Suddenly, Judge Patrick Bromley is seized by an irresistible urge to read Tiger Beat magazine.
Get inside her head!
Like a twelve-year old girl assigned to discuss the merits of a Bergman film, I come to Disney's release of The Lizzie McGuire Show Boxed Set—Volume One (come to think of it, I might not do justice to Bergman, either—unless it's that one Bergman film with the dragons and the jetpacks). Like my recent review of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, this material forces me to consider my approach to critiquing it; do I evaluate how it works for me, an adult male, or do I just try and anticipate how its intended audience will respond to it? I lean towards the former, mostly because it demands subjectivity—not objectivity—from me, and film criticism is nothing if not subjective. That's not to suggest that if the show doesn't work for me, it won't work for anyone—I know that I'm not part of the target audience, and that much of the material isn't supposed to work for me. But what I can determine is whether or not the show works at all—maybe not for me, but at least for those it's meant to work for.
All 22 episodes from the first season of Lizzie McGuire are included on this four disc set. They are as follows:
• "Pool Party (Pilot)"
So far, so good; some of the titles are reasonably clever, suggesting a mild sophistication that belies the series' fluffy preteen origins. The first episode, "Pool Party" is even more promising—despite an aggressive and annoying visual style (cutting in black and white footage amidst the traditional color, mixing up video and film stocks, switching from live action to animation—it plays like the Natural Born Killers of kiddie shows), the pilot episode actually has a lot to offer. We meet our heroine, the titular Lizzie McGuire (Hilary Duff, Raise Your Voice, who shows enough charm and likeability at age 12 to warrant her child stardom—though I can't quite say the same for her later work…and is anyone else distraught by the notion of Hilary Duff's "later" work?), an eager-to-fit-in middle-schooler doing her best to survive adolescence.
Lizzie isn't particularly popular at school; her two only real friends are the plucky Miranda (played by a young actress who goes by the unfortunate single stage name "Lalaine," which automatically makes me prejudge her unfairly) and the offbeat Gordo (Adam Lamberg, Max Keeble's Big Move). Despite her lack of acceptance into the cool crowd at school, Lizzie hasn't gone the other way either—she's not exactly the bookish nerd or sarcastic outsider type. She's relatable; the kind of middle-of-the-road, looking-for-an-identity kid that the large majority of twelve-year old girls can identify with. So is her dilemma in the pilot episode: she wants to attend the pool party of a cute boy at school, but it happens to fall on the same day as her grandmother's birthday. Lizzie is caught in a dilemma—her friends expect her to be at the pool party, but her slightly too-cool Mom (Hallie Todd, National Lampoon's Holiday Reunion) and well-meaning goofball of a Dad (Robert "Don't Call Me Lewis" Carradine) are insistent that she fulfill her familial obligation.
It's such a minor quandary—the fate of nothing more than one Saturday afternoon—but it's real. Yes, Lizzie would consider a life-or-death situation, and yes, hopefully her parents would expect her to reexamine her priorities. It's not often that sitcoms, especially those pitched at this age group, are this realistic and relatable; an everyday situation is treated seriously (though the show itself is a comedy) and thoughtfully. Not only that, but both sides of the issue are respected—it would have been easy to just get Lizzie's perspective on the matter, making the adult characters into Parents who Just Don't Understand, but they're given a fair shake, too. It's a move that forced me to reconsider my initial expectations of this Disney Channel-fare; could Lizzie McGuire be more thoughtful and insightful than I had ever anticipated? Was it unfair to approach the show with more than a modicum of dread?
Perhaps not, as by the second episode most of the initial promise is gone and the tone is set for the rest of the season. All of the realism and relatability is dropped in favor of Saved by the Bell-inspired "whimsy" and obvious plot constructs: a documentary filmmaker comes to school and enlists Gordo to manipulate his friends for the sake of drama; Lizzie loses her identity and gets far too big for her proverbial britches when pushed to run for class officer; teen-pop idol Aaron Carter pays a visit. None of these storylines are so bad they lapse into insulting—actually, they're pretty standard teen-TV stuff. That's exactly my objection, though: Why go for such easy answers when the pilot has set the show up to be something better-than-average? What made that first episode stand out in my mind was how easily relatable it was for young girls; with the exception of the occasional episode (Lizzie is embarrassed to go bra shopping with her mom; Lizzie excels at Rhythmic Gymnastics, only to discover she doesn't really like it), the show stops dealing with legitimate twelve-year-old issues and becomes preteen fantasy.
The Lizzie McGuire Show Boxed Set—Volume One comes to DVD as a four-disc set (two dual-disc keepcases) courtesy of Disney DVD. The episodes, which run around 25 minutes apiece, are all presented in their original full frame television format; the image runs from average to slightly shoddy, but I think that has less to do with the transfer than the overall cheapness of the source material (whether or not it really is cheaply made I couldn't say, but it certainly looks that way). The audio presentation is a 2.0 mono track, which, while certainly underwhelming, gets the job done. The technical components of the disc once again call into question just who the set is made for—is the Lizzie McGuire crowd really going to care about less-than-stellar audio and video quality? Probably not. Should Disney still have put more time and effort into the release? Sure—but the only ones who would have noticed would be suckers like me who wind up reviewing it.
There are a handful of extras included, but (and forgive me for beating a dead horse at this point) they're all targeted towards the same young audience to which the series is geared. That group probably isn't interested in commentaries by the show's writers or creators, so instead we get three commentary tracks by actors playing second- and third-string characters—the value of the tracks exists only on the level of fan worship. The few featurettes are fluff pieces in the worst sense of the phrase, revolving around makeup and clothes. It's fine that the bonus features are designed for the preteen girls who will no doubt seek out this set, but the extras beg the same question as Lizzie McGuire itself: Did they have to aim so low?
Of course Lizzie McGuire didn't work for me; it isn't meant to. In some small way, I suppose it works for the younger girls it's made for—if nothing else, I'd sure as hell rather they watch it before anything with Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. I wouldn't advise anyone against Lizzie McGuire, but I wouldn't exactly go recommending it to anyone, either. At least, not while shows like Gilmore Girls still exist.
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• Cast Audio Commentaries on Three Episodes: "I Do, I Don't," "Night of the Day of the Dead," and "Rated Aargh!"
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