“Lizzie McGuire” reviewed.

Boy, do people fucking love Lizzie McGuire.

I knew that going into it, of course. One of the reasons I started this project was the overwhelming sense of “is everyone else in the world on drugs?” that hit me every time I had to see another listicle about how amazing this show was. But working on this blog made me have to care about things like that stupid People’s Choice poll and people celebrating the show’s 15th anniversary and now 16th anniversary and all other forms of the never-ending Lizzie nostalgia that I used to be able to ignore. It’s constant. People won’t shut up about it to this day.

It’s not just nostalgia, though. People loved it when it was on. According to this weird video I found that must have been created for some use in the industry, 25 million people watched it every month. 

So what’s there to like about this stupid show? A couple of things, actually!

While the acting is shoddy in the early episodes, I think the main trio is perfectly cast. All of them seem more like normal kids than precocious child stars. And any single episode should show you why someone would want to give Hilary Duff her own show. She’s so adorable, with a bubbliness that’s never grating, and she seems sweet and innocent in a really genuine way. Watching it, you just want to be Hilary Duff – not even Lizzie but Hilary Duff. I still want to be Hilary Duff.

Lizzie McGuire was specifically targeted to 9-to-14-year-olds, a departure for Disney’s programming at the time, and that definitely contributed to its success. Shows set in high school had more experienced performers and were therefore tighter and better-acted, but Lizzie cast actors that kid viewers could identify with. Disney capitalized on that relatability by including a blooper reel at the end of every episode that showed the kid actors goofing around on set and by airing commercials featuring the actors as themselves. I think those were tremendously successful in creating an attachment for their stars, even if they now seem awkward/possibly horrifying in retrospect.

The show itself created warm, comforting feelings through things like the sunny set design of Lizzie’s quirky cute house and fun montages. Even though I dislike the series as a whole, moments like Lizzie lying in the grass in her backyard with her friends or sharing popcorn while they watch a movie together still work for me. Did kids really do that? I moved around so much as a kid that I never had best friends like Gordo and Miranda. The show exists in this weird universe where the kids never really do homework and no one needs to drive them to the mall or the Digital Bean or to each other’s houses. Lizzie is always hanging out with her friends or on the phone with them, and I think that friendship is what makes the show tick. The nostalgic part of my brain doesn’t have the same feelings toward Raven, Eddie and Chelsea or Louis, Twiddy and Tawny. On those shows the trios felt like actors playing parts. Something about the central friendship on Lizzie McGuire feels pure and real. I honestly don’t know why, because I’ve just watched 65 episodes of these characters treating each other like garbage. But somehow, through the casting and through some genuinely nice moments, the show completely sells something warm and sweet about the friendship.

And as much as I hate to say it, I think the clothes have so much to do with people’s impressions of the show. I’ve said before that it completely undermines the central point of the writing, but I’ll concede that the clothes and hair on the show made a huge impact on presenting the aspirational version of adolescence the show was going for.

On a weirder note, I think there’s a less obvious reason for the “Lizzie was so much better than other Disney shows!” or “Old Disney > New Disney!!” hot takes you see endlessly. Lizzie was a single-camera show without a laugh track, and it was shot on film (with interspersed montages on videotape). Right after that, beginning with That’s So Raven, Disney switched to using “filmized” videotape through the post-production company FilmLook. Raven, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Hannah Montana and pretty much every other show since (excluding only Phil of the Future) all use FilmLook, which creates a much faker look in general, especially combined with the fact that pretty much every show (that I know of) on Disney post-Lizzie has been multi-camera and with a laugh track. I think that’s a weird subconscious trigger for millennials, because the switch to FilmLook lines up pretty exactly with the end of our childhoods. Scrappy-looking shows shot on film feel like the 90s and Y2K and being a kid. FilmLook shows feel like the point at which we were old enough to start saying “Hey, this show sucks, right?”

