Season two is a lot weirder for me to review than season one. Season one was definitely much messier, with more out-of-left-field episodes. Season two actually nails down basic characterizations and puts Lizzie in more “realistic” situations (comparatively – she hasn’t become famous yet this season), but that can mean it’s a lot cornier.
This one was written by Alison Taylor, the Cheetah Girls writer responsible for “Over the Hill.” I think her jokes and writing are pretty solid in general, but this one was less emotionally effective for me.
It’s based around a school dance, even though there was just a school dance episode five weeks ago. But this one’s a Spring Fling, and that one was for “Sadie Hawkins Day,” which is apparently a real holiday in November, so these are supposed to be months apart.
Lizzie and Miranda volunteer for the dance committee so that they can attend the dance dateless without it being weird. It’s middle school! I think maybe two girls in my middle school had “dates” to the dances. Cartoon Lizzie says, “It’s not that I don’t have a date – it’s just that Josh Hartnett doesn’t go to this school!” which is almost identical to Miranda’s joke from the last dance episode (“I thought of someone I would ask, but turns out Brad Pitt’s married”). As with the Denzel Washington reference in “Mom’s Best Friend,” this shoutout seems off – were middle school girls into Josh Hartnett at the time?
Last season we saw the dance committee led by Kate with no faculty supervision, but in this episode the actual principal – who I always just want to call Mr. Moseby because he was on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody – oversees the committee and assigns roles. Kate is put in charge of decoration, which is astonishing because she can’t even decorate her own body in anything less than nightmarish.
She gloats about getting the most important job, which leads Principal Mr. Moseby to assign Lizzie to work with her so Kate isn’t overwhelmed. Yeah, this is gonna be another Lizzie-Kate tension episode. You can imagine my glee.
Lizzie jacks a bunch of flowers from her mom’s garden to make decorations for the dance. Jo reprimands her but Lizzie protests that if she screws up the decorations for the dance, everyone in school will know and hate her for it, which seems extremely narcissistic but actually checks out with the rest of the episode. Lizzie says that in that case she’ll have to become a mathlete and Sam takes offense, as he was a mathlete. We get the exact same flashback photo of Robert Carradine in Revenge of the Nerds that they used when he said he was in the AV Club, but this time they actually remembered to (badly) photoshop his name onto his nametag. They use a weird shaky effect when they cut to it to make all the photoshop less noticeable.
Lanny and Matt get excited when they notice a BMX bike ad on the back of the paper Sam is reading. This scene is shot weirdly, because they have the actor who plays Lanny do this goofy face reaction, but for some reason he keeps doing it and they keep using different angles of it.
This scene isn’t very well-directed, because Matt and Lanny are eating Cocoa Krispies for the sake of gags like spit takes that don’t quite work – Matt ends up sputtering when he tries to spit out the cereal, for instance. It feels like the director had a vague idea that kids + spitting cereal everywhere would equal comedy gold, and when that didn’t work, he just had Lanny keep making the same face over and over all scene and chopped it up in editing.
Lizzie and Kate plan an elaborate entrance for the dance outside the gym. Kate makes some demands and Lizzie counters by citing budget restrictions and I get my 3000th reason that Kate is terribly cast. In scenes like this, Lizzie comes off as the far meaner one because Ashlie Brillault just straight-up can’t deliver lines with much emotion behind them. She yells all of her lines in exactly the same sniveling way, while Hilary Duff snarls and seethes her way through hers and comes off as way more of a mean girl.
Anyway, the point of this scene and this episode is that Kate doesn’t want to deal with decorating a giant bust of the school’s first principal so she sort of tries to move it but really just shoves it over and breaks it. I like the joke in this scene that the principal’s bust is engraved with the quote “Hey you kids, cut that out!” The phrase, yelled by a beleagured-sounding old man, will haunt Cartoon Lizzie this episode and will always amuse me because of the voice actor’s delivery. This scene is very contrived, though. I didn’t like that Kate smashes the statue and feels no remorse at all. Also, for some reason the head just splits easily instead of crumbling like one would assume a marble statue would.
