Film & Television

Rating The Current Crop of Disney Channel Series

With Disney Channel premiering its new original series, Austin & Ally, I felt it would be appropriate to take a look at a few of the current Disney Channel shows.

I tend to view Disney Channel in cycles. I first began watching during the heyday of programming such as Even Stevens, Phil of the Future, Lizzie McGuire, and That’s So Raven.

In my opinion, 2006 was the year that changed Disney Channel forever. That year saw the debut of High School Musical. HSM was supposed to be nothing more than another entry in their long line of made-for-television films, yet it ended up surpassing anyone’s wildest expectations. Its premiere garnered 7.7 million viewers; an astonishing number for that type of production. The film’s soundtrack was the best selling album in the U.S. for 2006 and the DVD created a sales record when 1.2 million copies were sold in its first six days, making it the fastest-selling television film of all time. The success of the film spawned two equally successful sequels and made all of its cast members into overnight celebrities. Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Tisdale became household names. Most important, it paved the way for the explosion of Disney Channel original films released to this very day. Popular titles like Lemonade Mouth, Camp Rock, and Geek Charming all owe a debt of gratitude to HSM for reestablishing the parameters of what a made-for-television flick aimed at the teenage demographic was capable of.

I also believe that the success of HSM led to Disney Channel basically becoming the one-stop shop for young kids and teenagers. Shows like Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Sonny with a Chance, and Wizards of Waverly Place became extremely popular with their audience. It seems that just as a show is about to end its run, they come in with a new one ready to take its place to keep the machine going.

And what a well oiled machine it has become! If you pay close attention then you will notice a few similarities between virtually every series produced by Disney. Nearly all of them feature a female lead who will likely go on to release a solo album under the Hollywood Records label (it’s the label owned by the Disney Music Group). There is usually one female who becomes the face of the entire network during their run. I would say that Raven Symone (That’s So Raven) was the first genuine breakout star they  produced. The HSM cast came a few years later followed by the immense success of Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana). Today is a bit trickier since I believe the top spot is held by girls from three different shows: Selena Gomez (Wizards), Bridgit Mendler (Good Luck Charlie), and Zendaya and Bella Thorne (Shake it Up). You can already tell that China Ann McClain (A.N.T. Farm) is being groomed for that spot in the future. It’s not a competition or anything. Being the face means that you’re the first person that pops into someone’s mind whenever they think about the Disney Channel. Being a star on Disney Channel means you’re an automatic role model to millions of adoring and impressionable kids worldwide.

For the most part, the current era of Disney Channel has been one of my favorite periods. Unlike most people my age, when I come home from work, the first thing I instinctively do is turn to Disney Channel. It’s a great stress reliever and escape from the realities of life! Lol. Just like anything I watch, I find their shows to be quite entertaining.

I’m going to grade some of their current shows I watch to see how well they measure up. I will not rate Wizards of Waverly Place and So Random!, since I’ve never watched a complete episode of either show. So without further a due, here they are:

A.N.T. Farm– This show, which debuted last summer, is a quirky show about a group of middle-schoolers in a gifted program at their local high school called the “Advanced Natural Talents” program or A.N.T. The show stars China Ann McClain as Chyna Parks, and is a genuinely funny show. Her interaction  with classmates Olive Doyle (played by Sarah McCormick) and Fletcher Quimby (played by Jake Short) comprise the bulk of the  key storylines. Parks also has a natural school rival in upperclassman Lexi Reed (played by Stephanie Scott) and an older brother, Cameron (played by Carlon Jeffery). All of the children in the A.N.T. program have a natural gift. Chyna is musically inclined, Olive has an encyclopedic memory, and Fletcher is an artist. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but something about this show drew me in the very first time I watched. The show is nonstop humor and is over-the -top at times, yet it feels completely natural within the framework of the show. My personal favorite highlights of every episode normally involve Olive reciting some useless trivial knowledge from her vast memory and the student’s interaction with their hard-nosed principal, Susan Skidmore (played by Minday Sterling). Rating: B+

Good Luck Charlie– This is just not the best show on Disney Channel, but is one of the best family-friendly comedies on television today. The show chronicles the life and times of the Duncan family. Eric Allan Kramer plays Bob, Leigh-Allyn Baker plays Amy, Mia Talerico plays Charlie, Bridgit Mendler plays Teddy, Bradley Steven Perry plays Gabe and Jason Dolley plays PJ. Though Mendler is the most popular, and obviously the central, character of the show, it doesn’t really matter because this is a rare show where every character shines equally.

