Victorious: Season 1
In the far off land of Disney there stood an enchanted castle. For many generations it was the training ground for the main export of this magical kingdom; talented boys and girls. Through a rigorous training program, and some suspect a eugenics program to enhance the genes for song, dance and general cuteness, the new star were created to go forth and conquer the entertainment industry. In a nearby rival land of Nickelodeon, the rulers decided to initiate their own apprenticeship to generate youngsters capable of defeating the Disney princesses and princes on their own field of battle. The result was a round of programming on the Nick cable network that could compete with the long established Disney army. Leaving the metaphor behind the undeniable fact is Nickelodeon has been on the heels of the ‘House of Mouse’ for quite a number of years now. This competitor has been constructing its own juggernaut of family entertainment. This currently encompasses films, music, and television and sponsoring their own youth oriented ‘Kid’s Choice’ award ceremony complete with their own trademark green slime dumped in liberal quantities on their guests. One hotly contested arena can be found in the increasingly lucrative tween/teen market. One of the major manifestations of this confrontation is the youthfully based sit com television series. These shows are ideal proving grounds for young talent as they strive to establish themselves in their professions. Much like their Disney counterparts this presentation typically encompasses training and exposure in all forms of entertainment particularly music and comedy. Currently they have a pair of teen series recently merged into the same ‘universe; to better accommodate cross over characters, ‘iCarly’ and the show under review here, ‘Victorious’. Both are set in a high school environment with the former concentrating on a web based show within a show while the latter placed in a specialized high school for the performing arts. It is sort of ‘Fame’ Lite now with 80% less melodrama. ‘Victorious’ is a light hearted romp through the teen years brightly punctuated with plenty of musical numbers performed by a genuinely talented ensemble cast.
The eponymous young lady of the series is Tori Vega (Victoria Justice), a bright, pretty and talented girl. Although not exactly extroverted she isn’t shy either, just your basic well rounded teenage girl. For her entire life she lived in the overwhelming shadow of her sister, Trina's (Daniella Monet), who’s one year older. Trina attends the prestigious Hollywood Arts High School for the performing arts. It quickly becomes an unanswered question as to how she was accepted. Trina can’t act, dance or carry a tune. The only thing she excels in is being an overbearing diva but I don’t think that is part of the school’s curriculum or acceptance criteria. In the initial episode Trina was supposed to be featured in a spotlight number at the school. In a fashion that typically occurs in a ‘wacky’ comedy Trina is unable to perform and the only one that knows the song and accompanying choreography is kid sister Tori. She not only nails the number her innate ability as a performer blows everyone sway and she is immediately offered a spot in the class. This set up an enhanced sibling rivalry and the ever popular ‘new girl’ in school scenario as Tori navigates the social structure of a new school. The aspect of this that works exceptionally well is the performing arts setting. It provides a looser, more liberal environment for students and teachers creating an atmosphere conducive to ad hoc performances and eccentric behavior with both students and faculty. Torus quickly finds herself in a tightly knit group of kids. Andre Harris (Leon Thomas III) is an extraordinary musician who had helped Tori prepare for the showcase. The class hunk is Beck Oliver (Avan Jogia), a bit of a loner. His girl friend is the standoffish Jade West (Elizabeth Gillies) who initially dislikes Tori. There is some chemistry between Tori and Beck but it remains rather innocent. There is no lack of weird students. Robbie Shapiro (Matt Bennett) is never without his ventriloquist puppet, Rex. He is a real person as far as Robbie is concern and his friends have little problem in going along with the façade. Finally there is Cat Valentine (Ariana Grande), her hair id dyed red, as their strange acting teacher, Erwin Sikowitz (Eric Lange) put it, the color of a red velvet cupcake. Cat is sweet, innocent to the point of gullibility and prone to unexpected mood swings giggling one moment and running off crying the next.
The fundamental format of this series is the wacky situation based comedy. There is more farce here than anything else but to say the show runner, Dan Schneider, is the driving force behind Nickelodeon’s trifecta of teen comedy that include the aforementioned ‘iCarly’ and the twin brother based, ‘Drake & Josh’. One common thread that runs through all these series is the use of computers as an integral part of the characters’ lives. In all cases the most common computer, tablet and phone is the ‘pear’, a wink to the ‘Apple’. Used as a transition between scenes are Tori posting to the class’ social network site, ‘TheSlap.com’. Kids are encouraged to actually visit it for episodes, sketches, and music and character profiles. This is another common devices used by Nick’s teen shows.
Typically the stories driving each episode are light and family friend. They do demonstrate a modicum of didactic content by infusing the plots with a usually subtle message. One episode with Robbie’s grandmother demonstrates patience and understanding with the elderly while the one side rivalry between Jade and Tori is carefully developed into a sort of frienmy situation. The construction of Cat goes beyond the standard kooky, childlike trope required by most sit-coms, she is innocence and wonder living in a bubble untouched by the cynicism inherent in our society. There is a mean bone in her body playing entirely against the ‘Mean girl’ archetype. All the kids shown here multitalented but Victoria Justice is at the top of her game. She is equally at home with self deprecating humor of glamorizing her image and belting out a song with remarkable power and control. Okay, there is a strange kid running around with his hand up a dummy’s back but relegating that to whimsy the series is close to the traditional variety show amply suitable for parents and kids alike.