Someone’s eye is watching this show. It just isn’t mine.
Things change a lot when you turn 13. That’s true for almost everyone, but it’s especially true for Andi Mack.
When Andi was 12, everything felt pretty simple. Sure, she had her share of struggles, but at least she knew who she was. She lived with her mom, Celia, and dad, Ham. Her rebellious older sister, Bex, would sometimes float in for a day or two until she and Celia got sick of each other.
Andi had her friends, too. She had her school. She had her first crush: a guy named Jonah. See? Normal kids’ stuff. Simple. Not great, but at least she had some constants she could hold on to.
Then, on her 13th birthday, she has a real surprise party. First, Bex announces she’s moving back home. (Surprise!) Then, Andi learns that her “sister” is actually her mother and her “mother” is actually her grandmother (Surprise again!).
Yep, for Andi Mack, even her relatives are relative.
Adolescence is confusing enough without relational upheaval, but for Andi, change continues apace. Andi’s dad has moved back, too—trying to woo Bex into holy matrimony. (Early in Season Two, Bex is having none of it.) Andi and Jonah are now, officially, an item. Still, going steady with her guy hasn’t been the idyllic bliss she imagined it would be. “I just thought it’d be more fun, y’know?” She sighs. “Like a breath mint commercial.”
Andi’s school chums are experiencing their own crushes, too—most notably, her male best friend, Cyrus. In a well-publicized storyline, Cyrus comes out as gay in the first episode of Season Two, and he’s crushing on Andi’s boyfriend, no less.
“I feel weird,” he confesses to their mutual friend, Buffy. “Different.”
Buffy reaches over and takes his hand. “You’ve always been weird,” she says. “But you’re no different.”
If that sounds more like the stuff of a drama-filled soap opera than a Disney kids’ show, you’d be right: Andi Mack is, indeed, a show unlike much of anything we’ve typically seen from the Mouse House before—for better and worse.
For years, Disney’s television division has made a mint on its cookie-cutter live-action sitcoms. They weren’t always great shows, mind you. But they were relatively inoffensive. Most followed a tried-and-true formula: Take a charismatic lead, surround her with a wacky supporting cast, blend in a follow-your-dream conceit, add some wise-but-unobtrusive parents, and spice with lots of corny jokes. Voila! Instant hit.
Most of these shows had reasonably nice messages about friendship, family and doing the right thing, too. Sure, none of these series ever said anything too substantive, but those messages were at least there.
Andi Mack follows half of Disney’s formula to the letter: Talented lead in her early teens? Check. Zany sidekicks? Check. Strong-if-fleeting positive messages? Checkity-check-check. It also (apart from some short skirts, some occasional toilet humor and a well-publicized storyline) keeps things relatively clean—something you rarely see outside the confines of … well, the Disney Channel.
But this sitcom also has more ambition than most of the cable network’s other recent shows, most recently dealing with the hot-button issue of same-sex attraction.
That ambition has generated a mixed response. While many in mainstream culture have hailed Andi Mack’s introduction of a gay storyline, others have been sharply critical of it. Some countries banned the show. Disney voluntarily pulled it from others. Several culturally conservative family rights organizations have spoken out against the show, and the group One Million Moms called for a boycott.
Many, if not most, TV series these days include an openly gay character. That trend has been accelerating in recent years. So it was probably only a matter of time before it crept into kids shows. Now that it has, it might be tempting to look at this latest example on the Disney Channel, shrug our shoulders and say, “That’s just the way it is on TV nowadays.”
But while that may technically be true, parents still must exercise discipline, discretion and discernment—and guard against creeping desensitization—when it comes to shows that are intentionally marketing a strongly pro-gay worldview to children.
Children, in contrast to most adults, are highly impressionable. They’re just beginning to sort through complex issues such as sexuality and identity—issues that need parental engagement and clear communication about the purpose and place of sexuality in our lives. They have little to no understanding of the long-term consequences that their decisions about sexual identity might have for them years down the road—especially if they’re dealing with same-sex attraction, as Cyrus is on Andi Mack.
