Season 2, episode 15: “Lizzie in the Middle”

Guys, I don’t know how much longer I can harp on how unrelatable Lizzie’s life is. I relate to the washed-out celebrity/talking horse on BoJack Horseman more than I relate to Lizzie. I relate to the pie maker who can raise the dead on Pushing Daisies and the dog with magical stretching powers in the post-apocalyptic world of Adventure Time more than I relate to Lizzie. Anyway, this is the episode when she dates a famous person – no, not the episode where she kisses a famous person, and not the episode where she herself becomes famous – so please keep this in mind the next time you encounter a listicle about how relatable Lizzie was.

The guest star this week is Frankie Muniz. Having baby-faced celebrities like him and Aaron Carter on the show reinforces what I’ve said about the hunk references (Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Josh Hartnett) seeming too old for the target audience. Frankie Muniz is two years older than Hilary Duff, but he almost seemed younger here. He’s extremely likable and this episode is fun enough, if completely mind-boggling unrealistic.

It begins in drama class, which I guess Lizzie takes now, where the sassy gay stereotype of a theatre teacher we saw last season has evidently become the latest victim in Mr. Dig’s murder spree. Mr. Dig tries to teach the class Shakespeare, and as someone who worked with middle school actors at a theatre camp I want to say that’s a bad idea. But – spoiler alert – it’s in the episode for a star-crossed lovers metaphor. Mr. Dig engages in lots of zany and unhelpful theatre buffoonery like jumping at Lizzie to make her feel a real emotion (terror) and clearly faking a poisoning so the whole class can feel a real emotion (terror), but he doesn’t go into anything more useful, like how to perform a scene that’s written in blank verse.

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In an extremely forced bit of exposition, Mr. Dig mentions that he’s friends with Frankie Muniz. Here’s how that happens:

LIZZIE (realizing he wasn’t really poisoned): Mr. Dig, that was so not funny.
MR. DIG: You’re right. That wasn’t comedy. But you know what is? Malcom in the Middle. As a matter of fact, I taught Frankie Muniz everything he knows.

This is a weird thing to get hung up on, but it’s likely that he did not, in any universe, teach Frankie Muniz, because Frankie Muniz got his acting start in Raleigh. He was discovered after playing Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol here, which I know because I live in Raleigh and know people who were in that production with him. I don’t know how I managed to live in the childhood towns of both Aaron Carter and Frankie Muniz, but I guess it’s a sign that I was destined to write about Lizzie McGuire because some sort of evil deity put a curse on me at birth.

Mr. Dig makes Lizzie and Ethan do….some scene from Romeo and Juliet. Basically it’s just a mashup of the most famous lines, because Lizzie delivers the “wherefore art thou Romeo?” line and keeps saying it over and over for Ethan to pick up his cue, but that shouldn’t be his cue, because she doesn’t do the rest of that part (“Deny thy father and refuse thy name…). That’s also smack in the middle of the balcony scene, so it makes no sense to start there. Ethan doesn’t pick up his not-cue because he’s staring at Frankie G-D Muniz, who has walked in to visit his old pal Mr. Dig, and Frankie jumps in to deliver the other famous line from that scene (“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks”) but they change it so he can say “it is the east, and you are the sun” instead of “Juliet is the sun” because it’s more romantic that way. But that line should come well before the “wherefore art thou Romeo” part so they’re just saying famous lines here! It’s all very wrong. I’m sorry you all had to read this paragraph.

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The point is Frankie Muniz gives a passionate line delivery because he’s dazzled by Lizzie and she’s dazzled by him and it’s a very romantic moment that would probably be very weird in an actual middle school drama class without backing music.

Ethan has some dumb as shit lines here. First he says, “For a dead guy, you’re kinda mean” when Mr. Dig wakes up from his fake poisoning, and here he asks Frankie, “Hey, Frankie, how’d you get out of the TV?” No one is that dumb!

