Exploring the Obvious Star Vehicle: The Unexpected Charm of “Sonny With A Chance” (1/2)

That’s a lot of tags, huh?   Well,the Disney Channel is pretty frickin’ complicated, even though it might not seem like it on the surface. Go ahead and skip this week if DisneyCorp makes you irrationally angry or something, but over here at Wednesday Art Criticism Central we’re too school for cool and are gonna talk about a fascinating television show for tweens, “Sonny With A Chance.”

I discovered SWAC last summer and watched most of season 1 and the sneak previews/whatever on YouTube during the off days of my incredibly draining internship.   Mostly because Sterling Knight is attractive, let’s be honest.  But that’s not why I stayed.  (There are, after all, 21 episodes in season 1: that’s  XXX minutes!)

This is not a fangirl tumblr, it’s a Srs Blog.  So I have restrained myself from posting 100 pictures of Sterling Knight in various cocksure poses and tagging this entry things like:  Sterling Knight I like your face; Sterling Knight is sexy; you can be my Knight any day; notice me Horton (big points for getting this reference, you nerd); Team Sterling; etc. Do not think that this is because I have any shame about my, uh, appreciation for this boy young man.*  No, it’s simply that I think the rise and fall of SWAC is fascinating separately from My Man Sterling here, although most of the Internet agrees that the show succeeded largely because he carried most of the dramatic weight on his lovely, lovely shoulders.   OK, OK, I’ll stop….

*For the Record:  He is legal and so am I.   Stop judging.   This will never happen, which is totally not the point of internet obsessions.   Go back to reading your Elitist Blawgs and pontificating on the use of Wittgenstein to predict the Dow Jones next month.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

If you’ve never seen a Disney Channel live-action television show for tweens, you probably have good taste and relatively in-tact eardrums.  Saturday Night Live has never been as funny as it thinks it is, but this clip is actually perfect:

My apologies to the international readers (hi, Chatulim!); Hulu is almost certainly the only option for viewing this one.  And let’s not talk about Raven-Symone here; girl absolutely deserves her own post.  (Her new show on ABC family is equally fascinating!)

Here’s the Theme Song for SWAC Season 1, which tells you all of the important context for the show, in solid cartoon theme song fashion.

And HERE is the best moment of the series, in which:  SPOILER ALERT the two love interests finally get somewhere with All That Sexual Tension. END SPOILER  Don’t skip this clip unless you were already planning to marathon the show; I saw this clip way out of order and it didn’t ruin anything.  And because it’s a Disney show, there is no touching.

Sterling did all the acting in that scene, didn’t he?  Demi’s not awful here (and she’s miles better than how she started out), but it’s really his charm as Chad Dylan Cooper that locks down the scene and creates fangirls across the globe.

(If you want to know her answer, you need to YouTube it yourself.  The 2-episode arc is called Falling for the Falls.   And kudos to the writers for not going the cliche route and HUGE KUDOS for Sterling for rocking his response to her response like A Real Boy would.)

This show was created as a star vehicle for Demi Lovato, after her Camp Rock “fame”.  It’s undeniable — they may have had the actual plot bouncing around DisneyProducerBrains™ for a while, but had Demi not come along, Disney would have probably shelved this one on the back burner.  SWAC is basically Demi’s story, and thus rooting for Sonny Monroe is rooting for Demi Lovato.  (I see what you did thurrr, DisneyCorp)

WHO IS DEMI LOVATO?:

Demetria Devonne Lovato has two IMDB highlights pre-SWAC that are relevant:  the Barney years (2002-2003) and the Jonas Brothers years (2008-2010). This post  has too many links already, so you need to find those Barney clips yourself — it’s not hard.  As for the JoBros, well…she was cast as the Ultimate Love Interest in Camp Rock, a JoBro TV-movie vehicle I refuse to watch.  In the flick she’s paired off with Slimy Jonas*, the middle one (as opposed to his brothers, Married Jonas and Talented Jonas) and Wikipedia has verified that they actually dated for a few Disney-years (read: months) post-project.  Poor Demi.

*Other ladies who have fallen victim to the gross aura of Slimy Jonas:  TayTay (famously), Camilla Belle, Ashley Greene, etc.    Girls, HE FLATIRONS HIS HAIR AND DOESN’T SHAVE.   Also, stop trying to date a Teen Idol; it only ends in disaster.  Pick a B-list Disney Channel star and you not only get a reasonably cute one, you also get to be more popular than him and control all the publicity.   And the number of fangirl death threats you get will decrease exponentially.

[[Confidential to Selena Gomez:  DUMP THE BIEBZ.   You deserve so much better.]]

IS SHE ACTUALLY TALENTED?

The New York Times seems to think so.

