Let's just start with the obvious: This sitcom's title begs a question.
Sonny With a Chance of what, exactly? Precipitation? Humor? Learning lessons with her co-stars as they frolic on the set of So Random!, their sketch show within a show? Or, perhaps it's a chance to make this latest Disney offering a hardy hit among tweens tuned in to the House of Mouse?
It's probably that last bit. And it's likely that Sonny, played by 17-year-old acting/singing phenom Demi Lovato, will get her wishes for television success granted. In fact, Sonny is the cheese to her castmates' macaroni. The sugar to their Kool-Aid. The Oreo to their milk. You get the idea.
A Random Assortment of Stars
Sonny Munroe is a sweet and witty kid from Wisconsin whose thespian dreams come true when she's cast on the sketch comedy show So Random! She moves to California with her mother and embarks on a new life in Tinseltown, where she soon meets a bunch of other young stars in training. There's self-important diva Tawni who's instantly jealous of sunny Sonny's talent and charm. And Chad—who's even more egocentric than Tawni—plays a character on rival show Mackenzie Falls.
Chad's secretly interested in Sonny, though he vows to make her life miserable, and he often succeeds.
Duo Grady and Nico are Stooge-like characters who pal around and, naturally, bicker and get into trouble. Zora, meanwhile, is a younger prodigy who, rather than share a dressing room with the other girls, prefers to crawl into the heating vent. No one's really sure why.
Embarrassing Sophomores Everywhere
This ragtag team of comedians—except Chad, who only torments the rest—puts on parodies and skits in front of a live TV audience. Smell-O-Vision isn't part of their shtick, but they probably wish it was, because lighthearted potty humor is the order of the day. In a take on Lassie, for example, "Gassie the Toot'n Pooch" is a collie that communicates not through barking but through—what else—passing gas, contrived sound effects included. So when the town mayor wants beef stroganoff for dinner, Gassie expels the recipe while cameras zoom in on her tail. Ha, ha, ha.
In another episode, porta-potties serve as stage entrance doors for a talent contest that's all about the dancing motions kids sometimes make when they have to pee. And Grady's "real-life" tendency to wet his pants is portrayed through a "Dolphin Boy" sketch—the boy "blows his top" like a porpoise whenever he gets nervous, especially around cheerleaders.
I haven't yet mentioned the boogers and puke that spike other jokes, but I really should move on to cast dynamics:
Zora calls Grady and Nico "Tweedledim" and "Tweedledimmer." She also lies and manipulates. Chad threatens the entire group with meanspirited practical jokes when he thinks he's been made host of a new celebrity prank show. It turns out, though, that he himself has been pranked, and his punishment is pretty foul—off camera his convertible is filled with elephant manure and Zora superglues his shoes to the floor and face to the window so he has to watch.
Where's the "don't try this at home" disclaimer when you really need it?
When trying to impress him, Tawni and Sonny tell elaborate lies to Tawni's date. Nico publicly taunts young Grady with the line, "You've never even kissed a girl!" as if this is a teenage crime. The twosome also knock down a studio wall with a forklift.
A Disney Diet
Sonny may be the Pop to her castmates' Tart, but she isn't the wisdom to their profundity. Indeed, you have to dig deep for any real substance in Sonny. And I mean very deep. Maybe even to China.
The theme song to one of Nico and Grady's sketches sums this up pretty well: "They talk about this and they talk about that/They laugh at their jokes and they blabber a lot/But they really don't talk about squat."
Oh, I get it now. Sonny with a chance of balderdash.
In a Britney-Spears-music-Miley-Cyrus-photo-shoot world, Sonny With a Chance is still fairly benign. And Disney is cashing in and renewing the show for another season since it evokes amused squeals from oodles of kids.
But so does a diet of mac and cheese, Pop Tarts, Kool-Aid and Oreos.
Episodes Reviewed: Feb. 22, March 15, June 7, July 5, August 2, 16, 25, 2009