TV Series Review
High school can be tough. There are classes to attend, tests to take and peer groups to navigate—not to mention parties, drivers' licenses, dances and dating. High school is a time of high anxiety, where a misplaced decimal point could get you an F in math and the smallest social misstep could get you booted from your lunch table.
And if you're a foot shorter—and a few years younger—than most of your peers, if you just got the training wheels taken off your bike, well, that makes high school all the more difficult.
In Disney's A.N.T. Farm, Chyna, Olive and Fletcher are middle schoolers in a high school world. After exhibiting some stellar abilities in a particular field (Chyna's a musical maestro, Olive has photographic memory, Fletcher is an art prodigy), they were slapped into something called the Advanced Natural Talent Program—or A.N.T. for short. As part of that program, they're sent to high school, where they're expected to take special classes designed just for them … even as they mingle with the big kids.
While all this may sound like a recipe for a John Hughes movie gone horribly awry, Disney has turned the concept into its latest situation comedy—and a star-grooming vehicle for the very talented China Anne McClain.
China, who plays Chyna, is one of the Mouse House's latest singing, dancing mini-Mileys, sure to soon grace lunchboxes and toothbrushes everywhere. And she's flanked by considerable talent: Sierra McCormick (Olive), Jake Short (Fletcher) and the rest of the cast are pretty funny, which makes A.N.T. Farm ever-so-slightly more likeable than the standard Disney sitcom (some of which can feel a bit tired and predictable to this jaded reviewer). And while the show still feels very Disney, creator Dan Singer says that it's stretching the artistic boundaries a bit.
"I think—early on—when the Disney Channel was first getting into sitcoms, you could take advantage of the fact that kids weren't really all that familiar with the form," Singer told jimhillmedia.com. "It was that much easier to entertain them back then. But now—thanks to the success of shows like Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place—today's kids are far more familiar with the sitcom formula. Which is why you now have to work that much harder to stay ahead of that audience. Put together plots that entertain and surprise them."
In one episode, Chyna tries out for the high school cheerleading team—an experience which turns into an exercise in slapstick comedy. She's thwacked with pom-poms and eventually thrown into the air to land in a basketball hoop, surreal physical humor more akin to Goofy than Hannah. And when she drags herself, bruised and bandaged, into the high school musical tryouts shortly after this debacle, she staggers up to the aghast director and unleashes an Elephant Man reference: "I am not a freak!" she grunts. "I am a human being!"
But the violence in this sequence—silly though it is—hints at some of the less-welcome departures A.N.T. Farm takes as well.
While Disney's starlets have occasionally come under fire for straying from their squeaky-clean images, the sitcoms they've starred in have reliably been among television's cleanest, most family-friendly programs. And while A.N.T. Farm is still less problematic than most shows you'll see, it's a little edgy for Disney. Boys and girls don't just "like" each other: They use pickup lines and moves that they might've learned from watching too many '70s movies. One student undoes a button on his shirt, for example, when he tries to introduce himself to a girl. Nor are scriptwriters averse to jotting down a poop joke or two.
Most of the adults, by the way, are no help at all. While Chyna seems to respect her policeman father, educators stand out only because they're either clueless or devious—sometimes both. In one episode, the female principal dresses in a sexy schoolgirl outfit, something we might expect to see in an MTV video rather than a Disney sitcom.
All that makes A.N.T. Farm a bit of a disappointment. While Disney is still one of the safer places to visit in televisionland, it's not completely pastoral anymore.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
China Anne McClain as Chyna Sparks; Sierra McCormick as Olive; Jake Short as Fletcher; Stefanie Scott as Lexi; Carlon Jeffery as Cameron; Aedin Mincks as Angus; Zach Steel as Gibson