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Age is relative. Thirty seems old when you’re 12 — but young when you’re 50.
So, sure, it may seem a little silly that the three main characters in Nickelodeon’s new comedy 100 Things to Do Before High School have a bucket list of things to accomplish before leaving middle school. But the show will speak to its target audience. When you’re a preteen, school is your life. The importance of every decision is heightened. There’s no point in telling a middle-school student that, in a few years, it won’t matter who sat with her at lunch because it matters now. 100 Things understands this.
Seventh-grader CJ Martin (Isabela Moner) and her two best friends, Fenwick (Jaheem Toombs) and Crispo (Owen Joyner), are students at Pootatuck Middle School. In the movie of the same name that aired last fall, CJ’s older brother, Ronbie (Max Ehrich), tells her that high school is not guaranteed to be the greatest time of her life and that she and her friends may drift apart. That’s when CJ decides she and her pals must do everything they want to do as friends now.
I, for one, don’t remember my middle-school years that fondly. I would venture to guess that few people think: “Wow, I would love to go back to seventh-grade again.” They are the years of awkward bodies, bad skin, cliques and struggling to fit in. CJ, Fenwick, Crispo and their classmates are idealized, kinder, gentler students. Even the mean girls in 100 Things aren’t that mean. All the characters here are relatable, and every prepubescent viewer is sure to see aspects of him or herself in at least one person onscreen.
The series is from Scott Fellows, whose previous work includes Big Time Rush and The Fairly OddParents. Fellows clearly knows how to create shows preteens want to watch. He speaks to them without talking down to them or trivializing their angst. In the premiere, the friends decide to tackle their biggest fears. For example, CJ must work up the nerve to talk to a “gorgeous eighth-grade boy”; it’s a sweetly innocent touch that all she wants to do is talk to him.
Luckily for parents sitting next to their kids on the couch, the show also has some sly inside jokes aimed to entertain adults. In the second episode available for review, the trio go through the stages of forming a garage band for the school’s music festival, Pootaroo (get it?). When the band breaks up due to creative differences, guidance counselor Mr. Roberts (Jack De Sena) reminds CJ that she can go solo, just like Beyonce did. “Beyonce was in a band?” asks CJ incredulously. Elsewhere, Fenwick trains to conquer his fear of running the halls with the Pootatuck basketball team in a Rocky-like montage.
Ever since I became a parent, I’m hyperaware of how parents are portrayed on shows aimed at kids and teens. Are the parents never around? Are they ridiculously goofy? Are they more their child’s friend than his or her parent? Are their children always outsmarting them and getting away with things? None of that seems to be the case here. CJ’s mom and dad (Henry Dittman and Stephanie Escajeda) are a bit silly, but they’re definitely parents, lovingly encouraging their children while setting limits and rules. Meanwhile, Mr. Roberts is well on his way to being to these kids what Mr. Feeny was to the gang on Boy Meets World.
Moner, who made her Broadway debut when she was 10, is a charismatic presence, and the show already has made great use of her vocal talents. She easily could be the network’s next Victoria Justice or Miranda Cosgrove. The three young stars have strong chemistry and rapport.
100 Things suffers from the over-the-top storylines that are common with these types of shows, and sometimes the dialogue between the three friends is overwritten. Indeed, adults may find they have a “100 things they’d rather do than watch this show” list. But for middle-school students, at the very least, the show hits a sweet spot.
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