Matt and Lanny ask Jo and Sam for money for the bike and get shot down but are told to try doing errands for a crazy cat lady down the street. We get a cut to a picture of her with the same shaky effect from before to make it less obvious that the cat in her arms is also photoshopped. Nothing really happens here, so normally I’d skip mentioning this scene altogether, but it’s notable because for some reason Matt and Lanny really look like they were green-screened in. But there’s no way they were, right? That seems way more expensive and convoluted than necessary. Still, it looks like it! They never cross to Sam and Jo’s side of the set, and most of the shots are separate close-ups, so it all honestly makes it seem like Jake Thomas and Christian Copelin weren’t there when they shot it. It’s weird!
Miranda runs up to Lizzie to tell her she got a date for the dance, some guy named Cody Pierson. Lizzie didn’t know him and Miranda confesses that she didn’t either but was still excited. That’s cute! Lizzie for some reason TOOK THE BUSTED BUST FROM THE CRIME SCENE and is keeping it in her backpack. I don’t know why! Gordo has a goofy monologue about smuggling Lizzie into Canada that’s also cute. The main trio is super funny in this scene, but it doesn’t make any sense that Lizzie is carrying the bust around in her backpack. This scene is also directed badly, because it’s supposed to be a miscommunication scene where Lizzie shows them the bust and they think she did it and Lizzie doesn’t realize she didn’t say that Kate did it. You’ve seen scenes like this a million times, in every sitcom and especially every Disney show. But it’s very muddled here. Lizzie’s lines and reactions are all about Gordo and Miranda not believing that she didn’t break the bust herself, but Lalaine and Adam Lamberg don’t deliver their lines with that intention at all. Example:
LIZZIE (following Gordo’s Canada monologue): Gordo, I didn’t do it!
GORDO (relieved): Oh! Okay, good, then go with that. Yeah!
LIZZIE: You guys don’t understand! I really didn’t do it!
There Gordo should have delivered that line with sarcasm or disbelief. It’s frustrating because the actors are all doing good work with their other beats – Miranda’s excitement, Gordo’s zany plan, Lizzie’s panic – so the director was clearly phoning it in on the main joke of the scene.
Adding to my annoyance, this episode has another example of a funky timeline. Based on the outfits worn by all characters, we know that this day started with Lizzie making the flower arrangement and Matt and Lanny spewing Cocoa Krispies in one of the show’s patented leisurely morning scenes where no one is in a rush to go to school or work. Lizzie and Kate are at school but not in class when Kate breaks the bust, so it’s probably either before the first bell or at lunch. Then comes the Matt and Lanny maybe-green-screened bit, which seems to take place in the afternoon. Next we get Lizzie at school, in the same outfit from before, talking to Gordo and Miranda in what seems like the middle of the day. Then we get Matt and Lanny cleaning the crazy cat lady’s house, then another scene of Lizzie at school where the trio tries to fix the bust but can’t. This shit happens all the time and creates the feeling that Matt is never in school during the day.
The next day, Kate brags to everyone that she broke the statue while Lizzie sweats bullets over it. An emergency assembly is called wherein Principal Mr. Moseby says the dance is cancelled unless the statue killer comes forward.
Miranda insists that Lizzie tell on Kate, but Gordo says snitches get stitches. What’s she going to do?? Keep in mind that Lizzie is a VERY GOOD PERSON in some episodes, when she’s not lying to her parents, refusing to defend her friend, or losing her little brother when she’s supposed to be watching him.
With the money from cleaning the cat lady’s house, Matt and Lanny can only afford one bike and agree to share it. Again the direction is weird, because they show Matt insisting that Lanny have the bike first, Lanny taking off with the bike, then a fade to nighttime where Matt is still sitting on the porch, presumably waiting for the bike back. Let’s put a pin in that for now, but keep it in mind.