At lunch, Miranda runs up to say that there’s a crazy rumor going around that Frankie Muniz is eating lunch with Lizzie, but Frankie Muniz is eating lunch with Lizzie, which I’m pretty sure is a joke setup that’s been used in every Disney Channel show ever to air. Gordo explains how that they read Romeo and Juliet together even though he wasn’t in the drama class scene – I checked – and says “It was kind of Movie of the Week-ish.” I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be Gordo disparaging their scene work or the show lampshading what a convenient meet-cute they had. Miranda asks how Frankie’s summer was and he lists all the crazy Hollywood things he’s done, so when he asks about their summers Miranda and Lizzie just stammer nervously. Gordo enthusiastically volunteers that he broke his toe and his line reading made me laugh out loud. This scene made me realize that Frankie Muniz has a very Gordo-like quality, which is funny and can’t have been intentional. He’s playing himself, a big celebrity, but he really has much more of a nerdy wise-guy energy. They wouldn’t have cast him as a fictional celebrity, I bet.

Though we’ve seen Lizzie do nothing but stammer incoherently around him, Frankie asks her out. She responds by staring blankly at him for several minutes. I think it’s fair to say Frankie isn’t asking her out because of her personality, but she is objectively the prettiest girl in school so I don’t mind this. Lizzie finally rejects him and a swarm of girls jumps in to throw themselves at him. Interestingly, Kate isn’t in this episode at all, though you’d think she’d be jealous of Lizzie here.

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After school, Miranda berates Lizzie for turning down the chance to date a celebrity but Gordo and Lizzie both assert that it’d be too insane. Lizzie thinks they come from different worlds. Like Romeo and Juliet, get it? Note that Gordo doesn’t have any jealousy or conflicted feelings about Lizzie and Frankie throughout this episode. Lizzie’s parents overhear and make a big deal over it. Jo enthusiastically supports the idea and says Lizzie’s 14 and has to grow up sometime, and Sam yells that she’s not allowed to date because I guess the only parenting thing he gives a shit about is restricting his daughter’s forays into dating and maturing. Matt appoints himself “head of Lizzie’s entourage,” a vaguely defined term that mostly just involves him hovering around her and making demands for the rest of the episode.

That night, the doorbell rings and it’s Frankie! He plays this very charmingly and it helps move the plot forward, but I’m pretty sure in real life this would play out like a stalker situation. Note to men reading this: don’t show up at people’s houses after they reject you!

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So Frankie and her family have a fun family game night with board games and also a weird bit where Frankie directs her family in a very unorthodox interpretation of a scene from Soylent Green. Lizzie has a great time, though the character’s chemistry with Frankie seems to be based on nothing. He says a lot of self-deprecating goofy things and she giggles a lot. The really crazy thing about this episode is that Frankie is desperately into Lizzie. He’s constantly breathlessly asking for permission to be around her and responding with shock and relief when she allows him in. He treats her like the celebrity, and Lizzie’s response to it all is mild flattery. It’s a strange choice – I get that she’s supposed to be wary of his fame, but you’d think a middle school girl would be more giddy at the prospect of a celebrity being so obviously over the moon for her. I would almost imagine that this is what dreams are made of.

Lizzie asks Frankie to meet her at the Digital Bean the next day, so he shows up in a “disguise” that somehow fools both Gordo and Miranda. Lizzie recognizes him, though, and shouts, “Hey, Frankie, over here!” and blows his cover. She really comes off like a ditz this episode. Pandemonium ensues until Lizzie instructs Gordo and Miranda to distract the crowd with Gordo acting as a decoy Frankie.

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The next day, Lizzie is on the front page of the paper, along with her “two unidentified friends,” Gordo and Miranda. Matt finds a gross dude digging around in their trash for items of Lizzie’s. This town has a weird standard for fame. When Lizzie was a model, people said she could get anyone (meaning fellow middle schoolers) into any club in town, and now paparazzi are swarming a local 14-year-old for going on a date with a guy from a Fox sitcom. We get a montage of them chasing her around town and even in her own backyard, which is definitely illegal.

