The folks at the Disney Channel have grown fat and happy off a smorgasbord of live-action, saccharine sitcoms: That's So Raven, Hannah Montana, The Suite Life on Deck, etc. And while few people would call these shows the epitome of great television—few over the age of 16, anyway—they are exactly what Disney wants them to be: half-hour diversions with a micro-moral and a laugh track.
Shake It Up, Disney's newest tween-centric comedy, doesn't so much shake up this time-honored template as give it a good, hard pinch. But that pinch may make some parents yelp.
At first, the formula feels ever-so-familiar. The show centers around two best friends named CeCe and Rocky who become backup dancers on a Chicago-area teen dance show called, obviously, Shake It Up Chicago. (It's the same show-within-a-show trope we see in Sonny With a Chance and Nickelodeon's iCarly.) Along the way, CeCe and Rocky must deal with school, home, their burgeoning fame, Flynn (CeCe's precocious younger brother), and rivals Gunther and Tinka, a brother-sister dance team so shallow that during a charity dance-off their nonprofit of choice is the Mousse Foundation.
"Thanks to the Mousse Foundation, the less fortunate never looked more fabulous," says Gunther.
If you detect shades of High School Musical's Sharpay and Ryan underneath Gunther and Tinka's faux Russian accents, you're right on the money. But sadly, Shake It Up isn't fully in the groove when it comes to HSM's inherent charm—or its squeaky-clean sensibilities.
Indeed, Shake It Up seems to be shaking loose from Disney's perennial concern over content. While the show is hardly shocking—it's certainly cleaner than almost anything you'd see on network television—the dialogue is just a bit more crass and the dances (along with the costumes that go with them) are a tad sexier than we're used to seeing from Disney. Parents or any other sort of involved adult authority figures are sometimes absent for entire episodes, leaving CeCe and Rocky to run the ranch.
The result feels forced and shrill—like that kid in the lunch room who's trying too hard to be funny. It gives the impression that Disney's creative types are fishing for their next new hit, but seem uncharacteristically unsure of where to throw the hook. In desperation, they've plunked it in Nickelodeon waters.
"Sweat It Up!"
Rocky and CeCe lie to avoid unpleasant situations. And CeCe dubs a group of kids the "nerd herd." CeCe also fakes a gimpy leg to get out of gym class—but gets found out and gets an F plus a summer school sentence. Well, that's her punishment until her flirty mom, Georgia, shows up. The gym teacher lets CeCe off the hook when Georgia gives him her number, and the pair begin dating.
Then it's the adults' turn to lie—and laugh at CeCe's expense when she gets mixed up in it. CeCe, as a result, says she wishes her mom would date her science teacher, who, Rocky points out, is female.
CeCe and Rocky perform a sensual salsa dance. Georgia talks about wearing her "good butt pants" for her date. (We hear about the tight pants over and over.) CeCe's young brother, Flynn, agrees to dogsit for a neighbor for $50 without asking his mother's permission.
"Glitz It Up!"
Shake It Up Chicago's adult host, Gary Wilde, ropes Rocky and CeCe into choreographing the Little Cutie Queen pageant—a gig that's community service for his nine speeding tickets. He tells them he can't go to jail (his other option) because, "I cannot pee in front of people."
CeCe is thrilled about the job, but Rocky says pageants "teach girls that being pretty is more important than being smart." CeCe counters that they teach "important life lessons" such as "how to put hairspray on your butt so your dress doesn't ride up." The pair then proceeds to help a tomboy named Eileen win the competition. When Eileen asks why they're helping her, Rocky says, "[CeCe's] living out her fantasies through you, and I'm using you to make a statement about how shallow beauty pageants are." One of the kids taunts CeCe for not having a figure.
Rocky jokes about "sweaty felons" making knives. And Gary asks the girls to fish his cellphone out of a toilet in the men's room. School friends Deuce and Dina decide to become a couple, but Deuce must first impress her father, Don Rio, who has two huge bodyguards and is depicted as a stereotypical Mafioso. Deuce lies to cover up something Dina has done, and she gushes, "You lied like a dog to protect me, and lying is respected in my family."
"Give It Up!"
To try to win over a cantankerous senior citizen, Rocky decides to raise money for a senior center by participating in a dance marathon. CeCe agrees to help—but only because the winners are rewarded with a "spotlight" dance. Rocky talks CeCe out of downing energy drinks before the marathon (comparing them to steroids), but Flynn guzzles them, forcing CeCe and Rocky to stay up all night babysitting the hyperactive sibling.
Along the way, viewers can learn about the importance of charity, the ill effects of energy drinks and the intrinsic value of doing the right thing. But they also hear Gunther say how he and his sister are going to shake their "money makers," and learn that a fellow student thought the word sarafina meant lady parts. A senior brags about her career as a Las Vegas dancer, where she performed in her "birthday suit," tells CeCe she dances like "she has a load in her pants" and uses a variety of other putdowns. CeCe dances in a formfitting outfit and talks about a dream in which she was making out with James Pattinson.