Lizzie’s dreams are haunted by visions of Gordo and Miranda telling her to snitch or not to snitch. This animation makes me mad, because it’s supposed to be just their heads floating, which would have been easily achievable by covering them up to their chins in a green screen sheet. Instead, though, they shot them on a green screen wearing black turtlenecks and the effect is very Liz & Dick.
The next day Lizzie goes straight to Principal Mr. Moseby’s office, presumably to snitch on Kate. But when a second emergency assembly is called, it’s revealed that she took the heat herself! For some reason! That reveal definitely could have been handled via announcement rather than emergency assembly. But then we wouldn’t get an emotional moment of Gordo and Miranda explaining to Ethan that Lizzie didn’t do it, but she sacrificed herself so everyone could go to the dance, for plot purposes and I guess for slow kids.
That night, Sam and Jo see both of their kids curled up in sad little balls and Sam remarks that it’s nice that they’re quiet for once and they could just let them keep being sad because it’s better than them fighting. I want this entire family to go to counseling forever.
Okay, remember the last scene of Matt and Lanny? Where Lanny never let him use the bike? Well, here Matt’s parents ask him what’s wrong and he says that he and Lanny are sharing perfectly equally, but it’s no fun because they never get to be together as friends anymore because two people can’t play with one bike. That wasn’t set up at all! I feel like there must have been a note from Disney about making the final lesson be more about friendship so they had to reshoot it but didn’t reshoot the scene of Lanny and Matt not sharing the bike. I don’t know why, but that’s the only explanation I’ve got. Anyway, that gets resolved by Matt and Lanny resolving to sell the bike.
Jo asks Lizzie why she’s upset, and we get a scene of Hilary Duff crying, which I am always a sucker for. She’s just so pure and sweet! I want her protected. We get a pretty good bit here. Lizzie says she just wanted to decorate for the dance so she could maybe get more popular and then she blubbers a lot about statues and running away to Canada. Jo struggles to balance compassion with having no idea what Lizzie’s talking about. She doesn’t have to, though, because the doorbell rings!
It’s Gordo, who recycles a line from the pilot and says he didn’t want to go somewhere if his best friend wasn’t gonna be there. Next Miranda and Cody Pierson show up. Then the ENTIRE SCHOOL.
Hilary Duff is extremely adorable here, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a damn unrealistic plot point. It seems like the entire thing was orchestrated by Ethan, which has to sting a little bit since he shot her down two times for the last dance. A shot of Kate alone shows that not a single person went to the official dance. This was pre-Facebook! Ethan would have had to orchestrate a phone chain for this to happen!
Remember how Lizzie just said she only joined the dance committee so she could maybe become a little bit more popular? The entire student body protested an official school function – a dance, which is the highlight of middle school social life – because Lizzie McGuire couldn’t be there. Why can’t this show just admit she’s the most popular girl in school??
This episode had lots of elements I hate, like a nonsensical timeline and Kate having lines and being on screen, but also had some cute friendship moments among the main trio. I particularly liked Miranda gushing over Cody Pierson, who seemed to grow in her estimation in each passing scene, and the fact that we never saw Cody until the end so he seemed like a complete nobody for her to just project her excitement onto.
The weird thing about this show is that it’s really good at tapping right into the wish fulfillment part of a little girl’s brain. Imagine if you were just yourself, never playing into the bullshit mean girl shenanigans of middle school, but everyone still loved you so much because you were such a good person. Imagine if you ended up throwing the coolest party of the year when the entire school gathered in your backyard to throw a dance just for you! Imagine if dumb boys didn’t appreciate you but one boy was always there to tell you you were great! Imagine if you looked like Hilary Duff and had a million outfits and different hair and makeup every day!
It doesn’t really make any sense, causes nonstop continuity problems, and is undermined every time Lizzie does something extremely bitchy or wrong, but you can see how it creates a fantasy middle school where the viewer-as-Lizzie is simultaneously “just a regular girl” and the most beloved and beautiful student the school has ever seen.
I find it all very exhausting and uninteresting! I’d rather have an interesting protagonist than a blank slate to project onto.