At school, Gordo and Miranda try to brush Lizzie off when she asks why they’ve been ignoring her phone calls. They’re both total dicks about her dating Frankie even though Miranda encouraged her to do so. They both act like the decoy plot in the Digital Bean was beyond the pale and not standard hijinks and shenanigans for them. Gordo says they wanted to see her that weekend but couldn’t because of the crowds of fans and photographers, which doesn’t justify them ignoring her calls at all. Lalaine busts out her patented Lalaine’s Serious Acting for no reason as she says she doesn’t want to be in the paper as the “unidentified friend” as if on the verge of tears. Lizzie tries to apologize, but they completely blow her off. A photographer jumps out of a trashcan in the middle of her school, which is for sure illegal.

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Matt starts auctioning off Lizzie’s possessions to journalists, taking them on a tour of her house and bedroom. I would die. Luckily Jo and Sam come home in time to save Lizzie’s stuffed pig Mr. Snuggles, who’s factored into a few episodes so far and to whom I have personally developed an emotional attachment. The show signals that they just came home by putting them in sunglasses in the middle of their house, which confused me a lot on first watch.

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Jo pulls Lizzie aside to ask if she’s okay and Lizzie opens up about how crazy everything has gotten and how Gordo and Miranda are being shitty. Weirdly, she complains that she can’t even go out her front door without being mobbed, which is an almost identical line to one Matt says when he got “famous.” Why have two famous plotlines in one season? Jo and Lizzie talk about whether she should break up with Frankie and Jo reveals that Frankie was standing there in the house listening the whole time!!! Why not just have him show up at the front door at that moment? Why have him lurking in the hallway eavesdropping???

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Lizzie and Frankie both agree it’s not working, but Frankie asks if he can still call and email Lizzie and she agrees, again to his gratitude. So next time Lizzie complains about Ethan not noticing her and boys being mean, keep in mind she has messages from a rich celebrity in her inbox to comfort her. Frankie leaves her with a mysterious card that she opens and smiles.

Cut to….the set of a TV movie! We’re back at Ren-Mar Warehouses, where she last captured the heart of a famous teen (and also where they actually shoot the series). Gordo and Miranda are there on Frankie’s invitation, and when Lizzie asks if they’re mad at her they both pretend it never happened. “I think you must have us confused with your two other best friends!” snarks Gordo. We’re not going to get a heartfelt talk about them being Bad Friends? But…every episode ends with a heartfelt talk about someone being a Bad Friend!

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Frankie shows up and Lizzie thanks him for inviting her to the set and he surprises her with the news that she’s going to be in the movie! Wait, what? His apology for making her deal with the pressures of fame is to put her in a movie? That’s the opposite of helping the situation!

Lizzie delivers her lines terribly and they don’t do anything to tie in the fact that she’s in acting classes now and this whole thing started with a drama class. Lizzie, Gordo, and Miranda watch the film together when it premieres and Lizzie realizes she’s a bad actress and swears to never go on TV again and Gordo says she has to stop dating TV stars, too. Luckily for Lizzie, he didn’t say “celebrities” so Paolo is still on the table!

I have a new theory: that this show is actually about a girl destined for fame who keeps brushing it off. She appears in a music video but never discusses it again. She becomes the world’s most successful teen model overnight but quits. She dates a celebrity and appears in his movie but vows not to do that again. It’s all leading up to her class trip to Italy, when she’ll finally become internationally renowned as a pop star without even trying.

