“Freak the Freak Out”
Imagine if the creators of Fame were ADHD, fans of The Three Stooges, and only mildly interested in showcasing the talents of the students they were writing about. That’s what Victorious is like in a nutshell.
Let’s start by breaking down the episodes…
* “Pilot” When Tori must take her sister’s place at the school’s showcase she has no idea it will end with an offer for Tori herself to attend the prestigious performing arts school. But when she accepts she quickly learns that this school isn’t normal, and she makes an enemy on her first day.
* “The Bird Scene” — Before Tori can audition for Andre’s play she must first pass the test of “The Bird Scene.” But every time she performs it she’s told she fails. Will she ever figure out the secret to passing it?
* “Stage Fighting” — During their stage fighting class Tori and Jade are paired up and Tori ends up cracking Jade across the face with a cane. And Trina kisses Robbie during an audition but Robbie thinks it was for real and starts pursuing her in earnest.
* “Beck’s Big Break” — Everyone gets to be extras on a movie but Beck gets a speaking role which he loses when Tori inadvertently upsets the film’s star. In other news Robbie and Rex go into couples’ counseling.
* “Tori the Zombie” — Cat convinces Tori to be her model for special effects class but uses industrial strength glue. Will Cat and Trina return to school with the dissolving solvent before Tori’s opening night performance?
* “Jade Dumps Beck” — Beck’s yoga class friend happens to be a hot rich young girl who sets off Jade’s jealousy meter like whoa. But when Jade dumps Beck in the heat of the moment she later regrets it and goes to the last person anyone would suspect for help in winning him back.
* “The Birthweek Song” — Trina’s birthday is too important to be celebrated on a mere day, thus she has a birthweek. Tori struggles to find the perfect gift for her sister and Andre just may have the winning idea.
* “Robarazzi” — Robbie’s going to get taken off theslap.com unless his blog starts to gain a following. But Tori regrets her advice of focusing on the students more when she herself is the subject of Robbie’s first show.
* “A Film by Dale Squires” — The gang is thrilled to be able to work with a notable director until they learn his style of working is more having them do everything while he slacks off and takes all the credit.
* “Rex Dies” — When Tori accidentally sucks Rex into a wind machine they take him to the hospital where Cat gets some unnecessary help and Robbie doesn’t get any (necessary) help.
* Bonus Features — Featurettes, Music Videos
This show is goofy as all hell.
You have Tori (Victoria Justice, Zoey 101) the talented kid who doesn’t believe in herself. And her older sister Trina (Daniella Monet, Zoey 101) who thinks she’s more talented than she is (which begs the question of how she got into the performing arts school in the first place.) There’s the bitch Jade (Elizabeth Gillies, The Black Donnellys) and her boyfriend Beck (Avan Jogia, Caprica), a cool guy who befriends Tori against Jade’s wishes. Next up is ditzy Cat (Ariana Grande, iCarly) who has more than a touch of ADHD/bipolar leanings/whatever you want to call it. Also present is Andre (Leon Thomas III, August Rush), the token nod to multiculturalism. Rounding out the group is Robbie (Matt Bennett, Bridesmaids), the nerd who carries around a ventriloquist’s dummy, Rex, who consistently mocks him and hits on any girl in range.
I understand the first season of a show must out of necessity show characters and develop their personalities. But these kids are pretty stereotypical as they are so there’s not a whole lot of personal growth I anticipate occurring over the next few seasons.
For instance when I say Jade’s a bitch I really mean it. There are no hidden depths which reveal why Beck would be with her let alone continue to date her after he witnesses her nastiness toward Tori. But that’s a show set in high school for you. Can’t have the makings of a love triangle without one person who’s a bitch/dick, one person whose intelligence you question for dating said bitch/dick, and one person who you just know is perfect for the person you think is maybe an idiot.
But these are only the first ten episodes, after all. So it is my fervent hope that there has been some character growth over the remainder of the season.
It was a really smart move to have this set in a performing arts high school, by the way. You get around the boring part of being in school (that would be school itself) and instead put the kids in classes where they’re doing stuff besides listening to a teach lecture.
It’s a pity they don’t take advantage of this more, though. These kids are all clearly talented, as we see during the pilot. The cast has an album coming out and yet the kids aren’t performing nearly as much as you’d expect. They do acting exercises more than anything else, but does that really sell albums? Many of these episodes don’t contain any musical performances.
The pilot is misleading in the sense that Tori has to perform a big number as the focus of the episode. And when she does she learns she’s talented enough to get into Hollywood Arts High School. So you’re left with the sense that this will have elements of Glee to it with characters singing and dancing and selling records along the way.
Yet it becomes instead a true sitcom with fairly one-dimensional characters placed in wacky situations. The refreshing change to those situations is the element of the performing arts added to them. There are still crazy things that have nothing to do with that world but the show works best when they do.
The show’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness, surprisingly enough. And that would be so many stand-alone episodes. They hurt the show because there’s a clear lack of cohesion. There are only two episodes (“Pilot” and “Rex Dies”) that I really felt needed to be seen in the order they were shown. The rest of them I could have watched out of order and not felt like I was missing anything.
However this is also to the show’s benefit for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the ease with which a newcomer can join the show. Telling someone they can start with just about any episode is the best way to get new fans. It’s also a good thing due to the content of the episodes. Each one focuses mainly on Tori and another character, thus we get to learn about her and about one other person in a deliberate way. This also creates opportunities for repeat viewings for those who find themselves drawn to a certain character more than others. If you want to watch Beck then he’s got his storyline in “Beck’s Big Break,” for example.
The most surprising element is the way it has dated itself shamelessly. There are nods to Beyoncé and Johnny Depp, and while those may be timeless, a TMZ rip-off certainly isn’t (I hope). Everyone on the show uses Mac computers and iPhones but since they can’t afford the licensing all the Apple icons are changed to pears. Between every scene is either a computer graphic of Tori updating her status on the school’s social networking site or a shot of a dance number which has yet to be aired. And every end credit sequence has a character or two urging viewers to go to the real site they’ve been updating to during the show. So yes it knows just who their audience is likely to be, but the downside is I’m afraid this won’t bear repeated viewings in the future.
But for what it is the show is relatively harmless. Sure they tend to rely on sight gags and traditional sitcom devices more frequently than I expected but it’s innocent fun.
If I had to give the show one note I would say, “Less puppets, more music.” I can’t imagine anyone who’s really identifying with Robbie, or worse, Rex. Yes, this is a performing arts high school but Rex isn’t anything more than a crutch for Robbie’s inability to be socially accepted. Except for the part where he has friends, can talk to girls and do everything Rex is a crutch for, so yeah. The show tries to make Rex a character in his own right but it just becomes grating and creepy after an embarrassingly short amount of time.
The extras consist of two featurettes and two music videos (5 min). The “Meet Tori Vega” and “Meet the Cast” (2 min) featurettes are really just slightly extended commercials for the show. I suspect they’re snippets from a longer behind the scenes piece to be included in a future release.
I’m completely confused about the transfer of this series. I know it’s shown in 1.78:1 during its first-run airings on TV and one would expect a better audio track than Dolby 2.0 Stereo. Especially for a show that debuted last year and involves singing. I wouldn’t have an issue if I didn’t know it’s better on TV.
For people looking for something in the same vein as Hannah Montana, this is a sure bet. But I’d watch it on TV, unless you anticipate repeated viewings.