Unnecessary references: Did anyone have a crush on Josh Hartnett in middle school? He wasn’t in anything geared toward teens or tweens, from what I can tell. Millennial readers, please share your celebrity crushes from 2000 – 2004 in the comments.
Notable fashion moments: As a refresher, last week’s episode centered around Lizzie striving with all her might to be perceived as more fashionable than Kate. Let’s compare the two this week.
What is this. Kate’s outfit is unflattering. Each clothing item is so bland and bad that it looks like it’s homemade. Lizzie is wearing a midriff-baring top and graffiti jeans to school, in a scene painting her as the good girl.
Kate looks like such a goddamn doofus here. Those pigtails are absurd. She wore this with a skirt and high boots and it looked abysmal.
Lizzie’s hair is teased very strangely in this scene, which wasn’t popular at the time at all. Even so, she’s so much more attention-grabbing, put-together, and youthful than Kate. Look at Kate’s brown leather purse! She looks like a grandma.
Later, Kate wore this…
…which checks all the usual boxes of bland, unflattering, and with overly fussy styling. This is especially bad, because in the same scene Lizzie wears what I think is hands down her most attractive outfit to date.
A vibrant color! Perfectly form-fitting! A short skirt paired with wedge heels that give her LEGS FOR DAYS! The most on-trend hairstyle of the year! Come on, costume designer. Hilary Duff is so beautiful. You have to put in some effort to Plain Jane her up. And you can’t just grab off-brand clothes from the show’s reject pile and throw them on Kate for episodes where their status differences are an actual plot point.
Miranda wore this shirt that said “PRINCESS” on it, which seems out of character – though she paired it with her trusty camo. Gordo again wears a T-shirt with Asian characters on it.
Miranda wears more camo later, on a different pair of camo pants (the ones she wore in this season’s premiere, “First Kiss”) and her camo Trapper Keeper.
She paired that with an Asian-inspired bag with silk fabrics and a symbol that I guess means “dragon” because it says “DRAGON” under it and an American flag bracelet. She topped it with this hilariously weird shirt that says “ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING.”
She also wore this shirt with a cartoon geisha on it. I told you she was going to have a lot of Asian-related outfits this season.
I don’t know why, but the McGuire parents’ new costuming this season really irks me. I guess I just got used to their uniforms from last season, so I’m always thrown. Here Jo wears a very busy patterned shirt while Sam wears a really old-fashioned dad look. Their new looks throw me every time.
Gordo actually stepped up his dance attire game from the last dance by wearing an actual button-down shirt under his blazer instead of a damn polo. That tie is Not Great, though.
I wish they could make Gordo look like less of a dad when he dresses up.
Other interesting tidbits: The Gordo arrival isn’t played with any romantic longing at all – it’s not like the scene in the library or any of the scenes where Lizzie and Gordo made eyes at each other last season – and it’s in fact coded as a gesture of friendship twice, both by himself and by Miranda when she arrives immediately after. Regardless, this twenty-second bit shows up in memes like this a lot…
…and you can guess how much I enjoy them. (Not at all!!)
The directing was all over the place in this episode. The crazy cat lady scene features her cackling like a witch with thunder in the background, but her lines just make her seem like a kooky old Jewish lady and aren’t scary at all – so it seems like it was just an odd directing choice.
By the way, the crazy cat lady was Larry’s mom in OITNB. She really chewed the scenery in the best way and I’d like to see her more often.
This is a reeeaaalll nitpick, but there’s a bit where Lanny tries on an old wig of hers in the attic and it’s filled with butterfly clips. She wears small butterfly clips in the scene above as well. Adults didn’t wear butterfly clips! Those were clearly on set for the kid actors and they were repurposed by either props or costuming for these scenes.
Somewhat famous person Kat Graham (of The Vampire Diaries) makes her TV debut here. She has one line and rocks back and forth on her feet awkwardly the whole time she says it. That’s a super common amateur mistake – when I taught at a theatre camp for middle schoolers, we called it “happy feet.”