Focus on the Family believes God designed the family to consist of a husband and a wife and, if possible for them, children resulting from that loving and faithful union. We also believe that God intended the sexual relationship to be between a married man and a woman, something else the Bible clearly teaches. Veering from that intended design for physical intimacy can lead to deeply damaging consequences. That’s especially true for children who might be internalizing the message being attractively presented by a winsome character on a show such as Andi Mack.
The inclusion of gay characters, even on shows designed for children, isn’t going to stop. It’s a reality that parents are going to have to grapple with—and one that many children may be dealing with at school already.
So even if your family chooses to avoid Andi Mack entirely, the themes it’s addressing are still worthy of intentional, scripturally guided conversation between you and your children when the time is right. After all, it’s a conversation that Disney and our culture are already having.
In the hour-long, Season Two premiere, Andi’s father, Bowie, puts down some roots and proposes marriage to Andi’s mother, Bex. “I want us to be a family,” he tells Bex. “I want my best friend back.” Meanwhile, Andi and Jonah become an item, too, further scrambling Andi’s brain. But when Cyrus sees Andi and Jonah together, he realizes that he’s a little jealous … because he wants to be with Jonah, too.
“This is really bad timing,” he tells his friend Buffy. “I just got a girlfriend!”
The only kiss we see here is between Cyrus and that girlfriend. Jonah and Cyrus do hug once or twice (in a boyishly manly sort of way), and Jonah hugs his ex-girlfriend, too. But if physical contact is rare, emotions run to a boil. Cyrus feels “weird” and “different” upon discovering he’s attracted to other boys. He won’t tell anyone about his same-sex attraction yet other than Buffy. But he does look forward to eventually telling Andi. “I want her to think it’s kind of funny that we both have a crush on the same guy.”
Bowie believes in asking “the universe” big, important questions—a philosophy that Andi begins to buy into as well. Bex suggests to her that big decisions can be decided by a coin flip—not by following what the coin says, but because the coin helps you understand your own wishes more clearly. “You don’t listen to the coin, dodo, you listen to yourself,” Bex tells Andi. When former enemies Bowie and Celia (Andi’s grandmother) begin bonding over houseplants, Andi says that it’s “the most boring miracle I’ve ever seen.”
We hear about how Jonah’s ex “stabbed” a teddy bear given to her by Jonah and “ripped out all her stuffing.” Cyrus jokes and complains about his mother and stepmother. A woman wears a somewhat revealing dress. We learn that someone’s father lost his job and had been lying about it for months.
Bex and Celia squabble over personal differences and how best to raise Andi. Meanwhile, Andi’s crush, Jonah, asks for her help picking out a present for his girlfriend. Andi takes Jonah to the store where Bex works to shop for gifts: Bex suggests makeup and, knowing that Andi has a crush on Jonah, applies the makeup to Andi’s face. The trick does impress Jonah. (“Wow, you look really pretty,” he says.) But Celia, who doesn’t want the 13-year-old wearing makeup, is less than impressed.
Buffy, one of Andi’s best friends, challenges her archrival (and perhaps her own secret crush?), Marty, to a race to decide who’s the fastest kid in school. Buffy loses a shoe and assumes Marty stole it. “If the shoe fits, someone’s going to steal it so you can’t wear it and beat him,” she says. So she swipes his shoes and dunks them in a toilet in the girls’ restroom, giving them back to him all soggy and gross. When Buffy realizes that she actually left her shoe in someone else’s car by mistake, she promises to replace Marty’s shoes. Marty says that that’s fine, but that he would’ve rather had an apology from Buffy.
Girls wear short skirts and shorts, and one top bares a bit of shoulder. Celia bemoans Andi’s and Bex’s shopping trip to a second-hand store, saying the clothes smell “like a cat smoked a cigar.” There’s a reference to a praying mantis “eating her mate.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.
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.
Someone’s eye is watching this show. It just isn’t mine.
Language mars this otherwise powerful, poignant and sometimes funny series about moving on from unimaginable grief.
This new Peacock show deals in an intriguing setup and fine performances, but it comes with a flush of problems. And that’s no lie.
The world could use more Jesus. But can it use more of Him onscreen?