Guys, what is this show trying to say about fame? It’s a constant plot point: the girls tracking Aaron Carter’s whereabouts and being plucked from obscurity to star in his video, Lizzie becoming a model, Matt appearing on his TV show, and now Lizzie dating a star. I know that guest stars are good for ratings, but that doesn’t explain the non-guest star episodes. I’m incredibly fascinated (/repulsed) by the Disney child star system. This episode has Lizzie monologue about how being famous isn’t cool like people think – “it’s lonely!” But Disney does that to these kids. Hilary Duff’s career became the prototype for almost every pop star who’s currently famous – Selena Gomez (hell, she was supposed to be on a Lizzie spinoff), Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and more. (Please enjoy this video of Miley fan-girling over Hilary and raving about how she taught her that “it’s cool to be a good girl,” and enjoy the sweet irony intrinsic in the passage of time.) It’s just weird to watch an episode like this now knowing what those child stars had ahead of them. Hilary Duff has tweeted recently about people sneaking pictures of her and about paparazzi hiding in the bushes of a playground to photograph her with her son. So these plotlines are weird within the context of the show, but I also find them bizarre on a meta level.

Anyway, let’s have another chat about the timeline. I’m fairly sure this was supposed to air very early on – my guess would be the second episode of the new season for hype – because everyone discusses what they did over the summer. That makes this pre-Ronnie, who Lizzie dated around Valentine’s Day. Isn’t it funny, then, that she’s so bubbly over her mouth-breathing paperboy of a first love when her past dating experience was with charming and rich Frankie Muniz? Maybe that’s why they aired them out of order. I’ll know better when I’ve seen the full season, but right now I’d guess that the Lizzie/Gordo throughline was probably supposed to kick in midseason with “First Kiss” and gather steam leading up to “you rock, don’t ever change.” Now, though, it’s all over the place – the last textual evidence we’ve seen for that ship was in “Over the Hill,” five episodes ago.

Unnecessary references: Jo McGuire bellowing, “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!”

Notable fashion moments: Very interestingly, Lizzie wears her most revealing outfits of the series in this episode. All but one of her outfits are cut very low, which the camera tends to avoid with mostly closeups. It’s a very strong costuming choice for an episode that positions Lizzie as a magnetic object of desire.

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Elsewhere the outfits are bonkers, of course.

This hairdo!

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That skirt!

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Standard-issue terrible Lizzie McGuire pants!

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This very weird application of a scarf!

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They don’t break the aesthetic of the show for the costuming for the TV movie. Lizzie’s outfit fits right in with her regular wardrobe, though from what I can tell she’s supposed to be playing either an ingenue or femme fatale. She even keeps her standard season 2 heart bracelet.

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I adore fake in-world movies made up for moments like this, like Facepunch in Twilight (sample dialogue: “I’m gonna blow your frickin’ head off!”/”I’m gonna blow your frickin’ head off!”) In “Rosen’s Choice,” Frankie seems to be playing an all-American spy and Lizzie seems to be playing someone in France, because the costuming and set design are both so over-the-top in establishing that.

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Other interesting tidbits: A weird amount of famous people appeared in Raleigh’s annual A Christmas Carol before they were famous, including Frankie, Evan Rachel Wood, and Dexter’s Michael C. Hall.

This is pre-Agent Cody Banks, for anyone wondering; it aired in ’02 and the movie came out in ’03. According to a 2002 interview with Hilary Duff, she heard of the part from Frankie either during or after his guest appearance.

Have I harped on the word “totally” before? It appears multiple times in every episode but neither Lalaine nor Hilary Duff can say it – they reduce it to two syllables and eliminate the t (“toe-lee.”) It’s especially noticeable when they emphasize it, as Miranda’s line here “There’s a TOELEE crazy rumor going around!” It’s very PubLIZity. Lalaine still has not learned how to say this word, at least as of  2010; I have not and will not watch enough Younger to determine if Hilary Duff has.

Miranda’s picture in the paper also made me laugh out loud.

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I generally really like the scenic design on this show. This week, though, I got the first real glimpse of Lizzie’s room and couldn’t believe how huge it was!

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This “cafe” is definitely part of Lizzie’s backyard, right?

