient excuse that I believe supports my lesbian theory. Lizzie asks Gordo to dance with her, so they dance as Lanny plays piano and Miranda dances with Matt like the third wheel she is. Lizzie and Gordo have an adorable moment where he tells her she’s fine as she is and they both joke about her sexy femme fatale routine.

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It’s so frustrating to see episodes like this and realize that the show is capable of depicting realistic middle school problems and having a really compelling conflict without turning all of the characters into screaming monsters. And I really don’t understand why so many episodes up to this point have been devoted to showing what a terrible friend Gordo can be. The pilot ended with a nice moment between Gordo and Lizzie and he saved the day for her on picture day, and then the writers threw out the idea that he was her supportive best friend and turned him into a deeply unpleasant misogynistic asshole for the rest of season one. Now they’re starting to lay the foundation for Lizzie and Gordo to get together, and it really only works if you forget everything you’ve known about Gordo up to this point and if Lizzie is completely rewritten and redirected to seem much kinder than she normally is. I will never understand this show.

Weird never-popular youth culture slang: “I can see it, and I can be it!” was definitely not a real thing people said to mean “I should go for [some thing I want].”

Unnecessary references: There’s Casablanca references all over the Club Flamingo scenes, especially when Lizzie says, “Play it, Lanny!”

Notable fashion moments: Lizzie wears a shirt that exemplifies the weird ugly graphics of the period. Interestingly, it says Folies Bergère on it. I can’t imagine Lizzie would have known what the Folies Bergère was.

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To rant for a second: this is the look Lizzie is wearing when she and Gordo decide she’s too boring for Ethan, and this is what she’s wearing the first time Ethan rejects her. This is bad costume design! Lizzie’s outfits are so trendy and form-fitting. There’s no justification for Lizzie being the underdog that dudes reject.

She also wears a sparkly rodeo graphic tee with weird sparkly earrings that I think are just plus signs? They don’t seem like actual crosses and crosses are probably too religious.

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Her golf outfit is tacky as hell and I believe features a pin that says GOLF with the O made out of a golf ball, in addition to a pin on her hat.

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Back to my costuming rant: Lizzie seems so much more vulnerable in this outfit than anywhere else in the episode. When she’s dancing with Gordo in a polo and sneakers, it makes her seem so cute and down to earth. I can’t believe I have to explain this, because it’s fucking obvious as shit. The golf outfit is obviously exaggerated, but if Lizzie were usually in tee shirts and polos, so much more about this show would make sense.

Jo wears another ugly mom sweater, one which is so similar to the one she wore in “Mom’s Best Friend” that they must be from the same brand.

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They don’t really work with her funky glasses and weird hairstyle.

Miranda basically has three looks this season: camo, super British, or super American (I’m counting camo separately from super American because sometimes she wears colored camo or camo that she incorporates into looks that are more emo than patriotic). This episode she wears a shirt with an American flag made out of money – which is astonishing but fitting with her character trait of liking money, which I respect – under a hoodie with glittery fire on it and with an American flag belt buckle.

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She also wears a British flag shirt that seems to have Big Ben on it. It’s so strange to me they chose two different countries as the themes to hit the hardest with her costuming this season.

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Gordo has never had a notable costuming moment, but this episode he has two! The first is that jacket, which looks fine when he’s standing up but looks goofy when he’s sitting down. It gives him a Ducky from Pretty in Pink vibe.

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And he wears an ill-fitting suit jacket over a polo shirt for the dance. No wonder no one asked you, you nerd!

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An extra in the background wears an insane outfit.

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Other interesting tidbits: They keep calling the dance the Sadie Hawkins Day Dance, and Miranda says, “It’s Sadie Hawkins Day!” when she dances with Matt. I thought that was a mistake, but apparently that’s a real thing! It’s in November, which makes sense for their long-sleeved costuming choices. I’ve only ever heard “Sadie Hawkins” to refer to a dance any time of year where girls are supposed to ask guys.

There’s a goofy sequence when Gordo and Lizzie spy on Ethan and he gets attacked by a flock of pigeons. The birds are inserted digitally into the scene and look pretty weird.

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8 thoughts on “Season 2, episode 8: “Just Friends”

  1. The fluctuating flag icons do seem weird. I’m wondering if the British theme pre-dated the U.S. theme and somebody made an issue out of it, so they compromised by having her wear both. I’m not sure if this is still true, but there was a time when merely wearing the Union Jack was an expression of punk credentials for kids in the U.S.

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    1. Interesting theory! I’m positive the British stuff was chosen to make her seem more punk. I like the idea that someone on set freaked out that she wasn’t patriotic enough.

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  2. Yeeeee! I’m glad that you kinda liked this one! 🙂

    About costuming: I feel like Lizzie (and Miranda’s) clothes sometimes scream overcompensation. Like, at one point Lizzie says “I changed my outfit 6 times this morning! That’s 3 more than I usually do!!!” implying that she’s insecure and tries really hard to look good. Idk. But, of course there was also the element of making sure Lizzie was fashionable so that the girls watching would want to dress/be like her. But, it’s still someone’s personality that makes them boring or exciting – not necessarily how they dress. And, as they’ve shown, Lizzie doesn’t exactly have strong interests or anything and always plays it safe, so.

    Anyway, I think a lot of people (myself included) picture S2 first when they think of Lizzie McGuire. Maybe it’s because it’s fresher in our memories? Or because S2 feels a little more grown up, almost like high school sometimes? Who knows!

    I feel like season 2 is mostly pretty solid from here on out, with more episodes like this. Focusing less on outlandish stuff, and more on actual issues/friendship/relationships and whatnot. (With the occasional silly plot. Like the next episode on your list. It’s still really good/entertaining and memorable though, imo.)

    But, every show has it’s annoying or low moments. Even though Even Stevens is my other fave, there are definitely a lot of episodes (particularly in season 3) that were a little TOO silly. Louis’ character became more dumbed down at times as the show went on, and it started to go off the rails juuuust a bit.

    Also… I’m 99.9% sure the pigeons were supposed to look fake, lol.

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  3. This episode reminds me of how quotable this show could be.

    “I like you, but we just don’t have any…oh, man, what’s that one subject in high school that I’m never gonna pass?”
    “Chemistry?”
    “Yeah, chemistry.”

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  4. I may be getting ahead of you here, Allison, but in the past you’ve talked about the boring costume choices for Kate as compared to Lizzie and it reminded me of what Roger Ebert had said in his review of the Lizzie McGuire movie:

    “Her rival is Kate Sanders (Ashlie Brillault), who is said to be more popular than Lizzie, although how this could be, when Lizzie outshines the very stars in the sky, is hard to explain.”

    You may want to wait until you review the movie to cover Ebert’s review. I just always found his take on the matter interesting since the movie was probably his first and only experience with Lizzie McGuire.

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    1. Yes! That’s my favorite line of the whole (delightful) review. I actually have a future post in mind where I plan on citing that exact line.

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