For years, Disney Channel has been home to the most family-friendly fare on television. From Lizzie McGuire to Hannah Montana, right on through to The Suite Life on Deck, the Mouse House is known for cranking out one squeaky-clean show after another, filling them with engaging actors, laugh-track punch lines and often a decent moral to fill out the half-hour.
It's not like these programs were always pitch-perfect. As adults, sitting through some of their episodes caused eyestrain from all the eye-rolling over the setup-delivery-laugh formula and 8-year-old-inspired slapstick (not to mention the trouble some of Disney's talented actresses have had outside these shows). And yet for all of that, the programs themselves were (and, in most cases, still are) sweet and innocent. They were populated with caring parents, well-meaning kids and plots that often lent themselves to slow and steady self-improvement. If a parent ever asked me, "Paul, are there any shows clean enough for my family to enjoy without having to always keep my finger on the mute button?" I could often point to something on Disney.
Which brings us to Jessie. Here Disney is largely working off the same template it's been using for years: The kids are still talented. The jokes are still lame. Even the setup still feels like it was created on Mickey's assembly line: Small-town girl moves to a Manhattan penthouse to serve as a nanny for a charmingly precocious multiracial family—a twist on the poor-girl-goes-to-the-palace theme that's been a staple of Disney tales since Cinderella.
But it's about there where the fairy tale falters (just a bit).
To get to Manhattan, 18-year-old Jessie rebels against and lies to her no-nonsense Marine Corps father. "My dad practically blew his flattop when I told him I was moving to New York," she tells a taxi driver in the pilot. "But he chilled when I told him I had a great job." She pauses. "Do you know where I could find a great job?"
For a network that has been known to embrace parental authority and shine a positive light on the role of moms and dads, that's a bit of a big-city departure.
And it's not as if the show finds more positive adult role models elsewhere. Bertram the butler can't be bothered to do much of anything. And Jessie's charges—a quartet of kids, three of whom are adopted—have gone through so many nannies that even ABC's SuperNanny wouldn't take the gig. That's perhaps partly because their mother, Christina (a supermodel/businesswoman), and father, Morgan (a famous director), are barely ever there. This Brangelina-style power couple jet-set around the world and, while they seem to love their kids, they're rarely home to see them.
Which means the only adult role model viewers are likely to see is … Jessie. And while the nanny does her best to solidify a family out of mismatched pieces (forcing the kids to share a meal together here and there, for instance), it's kinda sad that this kid is the only parent these other kids have. It's like Wendy reading bedtime stories to the Lost Boys—except these lost children actually have a mother (in Paris or Barbados or wherever she is at the moment).
Jessie's less edifying look at parents and family bonds is joined by more toilet humor. Off-color and scatological jokes surface frequently. Much is made of youngster Luke's crush on Jessie, too—an unrequited love that nevertheless feels a tad creepy in an age when student-teacher "relationships" make the news cycle almost every week.
In short, Jessie is jolly good ... but a tinge more cynical and a touch more crude than we've come to expect from nanny Disney.
"Kids Don't Wanna Be Shunned"
Emma's friends are wooed away by mean-girl Brynne. Luke cons Ravi into doing a school report for him. Ravi gets revenge by feeding Luke a bunch of bad information.
The friend wars involve lies and a food fight in a theater. Emma's best friend, though, shows sacrificial tendencies by leaping in front of flying nachos headed right for Emma—taking the gooey cheese blow to the chest. She languishes on the floor, coughing up the occasional popcorn kernel. But, of course, the theater's security guard is not moved. He chases Jessie and Emma around, and we later learn that the two girls were forced to clean the theater before getting banned for life. Emma, on roller skates, runs into a fridge, falls on her rear, etc.
There's talk of bikinis and ogling abs. Ravi tricks Luke into wearing a female Indian outfit.
Brynne is horrified that Emma would eat a hamburger, calling it "charred animal flesh." Emma says that since it comes from the cafeteria, it likely doesn't have any actual meat. We hear that Brynne's family made their money through the Happy Tush Toilet Paper business. "Your family's product is as hurtful and as abrasive as you," Jessie says.
"Creepy Connie Comes a Callin'"
Jessie encourages Luke to ask a smitten classmate to a Harry Potter costume dance. But it soon becomes obvious how the girl earned her nickname "Creepy Connie": She starts threatening Jessie to stay away from her "man" (squeezing oranges in her face), then kidnaps and threatens Luke's stuffed koala, eventually ripping its head off. "People get nicknames for a reason!" Luke tells Jessie—which is about as close to an actual moral as you're going to get in this episode.
Ravi raves about his new fortune-telling app. At first, the app seems to predict the future with uncanny accuracy. But when it eventually stumbles, Ravi admits that complete fortune-telling reliability can't be guaranteed through a $3 app. "Those cost $4.99," Jessie quips.
When Ravi's pet monitor lizard eats Zuri's stuffed animal, Ravi says not to fear: They'll be able to patch the thing together "when it comes out the other end." (And we learn Jessie does just that.) Kids joke about flatulence, stalking, bad behavior in class, personal hygiene and inappropriate relationships. Lines reference South Park and the R-rated film Fatal Attraction. Bertram injures himself by slipping on whipped cream and later chokes on some stuffing.