My biggest frustration in re-watching Lizzie McGuire for this project was the realization that a good show exists somewhere in this pile of nonsense. In fact, that show exists – it’s the pilot. I rewatched it halfway through this project to get some screencaps for my costume rant, and I was surprised at how different it is from the rest of the series. It’s a prime example of the production-induced nostalgia I mentioned above, for one thing. It feels 90s as hell. (The reliance on ska and Smash Mouth in those early episodes doesn’t help). You can see a bit of the Run, Lola, Run aesthetic that – bizarrely – inspired the show’s look, but there’s also a lot of MTV in the manic editing ethos; some cuts and effects look like The State. Check out the opening scene:

See what I mean? It’s not just the look, though. Lizzie’s first monologue sets up a show without the problems that this one eventually had. Over a shot of the popular girls, Lizzie says, “I wouldn’t exactly qualify as one of those future Prom Queens of America. Not that I mind, but these are the girls who do book reports on The Pocket Guide to Jennifer Love Hewitt.” Over a shot of more edgy girls, she says, “And I’m kind of short on attitude. Is it just me, or do they all look like they’re posing for Gap ads?”

Lizzie eventually turned into both of those things, though. The lack of substance she rolls her eyes at the popular girls for became her only defining character trait besides screaming and snapping at people. Her only interests are superficial. She talks about lipgloss and clothes and hair and she gushes over celebrities and her favorite location is the mall. That’s all she cares about. There’s nothing wrong with liking girly things, but it does nothing to differentiate her from the popular girls, and her interest in style counteracts her self-consciousness. And Lizzie had nothing but attitude later on. You see it in her edgy clothes, in her frequent rebellions (crashing the set of a music video, sneaking into an R-rated movie, lying to her parents to go to a party she wasn’t allowed to attend), and in her constant bitchy snarling at anyone she’s mad at.

But Lizzie in the pilot is aching with vulnerability. She’s obviously insecure in a way that positions her as an underdog, especially since Hilary Duff’s natural sweetness shines through. Her clothes are average, as if she hasn’t quite figured out her style yet. She has a built-in history with Gordo and a real friendship with Miranda. And the rest of the world is solid, too. Kate isn’t an overbearing bully, just a former friend who ditched them for a cooler crew, which is more realistic, more touching, and less obnoxious. And the pilot focuses more on her relationship with her mom, something Disney tried to tamp down in favor of more trio moments after the pilot was shot but which makes both Lizzie and Jo seem more real. All in all, Lizzie ACTUALLY feels relatable – that word that’s constantly thrown around about this show – and the episode contains so much promise for a show about an average girl navigating middle school.

But that’s not the show we got, for whatever reason. And I think that’s a shame.

So the central conceit of the show doesn’t work. But Lizzie’s bad in all kinds of other ways. Its constant stream of mistakes are so unprofessional I can’t fully fathom how Disney let them slide: things like mispronouncing a main character’s last name in five different episodes or centering an episode around a brooding Scottish character but forgetting to hire an actor who could do a Scottish accent. It’s usually noticeable when a guest writer has penned an episode because of an abrupt shift in humor or a slightly off depiction of a character or relationship. There are nonstop directing problems, almost always with kid actors delivering lines bizarrely because they clearly don’t understand what they’re saying and no one has explained it to them. I can’t believe that Disney’s juggernaut show was so sloppily slapped together. While a chunk of the problems from the first season are smoothed out by the second, enough mistakes and inconsistencies still abound to make me wonder what on earth was happening behind the scenes.

For every legitimately touching episode, there are ten nonsensical piles of garbage with plotlines ranging from completely unrealistic (Lizzie becomes a famous model!) to absolutely absurd (Steven Tyler infiltrates the community charity drive dressed as Santa and builds a parade float for Lizzie!). The sheer amount of batshit plotlines that accrue over the course of Lizzie’s two years in junior high makes her about the least relatable kid on the planet, especially in terms of celebrity interactions. I can understand one or two stunt casting episodes to draw viewers, but the way they used their three (!) celebrity guest appearances makes no sense for the context of the show. Why couldn’t they have Frankie Muniz play Ronnie, for fuck’s sake? That actor was god-awful and the Ronnie plotline was much more realistic than the Frankie Muniz one. Why was Steven Tyler a guest star on a show geared towards 9-to-14-year-olds? Why did the Aaron Carter episode happen at all?