“Along with, perhaps, Nick Jonas, the brooding auteur who gives the Jonas Brothers megabrand a dash of thoughtfulness, Ms. Lovato has a kind of alt-Disney aesthetic, simultaneously building the brand and proving its elasticity.”

The art critic here is Jon Caramanica, who is generally decent regarding tweenagers.   After all, he was the one who alerted me to TaySwift, a good two years before the “Love Story” music video was released (I forgot about her, because I wasn’t listening to country).

Caramanica’s point is that Demi was being packaged and manufactured into an image that didn’t truly fit her, and he seems to imply that it was a bit of a waste.   Whether or not that’s true is hard to judge, since I don’t feel like listening to her pre-rehab music, but let’s just say this: of COURSE Demi was being packaged.  That’s the whole point of the Disney Channel.  You can love it or hate it, but that won’t make it any less true.

WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT THIS SHOW?  THE CONCEPT

The set-up of this show is interesting precisely because it’s a vehicle with a formula that should-be-stale-but-isn’t-quite.  Allison “Sonny” Monroe (Demi) is the Girl Next Door  from SmallTown, Wisconsin who is discovered by Big Hollywood and whisked to LA to join an existing cast of kidlebrities on a kids’ sketch comedy show called So Random!   Sterling Knight plays Chad Dylan Cooper (BEST NAME EVER), the heartthrob from the teen soap MacKenzie Falls, which is filmed on the next lot.   The two shows hate each other, of course.

Minus the sketch comedy, this set up is pretty much what actually happened to Demi, if you ignore all those early years in show biz — which weren’t really getting her anywhere in terms of exposure.

Again, from the NYT (in 2009, when it was premiering):

“While on their shows Ms. Cyrus (“Hannah Montana”) and the Jonas Brothers (“Jonas”) play versions of themselves — young famous people trying to figure out how to be young and famous and normal — on “Sonny With a Chance” Ms. Lovato plays her own doppelgänger: someone figuring out how to fit in.

“I’m the new kid, and that’s how I kind of felt when I came into the whole Selena-Miley-Jonas Brothers thing,” Ms. Lovato said, referring to Selena Gomez, her closest friend and star of the Disney sitcom “Wizards of Waverly Place.” “Like, O.K., where do I come in? How am I different?””

WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT THIS SHOW?  THE ACTING

Not most of it, actually.  The first episode is pretty rough; I’d skip that one unless you’re a sucker for pilots and atrocious puns.  (No really, they’re awful.)   Demi improves dramatically  over the course of the show — although her comedy skills are still embarrassing to non-fangirls — and the girl who plays Zora (Allisyn Ashley Arm; what a name) is incredibly shrill and grating through most of season 1.

From Wikipedia: ” In an interview with People; Allisyn Ashley Arm said, “I watch a lot of SNL skits online. I love Chris Farley and Jim Carrey. I always think, ‘What would Jim Carrey do in this scene?’ He’s a lot of my inspiration for my character (Zora).“[8]”

We can tell, honey.   In Season One you’re 6 months too old and 20 years too young to get away with that kind of zany comedy, and in Season Two you’ve hit the PubertyWall full-throttle and need to course-correct ASAP.

Tiffani Thornton as Tawni takes a while to develop into a coherent character, but eventually becomes a much more lovable version of Sharpay  — from High School Musical, and if you didn’t know that, I’m really impressed you’re still reading–  although thankfully without a love triangle plot.  If you want to feel both old and young:  Thornton is 25 and will marry her fiancé in November.

Brandon Mychal Smith as Nico and Doug Brochu as Grady play stock characters at first (the Token; the Fat One), but they actually develop a bromance that is a tween-friendly version of Troy and Abed on Community.  If only they were allowed to bond over something deeper than fart jokes, bad pranks, and free food.

The cast of MacKenzie Falls, the fake teen drama, is excellent at vamping upstage, and the guy who plays Marshall, the producer, is fine.  We know I love Sterling Knight, so he gets his own section.  The biggest question is:  is So Random! any good?

Sadly, not really.  They clearly didn’t bother hiring actual quality sketch comedy writers and decided to focus on the New Girl subplot instead.  The “Check It Out Girls” are incredibly annoying and the sketch with the bear suit is likely funny only if you’re under 10 and haven’t seen that idea before.  “Sicky Vicky”, another supposed favorite, is a blatant rip-off of The Amanda Show, and Demi doesn’t have half of Amanda Bynes’s obnoxious charm.

Here is the only clip from So Random! (as a show-within-a-show) that’s worth watching:

If you don’t think that’s A) hilarious and B) really clever (marketing as well as comedy), then go away.  I don’t want to talk to you any more.

PS Zora is the obvious weak link as Beauty, but she gets better in the reboot.  They MUST have changed directors.

WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT THIS SHOW?  THE COSTUMES

I won’t go into detail here, because there are too many skits per episode to make it worth it.   I will note that there are two levels of costuming going on here:

SWAC:  making the actual actors look like Disneylebrities while also making them approachable (Demi’s wardrobe gets trendier each story arc).

So Random!:  costuming for sketches, which means creating tens of looks per episode that play on archetypes and stereotypes to tell you exactly who each character is before the actor opens his/her mouth.   And on a budget that is “more lavish” than SWAC — think Saturday Night Live, not Second City.

WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT THIS SHOW?  STERLING KNIGHT

Here’s a clip from MacKenzie Falls, the mock-WB teen soap that Chad Dylan Cooper (Sterling’s alter ego) stars in.

And here’s a clip of Chad being jealous over Sonny.

And here’s a link to a story about Sterling being a gracious Disneylebrity:

[[ARGH I LOST IT — check back later.]]

And here’s a a side-by-side pic of Sterling with the Zefron (from 17 Again, which I saw on a plane without expecting to)

And here’s a picture of him being all broody.    (Shut up.)

SO SHOULD I START WATCHING?

If you A) laughed at more than two clips above, B) already geek out over the Disney Channel, and/or C) have an interest in sketch comedy, then yes.  Absolutely.   You can literally find the whole show on YouTube if you have a little patience.  (DisneyCorp understands that yanking videos loses fans.)

If this is only mildly amusing to you/you’re humoring me/you can’t stand one of the actors, then don’t bother.  It’s only two seasons, so you’re not missing much.

On the other hand…it’s only two seasons, so why not knock it out over a rainy weekend?  You can skip all the boring platonic exposition bits by using the handy Wikipedia guide to plots:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonny_with_a_Chance_(season_1)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonny_with_a_Chance_(season_2)

TEAM DEMI/TEAM BODY DYSMORPHIA

The Background

The surprisingly classy responses from the Television Without Pity (TWOP) forum last fall:

[sorry it’s so small — click on the pic to magnify]

I hope nobody actually wished for the girl’s downfall; that’d be horrible.  But casual/insane fangirls can be awful people, especially if they’re rooting for the opposing side:  (them/Slimy Jonas; them/Sterling Knight; platonic!them/Selena Gomez).

I don’t have anything really sophisticated to say except that:

A) it sounds like she really was getting out of control (I am inclined to believe the story about punching the backup dancer; there were too many witnesses)

B) kudos to Lovato’s parents for getting her help ASAP

C) kudos for Disney for acting like responsible managers

D) kudos to Demi herself for handling the meltdown like a champ during that time

E) kudos to everyone behind SWAC for coming up with an interesting way to “save the series”, which also saved the jobs of everyone who had been contracted for Season 3.

COMING UP NEXT

The DisneyProducerBrains gave someone a raise for this idea.  It launched in June as part of their INTENSE SUMMER PROGRAMMING OMG FUN FUN SUMMER FUN TV FUN SUMMER YAY LOOK CUTE BOYS DISNEY DISNEY BRAINWASH SUMMER FUN.

And, unsurprisingly, I think the reboot is fabulous, fascinating, and inherently flawed.  I actually LMAO’d at the All Stars Wheel of Fortune sketch, which blatantly rips off that Celebrity Jeopardy parody, but who cares?

Click here to see them making fun of Pat Sajack (only sorta), TayTay, Willow Smith, and that horrid YouTube star Fred.

I can’t wait to catch up!  (They have, in fact, released another Real Princesses of New Jersey; ask YouTube.)

APPENDIX FOR THE [ASPIRING] DISNEYGEEKS

For the marathon arguer:

Have 21 pages of real-time discussion courtesy of TWOP.  I could do some fact-checking for this post there, but I don’t feel like rereading it carefully.   If you liked Lizzie McGuire (HILLARY DUFF IS PREGNANT), there’s some good discussion hidden in there.

For the blog-happy:

Tweenage Wasteland.   If you’re reading this just to humor me, thank you.  Please comment anyway.   If you’re reading this because you also love-hate the Disney Channel, you must read Tweenage Wasteland; Becky and Jess are the only fangirls on the internet who “get” it.  And aren’t into all that weird RPF stuff.   (Don’t ask if you don’t know.)

I have never literally laughed out loud so many times in one sitting, and I sit and laugh a lot.  They refer to Ashley Tisdale as La Tizz, the JoBros as the Jonii, and speculate wildly and hilariously about EVERY male Disneylebrity’s sexuality when appropriate.

Here’s the link to the start of their regrettably paltry SWAC analysis, although I’m sad if unsurprised that they hate on Selena.   I hope they start watching So Random! soon!