This show is also notable due to its realistic depiction of the modern American family in 2011. Both parents work full-time jobs and are often viewed as everyday multitasking parents. The show doesn’t give any impression that the family is more well off (financially) than any other family on their block and it has a very real sense of humor. Gabe is one of the funniest little brother type characters I’ve ever seen. He is the exact embodiment of the smart and sharp-tongued preteen of today’s generation. It should be noted that the show’s title is derived from the fact that every episode ends with Teddy talking into a handheld video camera saying the phrase “Good Luck Charlie” (usually after something silly happens). Teddy is recording these video diaries so that her sister Charlie (who is a baby) will have them to look back on one day and realize how crazy her family really was! Whether you’re a Disney fan or not, you owe it to yourself to catch this show if you’re interested in some wholesome yet believable family entertainment. Rating: Not just an A+, but probably the best original series in Disney Channel history.

Shake It UpIt took me a while to get into this show, but after a while I even found myself wanting to dance like the two main characters. This show follows the exploits of CeCe Jones (Bella Thorne) and Rocky Blue (Zendaya)  as they star as background dancers on a local show, Shake It Up Chicago. It also chronicles their misadventures on- and off-set, and their troubles and rising social status at school. Davis Cleveland, Roshon Fegan, Adam Irigoyen, Kenton Duty and Caroline Sunshine are other main cast members in the series.

This is a unique show as it’s the first Disney series to specifically focus on dancing. Every shows features dazzling choreography and sick moves which show these two girls aren’t merely playing a role; they really are dancing their hearts out. Like many kids shows, each episode normally revolves around the two trying to find their way out of some type of mishap they’ve gotten themselves into. An enjoyable supporting cast helps to round our this extraordinarily popular show.

If being featured on  magazine covers and having tons of merchandise were the basis to determine the face of the Disney Channel, then Bella and Zendaya are clearly the heirs to the throne, or already have it firmly in their grasp. Rating: A-

Jessie– Talk about wasted potential. Well, I can’t say it quite yet, but as of right now, it looks as if this show could be compared to Cory in the House as being one of the worst shows in Disney Channel history. The show stars former Suite Life on Deck co-star Debby Ryan in the lead role of Jessie, a small town Texas girl who moves to New York City and becomes a nanny to a high profile couple’s four children played by Peyton List, Cameron Boyce, Karan Brar and Skai Jackson.

I would like to say something positive, but the truth is that there are very few positive things to address when discussing this show. My number one problem is that there is absolutely nothing funny about this show. At all! I could never picture myself saying or thinking about any of the things that the producers of this show find funny. So much of the humor seems lame and force-fed down the viewer’s throat.

A big problem is that the show should revolve around Jessie, yet it revolves around the four adopted children she watches after. And these are among the most annoying child actors I’ve seen in my life. The main culprit is Ravi Ross (played by Brar). He’s a 10 year old boy of Indian descent who has the supernatural ability to suck the life out of any segment he appears in. He says everything in such an exaggerated way that it renders any potential comedy effect null and void. Two other actors are nearly as bad, but are at lest tolerable, though one tells jokes that are way too mature for a children’s show.

The worst part is that Debby and co-star Peyton List both have the looks and ability to be just as big a star as Bridgit Mendler or Selena Gomez, yet they are saddled on such a lame show. If they toned down some of the pointless comedy then it would be a big improvement. Hopefully, this show will get its act together soon and begin to produce some quality entertainment. Rating: D-


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