Former adolescents Michael Davis and Mark Nollinger can still summon their inner middle-schooler when they watch tween TV. They got together the other day to compare notes on the new season for kids who are approximately 5 feet tall, wear braces and inject the word "like" between words, like, all the time.
Michael Davis: Which new or returning shows will send parents screaming out of the room?
Nollinger: It's too early to tell with the new shows, although I can imagine that even some folks who loved Beavis and Butt-Head as college students might not welcome Mr. Meaty (premiering Sept. 22, on Nickelodeon) into their living rooms as parents. Personally, I can handle just about anything as long as I don't have to hear the Camp Lazlo theme song ever again. I don't mind the show, but the song drives me nuts.
Davis: What's with Mr. Meaty? Those puppets look like 3-D descendants of Beavis and Butt-Head.
Nollinger: Yeah, and they sort of act like them, too. I guess you could say they're somewhat kinder, gentler versions of their MTV ancestors not quite so rude, crude or flat-out dumb, and certainly not as mean. I don't think these two would ever dream of playing frog baseball. It's more like they're Beavis and Butt-Head's naive slacker nephews. The premise of the series is that they're two guys working at the food court in soul-killing jobs in order to save enough money to produce a zombie horror movie.
Davis: Is it as funny as it looks?
Nollinger: I wish I knew. The pilot wasn't finished by the time we went to press. But I have seen the original short videos that were produced for the TurboNick website, and I've gotta say, they made my inner 12-year-old laugh out loud more than once. Anything that makes fun of the evil world of fast food automatically gets extra credit in my book, especially when the satire is aimed at kids. Anyway, Nickelodeon seems to have pulled the original episodes off the Web, but anyone who's curious can check them out by googling Mr.Meaty, then hitting the cached link to where they were formerly posted at YouTube.
Davis: Hellboy was one of my favorite movies of 2004. Will the new animated Hellboy movie on Cartoon Network do justice to the character? Or is he more like Heckboy?
Nollinger: It's actually more like Hellboy-san, as the animated version is set in Japan. The Asian setting aside, word is that it's supposed to hew more closely than the feature did to the Hellboy world that was originally conceived in the comic books. But the movie's stars Ron Perlman, Selma Blair and John Hurt are also lending their voices to the animated version, so hopefully we'll end up with the best of both worlds.
Davis: Tween programming is so much for the girls. Will the networks ever even things out for the boys?
Nollinger: I certainly hope so, but the fall lineups are still loaded with girl power. Cake and Dance Revolution, new Saturday-morning shows debuting Sept. 16 on CBS, are aimed at tweeny girls. And this fall's boy-centric movies Hellboy: Sword of Storms (Oct. 28, Cartoon Network) and Ultimate Avengers 2 (Oct. 21, Cartoon Network) will undoubtedly be overshadowed by girly surefire hits like The Cheetah Girls 2 (Aug. 25, Disney Channel) and the Unfabulous movie (Oct. 6, Nickelodeon).
But Shuriken School (Aug. 20, Nickelodeon) looks like a lot of fun for my young, anime-loving brethren. And Skyland (November, Nicktoons) is the coolest-looking new series I've seen on tweenage TV for boys in a long time.
The Skyland story line is kind of a Star Wars retread, incorporating a rebellious pair of teenagers who are looking for their long-lost dad, plus a few space pirates, fascist rulers with fearsome soldiers, and an underlying mysticism that very much resembles the Force. But the painterly background animation is simply gorgeous, and the 3-D stuff of the space fighters zooming in and out among the planets makes you feel like you're rocketing around in an Xbox game. The pilot is paced more like a movie, though, and I wonder if youthful attention spans are going to be up to the challenge. And it's airing on Nicktoons, which means kids are going to have to work harder to find it.
Davis: It's looking like anime-influenced TV still has room to grow.
Nollinger: Yeah, especially now that Nickelodeon is opening up to it in a bigger way. Avatar was a big hit for them with tween boys last season, which I guess explains how Shuriken School got on the fall schedule. And Kappa Mikey (Aug. 20, Nickelodeon) is getting a big relaunch this month as well, although I have my doubts the show-within-a-show, reality-bending concept seems like something adults would appreciate more than kids. But we'll see.
Davis: Is Addie going to finally kiss Jake in the Unfabulous movie? If not, I'm going to so, like, lock myself in my room until they do.
Nollinger: I don't think Addie would ever kiss and tell, so I'm not going to either. But the movie is called This Perfect Moment, so....
Davis: You are one of the few people in the world to have actually seen The Cheetah Girls 2. Is it a Godfather II kind of sequel or an Oh, God! Book Two?
Nollinger: Maybe more like Gidget Goes Hawaiian. It's set in Barcelona, which is cool, and the movie uses the city's beauty to nice effect, especially during a big production number that features the girls bopping in the streets. While the production values are nice, I found it to be formulaic and ever-so-saccharine. Musicals, especially the kind where characters suddenly burst into song in the middle of the day, are built on artifice, of course, but it didn't seem to me like there was a real emotional moment in the whole movie. Not that fans of the original will care. I spoke to Raven-Symoné the other day, and she summed up the movie's appeal by saying that it's got "cool music, cute Spanish boys, great clothes and the Cheetahs rocking out. So there you go." I don't know, maybe I just have a harder time channeling my inner 12-year-old girl. Comes with the territory, I guess.
Nollinger: Drake is fully recovered from his car accident and back at work, which is pretty amazing considering that he suffered a broken jaw, a fractured neck, and had several teeth knocked out when that car crashed into his Mustang in Malibu last December. Apparently, the only visible sign of the accident is a faint scar on his chin. With any luck, it'll just add some street cred to his rock-and-roller persona. You can check it for yourself when Drake & Josh returns on Sept. 24, along with new seasons of Zoey 101 and Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide (Nickelodeon).
Davis: Which of today's tween stars do you think will grow into fully formed adult actors we'll actually pay to see? My money is on Emma Roberts to become a junior Julia. And I also like Lindsey Shaw, who plays Moze on Ned's Declassified.
Nollinger: I love Emma Roberts, too. She's just so darn likable. And adorable, of course. She brings a natural, quirky charm to the role of Addie that really makes her come alive. I'm really curious to see what she does next year in the Nancy Drew movie. I think Josh Peck has a big future ahead of him as well, on TV if not the movies. His comic timing is just dead on, and it's one of the key ingredients that helps Drake & Josh rise above that show's clichéd, Odd Couple-y premise. And I wouldn't bet against Raven-Symoné. She's a formidable personality and a weirdly polished performer for someone so young, always rising above her material. It'll be interesting to see if she can scrub off the Disney-sitcom shine when she finally tackles a role with a little more meat to it.
For more on The Cheetah Girls, pick up the Aug. 21 issue of TV Guide magazine.
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