Alexa & Katie

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay
Emily Clark

TV Series Review

The late comedian Gilda Radner once said that “cancer is probably the most unfunny thing in the world.” But that hasn’t stopped Netflix from trying to craft a teen-centric comedy about it.

Alexa has cancer. Or, more appropriately, had it.

The disease worked its anti-magic on the girl throughout the first season: Poof! No more hair! Presto! You’re tired all the time! For Alexa, who wants nothing more than to be a normal high schooler, the inconvenience of cancer is almost as bad as the disease itself. What she wouldn’t do to try out for the basketball team or keep people from pitying her.

Thank goodness for Katie, her next-door neighbor and best friend. When Alexa lost her hair, Katie shaved hers off, too—as a show of sisterly solidarity. They both wore wigs for a time, but when Katie’s fell off one day, everyone assumed that she was the one with cancer—giving Alexa two blissful episodes of normalcy before the real truth came out.

The Big C (As In Comedy)

With the show now in its fourth season (released, as happens with Netflix, in one big mass), Alexa’s cancer is in remission, and things are a bit more normal now. But normal, in this sitcom, is a relative descriptor.

Alexa’s family—her high-strung mom, harried dad and hair-obsessed older brother, Lucas—are hardly the picture of normalcy even under the most normal circumstances. But cancer, like the worst of houseguests, leaves quite the mess. And even though Alexa is free of it for now, her family is understandably nervous that it just might show up again.

Then there’s Katie, who’s hardly a picture of stability herself. The accident-prone teen always seems to have the best of intentions, but those intentions can lead to the worst of outcomes. Her single mom, Jennifer, tries to help when she can, but … well, single mothers are pretty harried, too. And little brother Jack is always good for a little trouble.

But now that the girls are in their senior year (something they weren’t sure they would have together given Alexa’s illness), they’re ready to finally start moving forward with their lives. That means pulling senior pranks, attending prom and potentially going to different colleges.

Nothing Wrong with the Heart. But the Funny Bone?

Traditional multi-camera sitcoms, long the norm in television history, are rare as narwhal teeth these days. But they still have a home in the hearts of many a kid and teen, thanks to their continued proliferation on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Many future superstars (Miley Cyrus, Arianna Grande, Zendaya, etc.) cut their own teeth in the format, and many a youth has lived vicariously—and maybe even learned a thing or two—through these reasonably safe, reasonably family-friendly programs.

Now Netflix, determined to have a show to fit every possible niche, is hopping on the teen-centric, multi-camera train in the hopes of riding it to another hit. And that’s both good and bad for any would-be viewers.

Clearly, the show means well: This sitcom is, above all, about Alexa and her extended family, all of whom care about the teen deeply and ride her agonizing ups and downs right along with her. There’s real affection here, and that’s nice to see.

And for the most part, Alexa & Katie feels relatively innocent and innocuous. Violence is always slapstick. Sexual allusions are as scarce as fabric in Miley Cyrus’ current wardrobe. The worst words you’re likely to hear from characters’ mouths are “gosh” and “sucks.”

But Alexa & Katie still strays a bit from Disney’s perfected sitcom formula. Parents, while clearly caring and occasionally wise, are sometimes a bit clueless, too—seen by Alexa and Katie as obstacles to lie to and manipulate. Some of the wardrobe choices can be a tad risqué, as well. And when it comes to the show’s quality … well, let’s just say that maybe Radner had a point.

But despite those shortcomings, Alexa & Katie manages to be fairly navigable for families. This show has more than a laugh track. It has a heart, too. And that’s something we don’t say too often these days.

Episode Reviews

June 13, 2020: “Last First Day”

When Alexa and Katie decide to have the perfect first day of senior year, they get caught skipping class and wind up with a week’s worth of detentions. Meanwhile, Lucas learns how to “adult,” Jennifer adjusts to her new job as a school counselor and Jack deals with an embarrassingly bad haircut.

Some girls wear short shorts and shirts showing their midriffs. A senior girl states her excitement about dating a college guy. Alexa and Katie skip class to pull several harmless pranks, but one goes awry and accidentally sets off fire sprinklers in the bathroom. Katie admits that her obsession with having a “perfect” first day of school is because she is so grateful to have a first day with Alexa at all.

Dec. 27, 2018: “Second First Day”

Alexa and Katie are excited to be starting their sophomore year of high school, especially given that Alexa’s cancer derailed much of their freshman year. (Indeed, they missed their first day last year because Alexa got them both suspended after discovering she was losing her hair.) But Alexa’s latest cancer checkup looms as well, and she and her entire family are a little on edge about it.

Alexa’s mom frantically tries to say busy, and she starts planning an elaborate Sweet 16 celebration for her daughter. Her mom also pressures son Lucas to start working like crazy on his college applications. (Whenever she casts her frenzied glance in her husband’s direction, he takes off to walk the neighbor’s dog.) Meanwhile, Katie injures herself—not seriously, but she continues to feign the injury and hang out in a wheelchair to help Alexa take her mind off the upcoming checkup.

Katie’s injuries necessitate crutches and then, after she tumbles down the school stairs, a wheelchair. Alexa pushes her to school through a “shortcut,” and Katie arrives at school with her face scratched and bruised (and twigs sticking out in her hair). Alexa offers to skip the rest of her classes one day to stay with Katie.

Both Katie and Alexa wear slightly revealing tops, and Alexa dons ripped jeans that reveal some leg, too. Katie’s mother jokes about people lying about their ages.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

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