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6 thoughts on “Season 2, episode 15: “Lizzie in the Middle”

  1. lol the Celebrity/Lizzie plotlines always bothered me a bit. I got pissed off at Lizzie because in a later episode on the list for this season (that I’m actually pretty sure was SUPPOSED to air soon after this one…) Lizzie says “For once, I want to be the girl who gets noticed!” while trying to impress her “hot teacher.” (Which is actually pretty disturbing, tbh) and we’re supposed to feel sad. I was always screaming “YOU JUST HAD FRANKIE MUNIZ GUSHING OVER YOU A FEW EPISODES AGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and you kissed Aaron Carter!!!!!” Every tween girls dream. (I was so jelly.)

    haha, even though that stuff probably should’ve taken the relatable factor away for me growing up, it somehow did not. She was still my absolute “regular, everyday girl” idol, who made me feel ~cool~ simply because I was a middle schooler like Lizzie!!1!!1 Disney is weird. I’m actually going on vacation tomorrow and found an old suitcase of mine with a Hilary Duff sticker from “M Magazine” on it. I laughed out loud. I’m definitely using that suitcase.

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  2. I have a few points to touch upon, here.

    I will start with:

    “I would almost imagine that this is what dreams are made of.”

    Nicely played! Haha

    2). You mentioned how there is no way Mr. Dig taught Frankie Muniz everything he knows. Umm, yeah hi, writers, are you aware that Mr. Dig is a fictional character?? And he’s not even like a Barney the Dinosaur-type fictional character–whom a real life person could actually learn things from. Or are we to believe that Frankie learned all he knows from Arvie Lowe Jr. ( the actor who plays Dig)?

    3). I have to say, you mentioned in this review how Miranda and Lizzie say “toe-lee”, and how Miranda has, in the past, said “publiZity”. You’ve also mentioned, in a past review, that Lizzie pronounced “digital” like “didge-a-dul”. I always laugh to myself about that, because I pronounce that shit like that, too! I would say “toe-lee” is a little extreme for how I say “totally”, but it’s definitely a regional thing. I was born and raised in Rhode Island, and moved to Pennsylvania 3 years ago, so it’s a constant discussion about how I say things differently from how they all do, and vice versa. I was going to ask where you’re from, but you mentioned Raleigh. But, especially when you laughed at how Hilary says “digital”, I was half making fun of you, thinking you must pronounce it so properly…like I was picturing you pronounce it how iPhone Siri would! haha

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    1. I have wondered if those pronunciations were regional! I’m from Florida originally, which is sort of accent-less. I don’t pronounce “digital” too properly – “didge-a-dull” would probably be right – but the way Hilary Duff says it is way weirder, like “dijj-a-dull,”with a softer “g” sound, and no “d” sound in “digit.” And in earlier episodes especially, it sounded like she was sounding the word out.

      I was trying to make a reference joke with PubLIZity, and I almost linked to a video, but I spent over 45 minutes trying to find one with the word “totally” in it and simply could not. It’s a “Kroll Show” sketch about two terrible women running a PR firm and I swear they say “toe-lee.”

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  3. “Mr. Dig makes Lizzie and Ethan do….some scene from Romeo and Juliet. Basically it’s just a mashup of the most famous lines, because Lizzie delivers the “wherefore art thou Romeo?” line and keeps saying it over and over for Ethan to pick up his cue, but that shouldn’t be his cue, because she doesn’t do the rest of that part (“Deny thy father and refuse thy name…). That’s also smack in the middle of the balcony scene, so it makes no sense to start there. Ethan doesn’t pick up his not-cue because he’s staring at Frankie G-D Muniz, who has walked in to visit his old pal Mr. Dig, and Frankie jumps in to deliver the other famous line from that scene (“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks”) but they change it so he can say “it is the east, and you are the sun” instead of “Juliet is the sun” because it’s more romantic that way. But that line should come well before the “wherefore art thou Romeo” part so they’re just saying famous lines here! It’s all very wrong. I’m sorry you all had to read this paragraph.”

    I know, right??? Since I know Romeo and Juliet so well, it really irritates me when people mix that up. Also, I wanted to add that when Juliet asking “wherefore art thou, Romeo” she’s not saying “where are you, Romeo.” She’s asking “why is your name Romeo?”

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