Corrupting Your Children, But Amusingly

Tonight (8 p.m. on Family Channel) is the series finale of Wizards of Waverly Place, which I wanted to mention because I think it turned out to be the best of the Disney kid-coms. I haven’t watched enough episodes to know the ins and outs of the show – which fans ‘ship which couple (though I understand there’s a considerable amount of ‘shipping of the Selena Gomez and David Henrie characters, even though they play brother and sister), which episodes represent Jump the Shark moments – but there were always a couple of things I liked about it.

First, the kids were really likable actors who did not do the Miley Cyrus thing of hamming it up on every line. I didn’t care for the parents; defying all sitcom convention, they were a wacky guy married to a wacky woman who’s too hot for him, and both of them hammed it up a lot. But the four kid actors reined it in to a certain extent. Selena Gomez proved to be quite good at deadpan delivery, Jennifer Stone turned the part of the heroine’s hapless best friend into something reasonably interesting, and the show liberated David Henrie from the pain of being known as Ted Mosby’s long-suffering son.

Second, the lead character is a sociopath and everyone acknowledges this, including her. This is different from most kids’ sitcoms, and probably most sitcoms in general. In kids’ shows about teenaged girls, the lead is usually kind of perfect, or set off by other characters far more flawed than she is. (Dan Schneider does this very successfully on iCarly.) The Selena Gomez character is a selfish prankster who tends to maintain her deadpan style no matter how much damage she causes. Of course she does the right thing in the end, but kids are supposed to identify with her and enjoy her not because she’s perfect, but because she’s the opposite.

Also, the writers seem to give this show more slyness than the other Disney kid-coms I’ve seen; like Schneider’s team over at Nickelodeon, they sometimes will put in little shout-outs to things they like or things they’re indebted to. The principal is called “Mr. Laritate” and one episode I saw had a “Miss Majorhealy.” So, all things considered, it was a Disney show that kids shouldn’t have qualms about watching, one of two Disney shows that premiered in 2007 – the other, of course, being the even better Phineas and Ferb – that raised the quality of what that network was offering children.

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