iCarly: Season 4
The situational comedy is one of the oldest forms of programming on television. It is so successful that it has persisted as the backbone of network programming for over for generations. It made sense to broaden this format to encompass every demographic possible. For the extremely popular tween and teen market several cable niche cable networks have explored this form of programming but no one has the experience as does the top two contenders; Disney and Nickelodeon. Both have adopted almost identical approaches to the teen oriented sit com, gather a troupe of multitalented, exceptionally attractive young people and contrive some set of circumstances to permit episodes containing comedy, singing and dancing. In some ways these shoes have endeavored to return to the time when family entertainment centered on the variety show. Disney has traditionally dominated the market with their series like ‘Hannah Montana’ and ‘Jessie’. In response Nickelodeon has developed carefully crafted shows. Currently the two leading series both feature pretty young women; ‘iCarly’ and ‘Victorious’, the former being the subject of this consideration. The series continues to be one of the most popular among the teen set with a cast well known to anyone who tends to vote in the channel’s ‘Kid’s Choice Awards’. The premise is just beyond the realm of plausibility at least from an adult perspective. A teenage girl, Carly Shay (Miranda Cosgrove) lives with her twenty something brother, Spencer (Jerry Trainor). In typical fashion the reason that this young man is the legal guardian of his underage sister remains pretty much ignored. Little is ever mentioned about the mother but the father is in the Navy and assigned to a submarine, quite convenient. On a couple of rare occasions Dad has gotten shore leave and popped in for a guest appearance. Carly and her friends broadcast a regular web show aptly titled ‘iCarly’. This show within a show format permits the writers to include wacky sketch comedy and the occasional musical number. In all the series is innocuous enough to dispel parental concerns sufficiently enjoyable for the grownups to sit and watch with their kids.
I first encountered this show a few years ago when I received screeners for the first couple of season. I was impressed by the whimsical overall feel of the show and the apparent exuberance of the central cast. I’m still far beyond the target audience; in fact my daughter is about a decade past that age herself. Still, the series has retained an enjoyable presentation largely because it the producers have allowed it to change over the years. The initial premise stated Carly was thirteen years of age. That was four year ago when this forth season was initially broadcast. The main difficulty in a series such as this is the unalterable fact once noted by Fleetwood Mac, ‘Children grow older, and I’m growing older too". This might seem trite but if you take a moment to think about it if a show begins to gather a fan base you can only proceed in one of two ways; ignore the aging cast or embrace it. The best example of this plot device is the "Harry Potter’ franchise. The author brilliantly paced each novel to a span of a school year. With each book the characters aged a year but in many cases so did the ardent fans. With ‘iCarly’ the device was applied in a more subtle fashion but the point is the thirteen year kids are now later along in high school. ‘ICarly’ has always had some degree of didactic content but the episodes rarely comes off like some heavy handed after school special. In keeping with the maturing characters of the show the storylines have become appropriately older in content.
Two significant social changes occur as kids grow past the midpoint of their teen years. The circle of friends changes and, most significantly, romance enters the equation. As happens with any group of kids the romantic permutations form and reform several times. Actually, romantic entanglements become the driving force behind a number of episodes. At this point their web show has made Carly and her friends celebrities of sorts. Her on-air side kick and best friend is Sam Puckett (Jennette McCurdy. Over the last seasons Sam’s personality has been defined as abrasive and tough, mostly attributed to a less than ideal family situation. She is constantly eating, although always maintain a trim figure, and likes to torment others most especially the camera man, Freddie Benson (Nathan Kress) and the ever present foil for most jokes, Gibby (Noah Munck). Initially was the butt of many jokes. The typical dorky kid the more popular ones let hang out nearby for amusement. Starting with this season he becomes a regular featured player on the web cast and more accepted as part of their clique.
Another welcomed change this season is how the writer softened Sam’s character. Originally she was a bully with a voracious appetite which while opposing the self starvation trend did paint her as nearly psychopathic. Sam was emotionally and physically cruel and had a reserved seat in detention. At least this season some attempt was begun to make her aware of her feminine side. Sam is still tough as nails but there is a young woman down in the tomboy facade. Some of this is demonstrated by an episode where the iCarly team is invited to a convention panel. While at the web-con a war breaks out between the fans with factions split over which of the girls is dating Freddie. Although the answer seems to be neither later on in the season it is revealed that Sam has a crush on him. We get to meet Sam’s mother with an enjoyable guest appearance by ‘Glee’s’ Jane Lynch. It explains some of the girl’s rough exterior which is reinforced when the group starts a business making Tee shirts. Sam runs a sweat shop while Carly lets her employees walk all over her.
In a fashion similar to that employed by Disney Nickelodeon places their teen sit-coms in the same ‘universe’ so as to allow cross over episodes. A triple episode arc was created by blending ‘iCarly’ with another teen girl show, ‘Victorious’. Carly discovers that her boy friend has been cheating on her in Los Angles. His custody is divided between Seattle (iCarly) and LA (Victorious) so when in California he dates the star of that show, Tori Vega (Victoria Justice). A picture posted on the web makes it back to Carly so the devise a way to visit La and confront him. Both girls are victims of the high school lothario so they team up to humiliate him online, this leads to a theme song mash up feature the combined casts. The series now targets an older teen crowd but remains a great choice.