The show doesn’t use its main cast particularly well, either. The fun, punk energy that Miranda’s costuming and Lalaine’s spunky performance seems to suggest doesn’t actually materialize in the scripts. There’s little to differentiate Miranda from Lizzie in season one, but by season two they mostly solved that by making Miranda more “troubled” than Lizzie, with downer plotlines about shoplifting and anorexia. The very last episode was the first one to make me really understand and appreciate Miranda and Lizzie’s friendship, and I’m sad we didn’t get more of them being girly and goofy and fun without Gordo around to snark on it. Fucking Gordo, man. What a disappointment he turned out to be. Gordo is petty, condescending, stubborn, and petulant… except in episodes where he’s depicted as a lovesick sadsack just hopin’ to get the girl. I mentioned above that the Lizzie/Gordo tension fluctuated wildly, but one would think that the characterization of Lizzie’s best friend would at least remain consistently positive. But Gordo is often the most infuriating character on the show! Gordo is Lizzie’s oldest friend and eventual love interest, but actual Gordo plotlines include Lizzie being afraid to talk to him lest he blow up at her or Lizzie pretending to lose a challenge to make Gordo feel better about himself. It’s just depressing. Elsewhere, two capable performers are mostly squandered as Lizzie’s parents, and a gifted child actor was relegated to obnoxious, grating bits. Matt’s character was probably intended to captivate younger kids, but my brothers were about Matt’s age when this aired and we all hated him.

Overall, the show just never quite came together. The jokes were never particularly funny. A lot of episodes felt like fluff or filler. The central will they/won’t they barely existed. It had some intriguing moments and production elements, but it was pretty weak as a whole.

So here we are at the almost-end. I’ve devoted about a year and a half to yelling at this show, but I don’t know that I’ll be able to convince anyone who loved it that Lizzie McGuire was bad. If it hit you at the right time, it tapped into something strong and real in your heart. But if I got some readers to realize that Gordo was actually the fucking worst, then this project was worth it.

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11 thoughts on ““Lizzie McGuire” reviewed.

  1. I think this show was the last of the relateable shows on both Disney and Nick. At least for a while. They may be trying to trend back now. Lizzie and her friends, in spite of their dealings with Aaron Carter, Frankie Muniz, and Steven Tyler, were regular middle school kids facing some of the same things a viewer would be facing. And that’s sorely missed now. After Lizzie, most all of the shows dealt with a tween/teen that was a secret famous person or had secret powers of some sort or another etc. It was outlandish.

    In the ’90s early ’00s there were a lot more shows for kids with relateable characters. Clarissa Explains It All was one, despite it’s poor production values. And even though it was an odd show, The Adventures of Pete and Pete had relateable main characters. You’d never see a show like Pete and Pete today and that’s sad. Especially for young boys, who it seems the programmers have completely forgotten about or maybe don’t care about. Maybe shows with boys as central characters don’t bring in as much ad dollars.

    I’m glad you brought up the single camera vs. 3 cam/multi-cam sitcom setup and the use of actual film vs. FilmLook. I’m not saying all shows need to be single camera, and film may be cost prohibitive for tween show productions now days, but I think both Disney and Nick would benefit from a few single camera shows without a laugh track. I think that’s what also makes Zoey 101 stand out so much from Nickelodeon’s current/usual fare. It was a single camera shot on film and just looks more cinematic.

    I agree with your thought that there was a good show here lurking somewhere beneath the surface. The pilot episode (not the first episode) does seem to be well done and a bit different in tone. The idea was good, the execution was off. I still think a single cam show about a relateable middle school girl, her best friend and her best guy friend could be successful today. A show that shows more of the friendship between the two female leads but also has the male character still be a guy and be supportive and a good friend.

