Genius Products // 1994 // 390 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // October 31st, 2007
Just your average teen...with super-powers!
Running for four seasons on Nickelodeon's SNICK, The Secret World of Alex Mack married the pre-teenage comedy with action and adventure, a clever concept back in the early â90s. Fans should be thrilled to see this show on DVD, but a mediocre technical presentation keeps this set from being a true superhero.
Alex Mack (Larisa Oleynik, 10 Things I Hate About You) is your everyday normal kid on her way to junior high. Her older sister is a super-genius, which means all of her teachers expect great things from her, but Alex is no star student. In fact, she is ordinary in every way, and she hates it.
Suddenly, a freak accident changes her life forever. The local chemical plant, at work on a top-secret chemical, accidentally crashes a delivery truck right outside the school, spilling a mysterious yellow substance all over Alex. She rushes home to wash it off, only to discover the substance makes her skin glow with an eerie translucence. If that wasn't the worst of her problems, Alex finds she has developed superpowers of a kind -- she can electrically charge items, move things with her mind, and dissolve into a liquid!
The Secret World of Alex Mack: Season One contains all thirteen episodes from the inaugural season, including the pilot:
"The Accident" (pilot)
Alex Mack is your everyday junior high school student, until a freak traffic accident spills a mysterious chemical all over Alex. Soon, Alex realizes the strange experience has given her unusual, magical powers. The only people who know her secret are her best friend Raymond and her sister Annie.
After getting involved in a food fight in the school cafeteria, Alex and her friends are forced to clean up after school. Alex and Raymond blame two others, Ellen and Jessica, for the troubles, and each challenges the other to a basketball game. The losers will be forced to take full responsibility for the food fight and must clean up the cafeteria themselves!
Alex has a science project at school, and ends up using her special abilities to win top marks from the teacher. However, the credit ends up going to her sister, Annie!
Alex's father, who works at the chemical plant, invites Alex to Career Day. Alex enjoys her time at the plant, until she gets caught on tape using her powers! Now Alex and her friends need to sneak back into the plant late at night to steal the videotape back before anyone discovers Alex's secret!
The big school dance is right around the corner, but Alex can't figure out how to get the object of her affections, Scott, to ask her. Her problems are compounded when an obnoxious, annoying ninth-grader keeps pursuing Alex, asking her out.
When Annie's science project gets selected as a finalist in the big science fair contest, the entire family shows up at the science fair with bells on. Alex, however, is very jealous of her sister's achievements and reluctant to spend more time at the plant, whose employees are constantly on the lookout for the child involved in the chemical accident.
Alex and her friends are swamped by a history midterm, but when a popular girl in school pulls a fire alarm to get out of the test, Alex is conflicted about what she should do.
When Alex and Raymond start fighting, Alex realizes that having her best friend on the outs is a dangerous prospect -- especially when she has superpowers, and he knows her secret!
"Alex and Mom"
After a fight with her mother, Alex lashes out at her mother out of anger, and ends up putting her mother's job at risk!
"Cold Day in Paradise Valley"
When a cold starts playing havoc with Alex's special powers, she finds it increasingly difficult to hide her abilities. Bad timing, since a reporter is in town!
Alex's sister considers moving away to attend a new school. Alex, meanwhile, is still struggling with her increasingly erratic powers, and needs her sister's help!
Alex uses her special powers to rescue her friend Raymond after he freezes up during a musical recital. The plan backfires when the teachers regard Raymond as a musical prodigy, and expect him to perform again!
Father and daughter relations get rocky as Alex and her dad have problems connecting. The two decide to go on a road trip to smooth out their differences.
While not the best-acted show, or even the best-written, The Secret World of Alex Mack has an undeniable charm. There is decent entertainment value to be had for pre-teeny types -- you've got secret mysterious organizations chasing after kids in a bumbling, yet always vaguely threatening, fashion, a girl with bizarre superpowers that turn her into liquid and let her zap things with electricity, and your standard mix of Disney Channel-style boy crushes, friend in-fighting, jealousy, and math tests. These days, entire cable channels are devoted to programming like this, but back in 1994, The Secret World of Alex Mack was fairly novel. Right around this time, Nickelodeon made its move into SNICK, its preteen-focused programming block on Saturday nights, which broke ground on an entirely new genre of programming devoted squarely to juniors.
You had shows like Salute Your Shorts, The Adventures of Pete & Pete and Clarissa Explains It All hitting the airwaves. Of course, none of those kids could use powers to move objects around, so Alex wins there. After that, cable television would never be the same. You can't give Alex Mack all the credit, but it certainly has its place in the nostalgic remembrance of many a twentysomething today. Young kids loved the show with a passion, and most of them graduated from junior high with Alex right into high school with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other shows of the like.
Egregiously painful fashion stylings and lame dialogue cement Alex and her peers smack in the middle of California during the early 1990s, an embarrassing place to be, still rooted so firmly in the 1980s fascination with high pants, bad hats, and pastel colors. If you can get over the tackiness, the show is fairly charming in its own pubescent sort of way. You've gotta love Vince, the icy Germanic villain tasked with tracking Alex down and subjecting her to scientific experimentation, an adversary that looks straight out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from the â80s. The special effects are pretty dire, no doubt, but you can tell the creators did the best they could with a limited operation budget. All things considered, they pull a lot of impressive illusions with some primitive visual effects. Plus, big points for chic retro styling -- you gotta love the corniness.
Alex Mack, alas, should have used some of her superpowers on the DVD transfer. Presented in full frame (native), the picture looks pretty lousy even for a moderate-budget kid's television show. The colors are washed, the black levels are muddy, and the picture suffers from a total lack of cohesion and detail. Edges break down incoherently into edge-enhanced compression artifacts at every turn. Scary stuff.
The only sound option comes in the form of a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround presentation, which is pretty superfluous -- all the action comes squarely from the center channel, basically without exception. The rear channels go virtually unused. Bass response is virtually nonexistent.
As for extras, you can forget about it. Genius Products didn't even bother including subtitles, let alone supplements. This is as bare-bones as a TV series can get on DVD.
Despite only appearing in a whopping three episodes, Jessica Alba is hilariously given equal billing on the DVD packaging with the show's star, Larisa Oleynik.
Oh, man, I should totally buy this DVD! Jessica Alba's in it! And she's hot! Oh sure, she's like, twelve years old, and she has like thirty seconds of screen time, but...it's Jessica Alba! Am I right, or am I right? Dude! She's hot! Heck, I'm going to buy two copies!
Ah, the inexorable decisions of marketing folk. As a society, we should autopsy a few of their brains to decipher their complex inner workings, before they destroy our society from the inside out. Be afraid.
Though hardly targeted to my particular demographic, The Secret World of Alex Mack: Season One is cute for young teens and kids, and kind of glorious in its utter embrace of all things 1990s. Alas, a murky DVD presentation keeps this set from being anything but campy retro enjoyment for those who caught it first time around and want to replace their VHS copies.
Any show featuring kids getting superpowers is all right in my books, if only on principle.
Review content copyright © 2007 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 390 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated