It’s mid-season premiere season, and we’re bringing you the best of the spring debuts: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Big Little Lies, and today’s pick, Andi Mack. Andi Mack is a decidedly different Disney Channel Original Series. Focused on 13-year-old Andi as she discovers (pilot spoiler!) that her cool big sister Bex is actually her mother, Andi Mack is at once more modern than your typical Disney sitcom and a real throwback to the beloved live-action kids’ shows of our 90s youth.
We grew up during the golden era of children’s sitcoms. Ghostwriter, The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, Clarissa Explains it All, The Secret World of Alex Mack (if you think I didn’t already accidentally type Alex Mack at one point in this post, you’re underestimating how very old my brain cells are) … there was some excellent live-action tween fare in our day. I’m not saying this out of millennial nostalgia: there has been a real change in kids’ TV over the past decade or so. When execs realized that sitcom viewers weren’t the tweens (say, 8-14-year-olds) in the “target audience” but rather their younger siblings, something happened to children’s programming. Sets got brighter. Outfits got crazier. Jokes got hammier. Adults got buffoon-ier. It might be my age, but things also got really, really loud, right? Moments of sentimentality were sometimes slapped at the end of a “very special episode,” but these shows, as a whole but with exceptions, don’t really challenge kids to think deeper or feel more.
Andi Mack is the return of a children’s show that gives children credit. It assumes that kids today are savvy and smart, that they can engage in a show without neon living rooms and dopey dads and literal bells and whistles (no really, those shows are loud). The premise itself is grown-up. In addition to a young teen dealing with very serious questions of identity (‘my mom is my grandma’ has potential for real V.C. Andrews-level trauma), Bex’s age means that unplanned and teenage pregnancy are necessary issues to be addressed. Early reviews mention that a teen character’s sexual orientation will also be discussed. Story lines will be played out over the course of the season, rather than resolved within a half-hour — in fact, the pilot is the first kids’ show I’ve seen in a long time that left me wondering what’s next.
Andi Mack is a situation comedy with actual comedy in it. An Amber Alert quip is – for a Disney show – darkly funny, the kind of joke the darkly funny 10-year-olds in my life would actually make. There’s a “first period” joke that’s more mature than the jokes you see in a lot of other Disney/Nickelodeon sitcoms, and the punchline is implied; again, these writers give children credit that they can get jokes. Children’s television can be almost aggressively multi-cam, and the on-location filming and four-walled-looking sets give Andi Mack the feel of a hip modern-day sitcom.
We usually don’t let a sitcom review go by without an unofficial Representation Is Important Corner, so here it is. The Macks are a mixed-race family, which at least for the first two episodes is presented without comment because that’s pretty much the most normal thing a family can be these days. Andi’s grandpa (previously known as dad) is white and grandma (previously known as mom) is Asian (I know that’s broad, but we don’t have further info). In a country where nearly half of all children are from multiracial households, it’s important that these kids can turn on a TV and see a family that looks like their own. There hasn’t been an Asian-American child protagonist of a children’s sitcom since Shelby Woo, a show that premiered over two decades ago. There have been a whole lot of Hannah Montanas and Sams and Cats since then. In addition, Andi’s friends include at least one kid who isn’t white and one kid who isn’t straight.
The grown-up plots, actually-funny comedy and quality representation aren’t the only reason I’ll be nudging the kids in my life to turn on this show over some of the more neon-‘n-noisy options. The characters and casting are great too. Andi (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) is an imaginative teen in the tradition of Pretty In Pink’s Andie, a sort-of tomboy with cute short hair and a motorized bicycle who is known not to play sports — a win for every girl who wasn’t stereotypically girly, but who still found clothing fun and wasn’t necessarily athletic. That is, Andi is a multidimensional 13-year-old, exactly like real 13-year-olds are. Friend Buffy (Sofia Wylie) is confident and fun, and may or may not be named after that other TV Buffy (although she has started watching it). Her buddy Cyrus reminds me exactly of the funny, self-assured boys I was friends with in my out of school theater groups as a middle schooler; he’s a cool kid who isn’t at all bothered by being friends with girls. Bex is supposed to be about the same age we are, and her youthful looks and personality are why it’s believable that Andi thought Bex was her sister instead of her mom. Lilan Bowden comes from an improv and writing background, so her Bex comes across as the kind of person I’d actually know in my real life. This is where I have to accept that I’m now in my Lorelai Gilmore stage of life: we’re looking at roughly the ages of the Gilmore Girls in the pilot, minus a couple years. I’m hoping for some good references to Bex’s high school days in the early 2000s.
The bottom line: Andi Mack has a more “adult” concept, styling, and sense of humor than your typical children’s sitcom. It brings much-needed cultural representation to kids’ tv, and the pilot will leave you wanting to watch the second episode. If you have kids in your life, you’ll want to get them into this show so you have an excuse to watch it. If you don’t have kids in your life, the only excuse you really need is that this is a good show.
Andi Mack premieres April 7 on the Disney Channel. The pilot is already available on Disney’s website and YouTube platform.