    And Allison, I think you’re the person to do this. You know your stuff concerning characterization, continuity, costuming relating to the character and story. From what I’ve read, you seem to be in the business or trying to get into it. You know the pitfalls to avoid. You’re perfect for it. Also, make it entertaining and about stuff the viewer goes through and understands instead of being all preachy like Girl Meets World. That show really didn’t respect their viewers or their viewers’ intelligence.

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    1. Ahhhhh, this comment made me blush! Thank you so much for your kind words. I’ve never seriously considered writing a show like this (I do theatre, not TV) but I would actually love to do punch-up for a series like this. Anyone think Terri Minsky would hire me for “Andi Mack,” her new show for Disney? (I do NOT, after this project).

      On the top of less relatable shows after this period, I wonder why that was.”Hannah Montana” was almost certainly an attempt to make an entire series around the plot of “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” but I don’t know about “That’s So Raven” and “Wizards of Waverly Place” and whatnot. Maybe networks were trying to capitalize on the Harry Potter/Twilight/etc. wave of fantasy kid’s books and YA?

      I’d add that the shows you listed as being relatable also leaned towards a more naturalistic acting style. All the Disney Channel multi-camera shows tended towards a bigger, faker style (what SNL called “The Disney Channel Acting School”). Even the more over-the-top shows like “Even Stevens” (and “Pete and Pete,” if I remember correctly) weren’t quite as fake in their acting direction.

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      1. From what I’ve seen Terri Mnsky barely had anything to do with Lizzie McGuire after she created it. It’s been a while since I looked it up, but I don’t remember seeing her as a regular writer of the show. And if she wouldn’t hire you for her future projects, it just shows (to me, at least) that she can’t take constructive criticism.

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  2. “But if I got some readers to realize that Gordo was actually the fucking worst, then this project was worth it.”

    *raises hand* Before this blog, I had vague memories of Lizzie McGuire being a cute show I watched on a semi-regular basis but never really loved as much as other DC shows. I kind of remember watching episodes sometimes but not tuning in regularly because something seemed off about the show, like it was boring or had weird plots. Maybe that was tweenage me picking up all these elements you’ve pointed out. However, I don’t remember thinking Gordo was the worst, so I’ve been enlightened there. I wonder if Adam Lamberg’s acting had something to do with it, because in some scenes he just sounds angry or condescending or just rude when he could’ve played it in a much more likeable way.

    I also wonder if Lizzie McGuire’s problem was rooted in trying to do too many things at once. They wanted Lizzie to be the shy underdog, but they also wanted her to wear cool clothes and meet celebrities and generally be a role model. They never cared about characterization enough to say “but Lizzie would never do that” or “this wouldn’t happen in real life.”

    As for the eternal old Disney vs. new debate, I will say again that a a show can be fantasy and still relatable. Hannah Montana, Wizards, Phil of the Future etc. had bizarre elements but there were also story lines about the main cast being in school or dealing with friends and family. On the other hand I agree that anything post-Even Stevens and Lizzie feels brightened up and the acting overdone. Funny how Disney Channel started out with some darker shows like So Weird and In a Heartbeat but gradually became so light that they’re live-action cartoons. I suspect ABC Family/Freeform contributed to this. DC now appeals to kids younger than ten/tweenage because they want teens to watch Fosters and Pretty Little Liars.

    Anyway, you did a great job with this blog and your unique writing voice made it even more entertaining to read. Looking forward to the movie review!

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  3. It was very refreshing to see someone critize Lizzie with everyone treating it as amazing. Sure, it looks great compared to what Disney does now, but on it’s own…not too amazing.

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  4. “If it hit you at the right time, it tapped into something strong and real in your heart. But if I got some readers to realize that Gordo was actually the fucking worst, then this project was worth it.”
    ^ Yeah… I’ll never view Gordo or Lizzie McGuire (the series) the same anymore. But.. that’s not a bad thing. Enlightenment is a good thing.

