For those pre-teens of the 8os, we had the TGIF line up. Ostensibly a Friday night line-up of fairly innocuous, family friendly fare, where the laughs were broad, not too deep, not too on point, and everyone was so darn likeable: Perfect Strangers, Full House, Mr. Belvedere and Just the Ten of Us. Sitcoms heavy on the schmaltz and warm and fuzzies. Even then I seriously couldn’t remember liking shows like this when I was a kid (take this with a grain of salt, because I was a huge fan of Manimal). Yet those are the kind of shows that spring to mind when I think about iCarly.
[For the record, I feel as squirrely watching and reviewing iCarly as I do letting the music of Justin Bieber play in my house. Yet, as the father of preteens, I am tortured by what they are into.]
Like many shows on the pre-teen landscape, from Hannah Montana to Big Time Rush, iCarly centers around teens who have found fame in their own way. In this case, it follows the adventures of Carly (Miranda Cosgrove), whose parents are not on the scene, and thus she lives in the care of her free-spirited artistic older brother, Spencer (Jerry Trainor). While they are waiting for someone to call Child Protective Services on them, she co-hosts a web show with her best friend Sam (Jennette McCurdy) along with the third member of their triumvirate, their tech-savvy friend Freddie (Nathan Kress).
The dynamic between the three friends is what powers the show. Carly is the fairly goody-goody, cherubic cheerleader type, with a wholesome brand of wild streak. Sam is the wild child, prone to punch first and ask questions later, who comes from a fairly glossed over rough background (think “Jo” from the Facts of Life). Freddy is often Sam’s favorite punching bag, though interestingly, he pines for Carly and clashes with Sam. And though he lives in the “just friends” zone, he has shared kisses with both.
Seriously, I’m breaking down the relationship dynamics of iCarly.
What this reminds me is that we weren’t created to be islands of solitude. This self-sufficient image may work for some, but it is not what we were created to be. We’re born for relationships–be they family, friendships, or colleagues–and that is what shapes us (though the absence of relationships also form us). We want that close circle of connectedness where one experiences a deep sense of belonging, acceptance, and love. That’s the lure of community. We want to reach that place of friendship, to be in those late night conversations that come from hanging out, to feel loved, accepted and needed. In short, we want to feel significant. We want to know and be known. We are relational beings, created to form relationships with one another. Intimacy with others is a need hard-wired into us. Because friendship is a beautiful and unique form of love, they are to be treasured.
iCarly is often over-the-top, with plenty of slapstick comedy and exaggerated characters, but the thing is, it’s actually not bad. Whereas Big Time Rush is bland and forgettable, iCarly often have plots that are not only fun, but gags that are clever (one episode had a joke geared around The Wire which caught me completely off guard and left my sons staring at me for laughing). It’s that kind of random to the show that makes it downright all right to watch (though unlike, say, Spongebob Squarepants, I don’t seek out the show when the kids aren’t around).
And one more time, just to confirm things, yeah, I broke out a Manimal reference. The Man from Atlantis can’t be far behind.