An infectiosly engaging and energetic show for 'tweens and younger. No wonder Miranda Cosgrove's face is on backpacks and lunchboxes.

James Plath's picture

In case you haven't seen the backpacks, lunchboxes, or other product tie-ins, "iCarly" is pretty popular with grade-school through junior-high students. And in truth, it's not too painful for older siblings or parents to watch, either.

"iCarly" is Nickelodeon's answer to Disney's "Hannah Montana." In the tradition of good old-fashioned American one-upmanship, you can almost picture network heads sitting around trying to figure out what could possibly be a better fantasy show for 'tweens than a comedy about a girl who lives a normal life by day but is a famous pop star in her other life? Well, Nick hit the jackpot with "iCarly," because it features a teen whose father is in the military and lives far, far away, and there's no mother in the picture, either. Disney tends to orphan their kids, but the creators of "iCarly" got the brilliant idea to have Carly (Miranda Cosgrove) living with her free-spirited artistic older brother, Spencer (Jerry Trainor)--and "free-spirited" translates into a goof who acts just as crazy and is prone to go along with just about anything, because mentally and emotionally he's right there on the level of Carly and her friends. Rules? What are those? It's like the ideal fantasy for kids, because who wouldn't want to live with a wild-and-crazy older sibling in a loft in downtown Seattle?

Better still, in a world where people would do just about anything to become a celebrity--like crash a White House dinner or post embarrassing videos on You Tube hoping to become another Justin Bieber--Carly becomes an Internet sensation as the co-host of a live Webcast show named "iCarly." If it's bizarre, you might see it on the show, whether it's how to make chicken soup in a toilet or setting up a Web cam on a peanut butter sandwich that's hung to rot and get moldy. They have guest "talents," buzzers that offer crowd noises for such now-it's-time-for activities as "random dancing," and the show's design takes its cue from the Web broadcast, using the computer browser home page "iCarly" as a segue screen from scene to scene.

Cosgrove is perfect as Carly, a pink-cheeked and wholesome looking girl who's perky as a cheerleader but also has a wild side that gets satisfied by doing the show. Her best friend and co-host is a bit more of a delinquent, which is unique for kids' programming. Samantha "Sam" Puckett (Jennette McCurdy) has had several stints in juvenile hall, and she's prone to punch and hurt people for the tiniest reasons--often with no provocation. One of her favorite punching bags is Freddie (Nathan Kress), Carly's other best friend who lives across the hall from Carly and Spencer in a secure building monitored by a gross caricature of a doorman named Lewbert (Jeremy Rowley), who's like the visible version of Carlton the Doorman from the old "Rhoda" show. Freddie is the techno geek who handles all the lights and special effects and big-screens used during the show, and he's the one who uses his digital movie camera to film the show and upload it instantly on the Web.

The three go to the same high school, which gives the series a second major set and a shot at different characters as well, among them a portly bully named Gibby (Noah Munck) who likes to take off his shirt and somehow becomes a marginal friend of the three, even asked to participate in the show.

It's all pretty over-the-top, with plenty of slapstick and exaggerated characters, but the concept and the plots are so fun and the things that Carly and her friends do on their show (and off of it) are so random that you never know what's going to happen next. That element of surprise lends a little edge and "danger" to the show, and certainly it has to be another reason why it appeals to the target age group as much as it does. The show was nominated for Outstanding Children's Program several times, and for a deliberately silly and oddball show it's very well done. The characters are engaging, the actors do a great job making you believe it all, and as I said, there's that constant element of never quite knowing what's going to happen next that lends additional energy to the already manic behavior of the group.

All six episodes included on this disc are from Season 3. Nickelodeon took a page from Disney's marketing book and is producing single-disc collections of random episodes in addition to complete season releases--or in the case of this show, Season One Vols. 1 & 2, with Season 2 Vol. 1 the latest chronological set to hit the shelves. So you can get these single releases or wait for the complete season sets to come out.

If you're going to go for the random sampler, this one is actually pretty good. It contains some of the better episodes:

"iSpace Out" is ironically the weakest of the bunch, so why was it chosen for the title episode? In it, the gang subjects themselves to a series of tests to see if they're up to the task of broadcasting from outer space . . . should the opportunity present itself.

"iWas a Pageant Girl" is the funniest because it has a little fun with teen pageants and also gives Sam's character a little more room to stretch. In it, Sam tells Carly her deep dark secret (she was once a beauty pageant contestant) and urges Carly to compete. And when the opportunity presents itself, Sam gets into the act herself, and the toughness of this character participating in pageant events has the same appeal as Sandra Bullock in "Miss Congeniality."

"iEnrage Gibby" is also a strong episode because it gives Freddie and Gibby a chance to do more, and it presents a situation that junior high kids can identify with: a misunderstanding that leads to anger, resentment, and a challenge to fight. Will Gibby pound Freddie into a pile of meat, live, on their Webcast? And how is it that a guy like Gibby can get a model-quality girlfriend? Guys like Freddie everywhere want to know.

"iFix a Pop Star" finds the gang agreeing to help an aging pop star make a comeback on their show, but when they meet her they see she's not just totally out of shape . . . she doesn't have a lick of talent. It's a satire of so many recognizable faces in the world of pop, all of which shall remain nameless.

"iWon't Cancel the Show" has Carly trying to make a show that's really special because her dad will be watching overseas. But Sam winds up in juvenile hall again, and she needs Spencer to fill in. Trouble is, Spencer is trying to impress a sophisticated woman he's dating by cooking for her. Can he juggle his date and a silly appearance as a baby on "iCarly"?

"iBelieve in Bigfoot" finds Carly, a true believer, coaxing her friends to accompany her on a trek to prove that this creature exists. And in one of the show's trademark parallel plots, Spencer is trying to verify that there is indeed such a thing as a beavecoon--a critter with a beaver's head and a raccoon's body.

For a contemporary show, the audio-video quality isn't remarkable. Colors are bright, sure, but there's a little more grain than I would have anticipated. "iCarly" is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

The audio--an English Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0--is also a little weird, because the sound effects (like the devices used by Sam and Carly on their show) are channeled through the rear effects speakers and so visually you're seeing it right there, front and center, but hearing it behind you . . . and LOUDER than everything else. That's my only gripe with an otherwise decent audio presentation.

Aside from a bonus episode of "Victorious," a comedy about a girl named Tori who takes classes at a high school in Hollywood for performing arts students, the only bonus feature is a brief "iSpace Out" iTrivia.

Bottom Line:
"iCarly" is an infectiously engaging and energetic show for 'tweens and younger. No wonder Miranda Cosgrove's face is on backpacks and lunchboxes.


Film Value