Paul Asay
Kristin Smith

TV Series Review

Who doesn’t want to be famous? You want to be famous. I want to be famous. No, no. That’s a lie. I don’t want to be famous. I just want to be rich and incognito. And you … well, I suspect you’re already famous. By the way, welcome to Plugged In, Taylor Swift! I reviewed one of your albums!

True, fame isn’t everything. You and I know this well, Ms. Swift. There’s always the danger of Kanye West stealing your microphone, for one thing.

But Kanye or no, being famous is the No. 1 desire for many children and adolescents, according to a survey from UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center. In fact, a third of the young people polled said that being famous was either “somewhat” or “very” important to them. Furthermore, the more active those surveyed youngsters were on social media, the more likely they were to desire fame.

All of this may help explain Disney’s sitcom, Bizaardvark, a show predicated on not just becoming famous, but becoming Internet famous.

Forget the Cliques, It’s All About the Clicks

Meet Paige Olvera and Frankie Wong, two young teen friends who’ve become, in their spare time, midlevel online stars. Known collectively as Bizaardvark, Paige and Frankie post funny songs and crazy videos to the Internet and watch the likes roll in. Once they hit 10,000 subscribers, the duo drew the attention of Vuuugle (pronounced like Google), which hired them and brought them to Vuuugle’s studios so they could take their crazy to the next level.

They’re not the only ones inhabiting the studios, naturally. Vuuugle, like all 21st century media corporations, strives to cover all bases. As such, there’s a large allotment of Internet semi-stars there trying to climb a rung or two higher in the cyberspace stratosphere. Dirk Mann runs a channel called Dare Me Bro—a Dude Perfect-like channel where there’s just one dude. The vain Amelia Duckworth teaches children how to look their best—or, at least, how to apply the right amount of rouge—on Perfect Perfection With Amelia. And, of course, there’s Bernie Schotz, Frankie and Paige’s shoebox-sized agent who, like me, would rather be rich and incognito.

Fame! I’m Gonna Live Forever Online!

In the real world, kid-centric cable has long catered to its viewers’ collective desire for fame. One might even argue that it has encouraged it. And Disney’s been particularly adept at crafting celebrity-centric shows for its celebrity-hungry viewers. From Hannah Montana (regular kid by day, music superstar by night) to Sonny With a Chance (where Demi Lovato’s Sonny joins a TV sketch comedy) to Shake it Up (starring a pair of wanna-be dancers going on a local TV show), the Mouse House has long encouraged its young viewers to dream big: Yes, you too can be a star.

That’s a problem that we’ve talked about in the past. Sure, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being famous. But there’s nothing inherently right about it, either. It doesn’t make you an intrinsically better person.

Disney, of course, gets that, too. Even as its protagonists reach for celebrity, they remain relatable and down-to-earth. Paige and Frankie fit right in the mold. Played by Olivia Rodrigo and Madison Hu, they’re talented, charismatic and seem incredibly nice. And throughout the course of each episode, they convey good, if light, character lessons to Bizaardvark’s young viewers: the value of friendship, the importance of being honest, etc. Even as they embrace Internet fame, they gently poke fun at its odd celebrity culture, as well. (A recent episode gave a little elbow to wildly successful YouTube videos that, essentially, feature kids unwrapping toys.)

It is, in other words, very much the sort of live-action show we’ve come to expect from Disney. It’s nice. It’s sweet. And—thanks in large part to its stars—it can even be kinda funny.

That said, Bizaardvark is incrementally more problematic than some of its Mouse House predecessors. We’re not talking about a huge shift in attitude, here: This isn’t a pint-size version of Breaking Bad. But like its channelmate Bunk’d, the show does sometimes dabble in a bit of bathroom humor. And thanks in part to Dare Me Bro, young viewers are bound to see more slapstick violence as well.

Episode Reviews

Aug. 8, 2018: “Summer Schooled”

Paige tries to convince Frankie that her summer school class is fake. Zane, a famous unboxer, teaches Amelia and Bernie how to “unbox” like pros.

Paige gets a love letter form her grandmother’s “prison pen pal.” Amelia and Bernie show some attitude after they’re told that they can’t act. A school principal cares more about being her student’s friend than teaching. Some kids throw out light insults, rude comments and one girl shoves another. Kids worry about being hated by “the internet.” Paige and Frankie exclaim” oh my gosh,” “this is nuts” and “sucker.” A few guys swim shirtless.

Bizaardvark: August 7, 2016 “Unboxing”

When Frankie and Paige discover that Dirk is secretly running another successful online channel—one in which he goes incognito and unwraps toys for the camera—Dirk insists that everyone else must cough up a secret, too. Amelia reveals that she’s actually rich; Frankie confesses that she watches Russian soap operas with her neighbors; and Paige says that she’s taking mixed martial arts classes. What she doesn’t say—a secret within a secret, if you will—is that she particularly enjoys those classes because they allow her a little “Paige time.” That is, time away from her best friend Frankie.

We see sparring and fighting in Paige’s MMA class. One pre-pubescent fighter hits, kicks, knocks down and stomps an adult sparring partner. (The gym’s owner admits that he hasn’t asked the kid to pay his dues for four years because he’s scared of him.) When Frankie joins the class, too, she narrates her own imaginary fight: “Knee! Elbow! Heart rip!” she hollers, pantomiming reaching into someone’s chest and taking out their ticker. She then pretends to take a bite out of it. (In an imagined sequence, someone “rips” an obviously plastic heart out of someone else’s chest. There is no gore.) Paige gets knocked over by a punching bag. We see sparring in the gym.

Dirk and Bernie use some of Amelia’s fortune to buy an extravagant meal. Dirk is beaten with a salami. Dirk gathers people around a “sacred” circle of truth: All the participants wear red, hooded bathrobes. We hear about someone being poisoned on a Russian soap opera. Amelia wears a short skirt. Paige tries to hide from Frankie in a bathroom, but she crawls into the toilet stall with her. The two engage in (as you might expect) some toilet humor there. Someone says “butt.” Bernie is forced to do community service after attempting to cash an unknowningly phony check.

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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.

Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).

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