It’s a kid’s educational dream: a boarding school where students get their own laptops, the cafeteria serves sushi and the beach lies just footsteps away. Add sunny skies, a college-like campus and friendly teachers, and you’ve got Pacific Coast Academy, the setting for Zoey 101. Nickelodeon’s newest über-hip tween series stars Jamie Lynn Spears (the spitting image of pop-star big sister Britney) as Zoey, a down-to-earth eighth-grader in her first year at the previously boys-only PCA.
Zoey isn’t afraid to speak her mind, challenge pointless traditions and, most of the time, do what’s right. When her younger brother gets bullied by a PCA classmate, for instance, Zoey comes to his rescue. She’ll stand up to anyone, including the campus hothead, who loves to pick on the new girl on the block. When she’s not fending off his “I tease you ’cause I like you” jabs, Zoey’s working on class assignments such as creating the best TV commercial for a new motorbike. The prize? Team members get to cruise around campus on their own scooter, and their ad gets used for the marketing campaign.
Obviously, PCA isn’t your average middle school. But don’t mistake this for a Beverly Hills 90210 remake. So far, Zoey 101 has stayed grounded, innocent and age-appropriate for its weekly audience of more than 3 million viewers. The values of lasting friendship and selflessness are central. Students stick up for one another when the going gets tough. Arty after-school activities are considered cool, while spying, lying and bullying all get an obvious thumbs down.
What’s likely to disappoint parents is the lax authority shown at PCA. If grown-ups aren’t playing the dummy role, they’re the target of silly jokes. And even when pranksters get caught, consequences are few. Zoey 101 often portrays boundaries as unfair or pointless, so kids get off scot-free. That attitude is joined by jokes involving breast size, underwear and a guy wanting to play Little Orphan Annie in the school play. Mild language includes “butt,” “suckier,” “boob,” etc. Also, a scooter ad created by a team of boys features a buxom brunette in a bikini.
Fortunately, Zoey’s problems are scaled to tween size. In a world of middle-school crushes and double-dog dares, kissing remains the deep end of sexuality, and “jerk” is still a four-letter word.
Episodes Reviewed: Jan. 16, 23, 30, Feb. 13, 20, 2005