Disney Treading on Dangerous Ground With 'Bizaardvark' Episode
'Bizaardvark' Cast - (Stereo)Typical Nice, Goofy Kids
Disney Channel Threw Me for a Loop
I've been an ardent supporter of all things Disney through the years. I used to take my friends' kids to Disney movies well before I had any kids, and generally speaking, if it's got the name Disney attached, I'm all over it. I was even okay with Disney's purchase of the Star Wars franchise; that's how much I support Disney and its decisions.
Generally speaking, I like what's on Disney Channel. As a rule, the programming is lighthearted, fun fare that has pretty positive messaging to go along with it. The one glaring exception to all of this for me recently is their new television show Bizaardvark. I support the right of kids to be creative, and several friends of my daughters have YouTube channels, largely devoted to either science or Minecraft, and that's fine. My youngest tends to like family-oriented YouTube programming, which tends towards the goofy side of family life, and that's OK too.
I don't get Bizaardvark, but I suspect that's probably OK. After all, I'm 43 and not exactly in the target demographic for the show. I do, however, respect my kids' right to explore different types of programming, and I'm generally in the room with them when they're watching television, or at the very least, I'm within earshot.
It was Bizaardvark's "Superfan" episode that got me unsettled, to the point where I had a chat with both my girls and didn't exactly sleep well. It's great that Disney wants to explore different ideas and issues, and it's a sign that the network is growing up.
With a target demographic of 2 to 14 years of age, Disney didn't exactly meet the best interests of its fans with the "Superfan" episode. The channel would have been hard pressed to meet the best interests of anyone with that episode.
'Bizaardvark' - Nice Cast, Not So Great Story
So What Is the 'Bizaardvark' Issue?
In short, Bizaardvark is about Paige and Frankie, two well-meaning kids who are working hard to become internet sensations with their YouTube show "Bizaardvark". Once they hit 10 thousand subscribers, they are invited to start using the Vuugle Studios alongside some of the other big internet names (none of which really exist, but that's OK).
In the "Superfan" episode, the girls learn that they have a superfan named Belissa and are originally excited about the prospect. However, Belissa soon moves to Frankie and Paige's city from Nebraska, shows up at Frankie's house to take measurements, wear Frankie's pyjamas (what??) and take snips of the girls' hair for her collection of "Bizaardvark" memorabilia. She admits to wanting to watch the girls when they sleep, to having applied for a new, out-of-state job for her father (which he apparently inexplicably accepted) and to enrolling in a grade behind where she actually was in school in order to be in the same class with her idols.
Where in the name of all that's holy were the script supervisors?
Do the supervisors and big guns at Bizaardvark not understand that there are preteens watching the show and could be getting very wrong messages from it?
Disney has been known to discuss tough subjects, but through all of the Disney programming there was the understanding that at the backbone of every character's major problem there was a healthy relationship there to help them understand the ins and outs of the challenges they were facing.
There is no healthy relationship here.
At the end of the episode, shortly after the girls tell Belissa that she is causing them grief and is therefore no longer their superfan, they end up apologizing to her because she hustled to get them a packed house for their live show at a coffeehouse.
To an extent, I get the apology in the episode. They freaked on Belissa because she was interfering with their live show and was therefore not helpful, but then she turned out to be helpful because she filled the coffeehouse where they were performing as her way of saying sorry. However, it almost seemed as though the girls completely ignored the creepy, stalkerish behavior in the episode which in the real world would have likely gotten Belissa a restraining order at the very least.
I had to sit down with my girls after and ensure they understood that Belissa's behavior was not acceptable by any means, and they kind of looked at me strangely like, "No duh, Mom."
I was still unsettled, though. There are several great shows on Disney Channel which highlights positive relationships and good problem solving. How in God's name did Bizaardvark get through the vetting process?
I don't have an issue with the kids in the show. They are your (stereo)typical stars from kids' shows - cute, smart and possessed of a relatability that most television shows look for in their stars. It's the producers and the writers - and "Superfan" isn't the only questionable episode.
At one point, "Bizaardvark" is on the receiving end of hateful comments, so Frankie and Paige go hunting through town to determine who the offender must be.
In another instance, Bernie (the girls' "agent") pretends that another YouTuber is his girlfriend because he wants his grandmother to be proud of him, and she later praises him for lying to her as other members of the family have done.
Finally, Calum Worthy (Austin and Ally) makes an appearance on an episode as a YouTube star with over 5 million subscribers. The thing is, he has garnered his fame by being mean spirited and playing very hurtful pranks on people in the name of humor.
When did being mean get funny, at least as far as Disney is concerned?
Sure, there have been episodes of other shows in which characters have done mean or silly things, but the characters generally come around in the end, like Trish from Austin and Ally. She was definitely not the nicest girl or character on the show, but ultimately was a very redeeming character.
I'm struggling to find the redemption in Bizaardvark, but sorry, Disney - you blew it.