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  5. Okay. This comment may be a long on so be warned. When I first saw this blog it honestly annoyed me. I really liked Lizzie McGuire growing up and so I didn’t appreciate how you expressed your thoughts of it at the beginning. Over time I realized that I actually agreed with you on a lot of your feelings about the show. I’m happy that you didn’t go overboard with your general dislike about the show. So many people do that in reviews about shows based on their own biased opinions and not actually reviewing the series as a whole. So kudos for you for actually reviewing the show in a professional way, while still having your own opinions.
    I agree with you when you say the main trio was perfectly cast. Hillary Duff is an amazing actress and Lalaine and Adam Lamberg were pretty solid too. I wonder if it ever got awkward for Adam playing a 14 year old while being 18. However I feel he sold the part of a 14 year old pretty well. I’m 14 years old myself, so I was fairly surprised when I learned he was actually 18 for a good part of the show, since I always felt like he was the age of his character.
    Let’s go to the costume design next. I actually liked some of their costumes(especially the one in the four episodes pilot which looks like something I would have worn if I were a kid/early teenager in the early 00s.) However looking back I do think the costume design is rather outlandish. I know the show is supposed to show Lizzie as an average girl whose not noticed often but with those outfits of hers I honestly don’t see how anyone COULDN’T notice her.
    Now onto the main trio individually.
    While Lizzie definitely had her nice and sweet moments from time to time, it was kind of a shock to realize that she could be as Lizzie said “a total dirk.” It’s kind of sad since Hillary Duff herself is an amazing person and I wish we could a more nice side of Lizzie and have her bitchy moments be few and far between. That being said I loved Lizzie in the actual pilot. She looked like your typical thirteen year old girl just trying to figure out her place in the world and I actually related to her. I wish they could have kept that feel and made her more relatable to regular middle school girls instead of having completely unrealistic plots like being in an Aaron Carter video and becoming a model. I can’t relate to those two scenarios at all!
    I also liked Miranda a lot more after I read LMR. I remember not liking her at first, but as I continued to read this blog I realized(aside from her dirk moments every character seems to have) she’s a really good person. I wouldn’t mind being friends with her and I actually like her costume design.
    Gordo. Oh Gordo. Now I don’t think he’s the worst. In fact I feel like deep down he really is a good and decent person. Maybe in highschool he matured more and stopped acting like the douchebag we know and love/hate. So while I do think there is a good person in Gordo he’s definitely more flawed than I remember. So thanks for helping me realize that. I think Lizzie and Gordo could have made more sense if the show weren’t so out of wack with its continuity. They could’ve started the whole crush thing at the end of season one and maybe it could’ve slowly developed all the way through season 2 and it could’ve ended with Gordo being a more mature and better person and actually asking Lizzie out and maybe even being a potentially good boyfriend.
    I agree with you on Matt. He annoyed the crap out of me.
    I don’t have much feelings about Sam, but I love Jo. She seems like an awesome mom.
    Tudgeman and Ethan were good characters too and I feel like their actors played their characters wonderfully. However the actress who plays Kate(I forgot her name( definitely isn’t the best at acting. I heard she’s a lawyer now, so good for her I guess.
    In the end I want to thank you Allison for doing this blog. While Lizzie McGuire still holds a place in my heart(and my inner child will always ship Lizzie and Gordo) you did make me realize this show is far from perfect and helped me realize its flaws. I give this show over all a 6/10.
    Thanks again for writing LMR. I actually grew to really enjoy your reviews and thanks for taking your time to review this most likely way too long comment. 🙂

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  6. …this is a blog that exists? And I’m only finding out about it now, when you’re done with everything? GOSH, DARN IT!

    Really wish I had found out about this blog when you started it, ‘cuz I LOVE Lizzie McGuire. I rewatched it as an adult and it’s still charming. I’ve never met anyone who disliked the show, though, and it would’ve been fun to follow you along.

    Oh well. BINGE-READING YOUR BLOG IT IS, THEN!

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