For the cinematographer:

http://youtu.be/sU4G03gAPlU  fanvid+music    Includes clips from Season 2 (when his hair is short, her skin is weirdly pale, and they’re sorta-dating)

http://youtu.be/le0WrDsjwPI   excerpted summary of their relationship, season 1+2.

http://youtu.be/U13jUkSwTAk   Yeah, it’s a fanvid to “Teenage Dream”.   It was actually only the second version I had to watch to find a good one.  Sadly/hilariously, Demi actually starts to look like Katy’s cartoon features by the end of season 2.   Spoilers for everything, out of order.

For the English major:

“It’s that old devil moon in your eyes” by blackwayfarers.   a hard PG-13, and I mean that pun.  http://archiveofourown.org/works/33527

It is incredibly difficult to write good fan fiction for a television show, particularly one blessed with only one well-written AND acted character, guess which. This is, in fact, the only decent fix I could find for SWAC.  (if you head to AO3 to prove me wrong, please do yourself a favor and skip the Chad/Grady piece.  It’s not worth it.)  Here are two tastes of the author’s wit:

“Oh, thanks,” Sonny replies, using a wet cloth to wipe the make-up from under her eyes. “I’ll have you know I was in Tiger Beat this week.”

“I know,” Chad says. “When bad clothes happen to good people. Flattering.”

I was taking out the trash,” Sonny seethes from between clenched teeth.

and

Chad nods, sighing deep and long-suffering. “A wise philosopher once said: just dance, it’s going to be all right. Wise, wise words.” He stands and stretches a little, planting a hand on Sonny’s shoulder. Somewhere in the distance he catches a girl’s eye, nods his head with a grin before looking down to Sonny with a condescending smile. “I suggest you take that advice.”

Sonny watches him walk off and suddenly, desperately wants to hurl squid at him.

If you made it this far, hugs all around.   You can get drunk  enjoy moderate amounts of alcohol with me any time, and we don’t even have to watch the Disney Channel.

Next week I go on family vacation (at last) so if I haven’t responded to your lovely comments by Sunday, I probably won’t until after Labor Day.  I’ll get around to blogging about So Random! in full once I’ve seen the whole first season, which wrapped up last Thursday.   Next Wednesday you may expect to see my thoughts on The Hunger Games, Book 1, which I wrote nearly a month ago.   After that, it will be time for a little low-class fun by analyzing Ke$ha’s “Sleazy”.   Gird your loins with trash bags and strap in; it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

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9 thoughts on “Exploring the Obvious Star Vehicle: The Unexpected Charm of “Sonny With A Chance” (1/2)

  1. LadyG says:

    BONUS FEATURE: The first person to find the unintentionally dirty joke in the fan fic listed above gets to nominate the next open Wednesday Art Criticism topic (probably in late September).

    Please don’t post it here, since that’s unsportsmanlike: email yaelgodiva (at) gmail (dot) com.

    Hint: it’s one of Chad’s lines. And I’m positive the author didn’t intend it — throw your mind in the gutter for a second. 😉

  2. Cookie Monster says:

    *laughs* Honestly, the bit about hurling squid made me laugh so hard… The brill analysis throughout was pretty impressive too. 😉

  3. Justine! says:

    I’ll check it out. I totally laughed at the NJ princesses thing. I actually like Demi Levato. I haven’t paid attention to her much, but when she was starting to make waves with Camp Rock (which I saw unfortunately…twice) and Miley “The Bitch” Cyrus was still riding high on Hannah Montana, I felt that she was actually nice and deserving of my respect. You know, despite her acting ability or lack thereof. Especially after that whole youtube video drama a few years back in which Miley and a friend I can’t remember made a video making fun of a video that Selena and Demi had made.

    I really hated Selena Gomez for the same reason I hated everything thing in high school, especially after Not Another Cinderella Story in which her forehead seemed to take center stage. However, as she grew up and I watched a few episodes of Wizards, I began to have an appreciation for her. Her character in in that show is such a blatant selfish bitch, it’s awesome.

  4. caelestis albinus bibaculus says:

    I read as far as “Nick Jonas, the brooding auteur” and I had to take a break.

    Also, does anyone else find the intro to be more than listenable?
    The song is almost good, and I don’t quite believe Miss Lovato (unmarried, I looked) is responsible for the vocals.
    The song is at least suitably punky and rocky.

  5. M Marian says:

    Wait. His name is ACTUALLY Sterling Knight!

    I thought that was the character. I refuse.

    • LadyG says:

      Then you need to read Tweenage Wasteland, because they agree. Also, he said in an interview somewhere that his mother planned on naming him Julian, but ultimately decided on Sterling after someone. Maybe Sterling Holloway?

      (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001359/ — the Young Sterling can never hope to match him)

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