Laura Reviews Braceface
Everyone has wondered at one time or other, "What ever happened to Alicia Silverstone after Clueless?" Some more alert moviegoers might have noticed her in that crappy Brendan Fraser movie about being in a bomb shelter, or the crappy Some Other Guy movie about being in the trunk of a car. Clearly, our Clueless-era expectations--that she would go on to inhabit the hallowed halls of Blonde Hollywood Stardom alongside Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, et. al.--are not going to come true.
What you may not know, however, is that Ms. Silverstone has gone on to much greater things. She is currently (or was recently) executive-producing and voice-acting a preteen cartoon on the ABC Family Channel known as Braceface. It's about a young teenaged blonde girl, armed with braces with that indescribable Alicia Silverstone squeal, going through her life and dealing with family, friends, boyfriends, school, etc.
I consider myself something of a conneiseur of the delights of pre-teen TV, so I'm excited. My favorite aspect, of course, is Ms. Silverstone's golden tones. After all, when the average viewer is asked to recall his favorite aspect of the pert blonde, he responds without hesitation, "Her voice!" What this cartoon does is satisfy our need for Alicia's vocal talents while sparing us the agony of gazing upon her horrible troll-like visage (not to mention her horrible troll-like rack).
ArtLet me start by saying that the art for the show was nearly enough to put me off at the beginning. The characters are drawn in a somewhat alarmingly angular fashion. And the oft-detailed backgrounds make the foreground figures seem pretty poor in comparison. But once you get past that, it's actually not that bad. Read on...
CharactersA quick character rundown for your edification is presented here.
Sharon: Main character voiced by Alician Silverstone. Annoying and self-righteous, but tolerable. Sharon's "thing" besides being the main character is that she loves animals. She has like three dogs and three cats. Oh yeah, and she has braces. More on that later.
Maria: Sharon's best friend, an Asian girl who loves sports. I think that--sports-- might be her only "thing", besides liking Sharon. She might sort of like drama too.
Connor: Sharon's other best friend, supposedly. I mean, he's in the credits and everything like he, Sharon and Maria are supposed to be this threesome, like Gordo, Lizzie and Miranda or Buffy, Willow and Xander, but he's totally not in most of the episodes. Occasionally he shows up to sneeze at something (his "thing" is being allergic to stuff). But most of the time he's conspicuous by his absence, or at least his unimportance.
Alden Jones: Sharon's primary love interest for much of the series (thus far, anyway; more on that later). He's a singer/guitar player. He's pretty nice, I guess, but lacking in personality. He's not especially cute in his cartoon representation, but one must use one's imagination, I suppose.
Brock: Alden's best friend, a total sleazebucket who's always hitting on all the girls. He plays the bass for Alden's band.
Adam: Sharon's older brother Adam is HUGE. Giant. He's like three times the size of everyone on the show. He's not just fat, or tall, he's proportional, he's just huge. I don't know what's up with that. I'd say it's a wry commentary on how teenagers go through growth spurts and stuff, but he's larger than all of the adult males on the show. Maybe he's got a medical condition. I think it's polite not to ask.
Josh: Sharon's younger brother, whose "thing" is that he's a piano genius. He's always playing the piano. I must admit that having Sharon walk in the door all the time with the piano going and the dogs barking gives it a definite sense of a cozy but active home, but can't he ever do anything else?
Sharon's Mom: Sharon's mom is a psychiatrist. She's one of those TV-psychiatrists who's always analyzing everything.
David Bowie Okay, so Sharon dad is not technically David Bowie, but on the other hand, he so is. He's this late-30s-ish rock musician with high cheekbones. Nowadays he generally wears Hawaiian shirts, since he lives in Florida and all, but I like to think that in his younger days (round about when he met Sharon's mom) that he was TOTALLY glam.
Storylines & MoralsSo, for starters, let's get the brace thing over with. Sharon has braces. Magic braces. Magic braces that manipulate metal. Clearly that's ridiculous, especially in an otherwise realistic show. The only thing that excuses it is that normally the things the braces do can be explained in another way. Usually, there's some subconscious reason why Sharon wants to blame whatever happened on something other than herself--"the braces did it" being her excuse. For example, one time "the braces" opened the lock on Maria's diary. And another time "the braces" create static and cut her off while she's trying to ask Alden out over the phone. Clearly, she actually wanted to read the damn diary and she actually didn't want to talk to Alden. So that's all right.
The magic braces thing is idiotic, though.
And what's the big deal with having braces, anyway? How is she the only one with braces in her entire world? Everyone I know has had braces at some point. It's not a big deal.
Braceface do possess some qualities I genuninely like. For example, it is unafraid to engage in long-term story arcs. The kids actually graduate from middle school, for example, and go on to high school! That's HUGE. Do you know how many shows don't do that?
And Sharon doesn't just have a crush on a boy forever; eventually, she actually goes out with him. And then they break (SPOILER) up (/SPOILER). Her relationship with her friends, Maria and Connor, and her family also go through their ups, downs, arounds, throughs, etc.
Some of the individual storylines are weird, though. I mean, sometimes it's hard to tell what they're trying to teach. I thought I'd be glad when I found a kids' show that just told a story, rather than trying to shove all kinds of life advice down my delicate craw, but now that it's gone, it really bothers me. It's not that Braceface isn't preachy, but it's preachy in a way that isn't always clear.
I don't know, maybe it is always clear, and I'm just dumb.
Tell me what you think. One episode is set up as a standard rules-and-boundaries-are-good episode: Sharon is mad at her strict mom and excited to go down and see her rule-free dad, David Bowie. In fact, she's considering moving to Florida to be with David Bowie full-time (who wouldn't?) As soon as I saw this set-up I thought "David Bowie's going to let her run free, and she's going to get into some kind of trouble and wish he had set limits for her." But no: as the episode progressed, the rest of the plot seemed unconnected to the set-up. David Bowie spent a lot of time with his band members and sent Sharon, Maria and Sharon's gigantic brother Adam out to play on the beach and such. But Sharon isn't satisfied with that: she wants to spend more time with her dad. She starts hanging around with David Bowie's roadies so she can be closer to the band, and they pressure her to drink. David Bowie then proceeds to get upset that she drank. In the end, Sharon moves back with her mom even though David Bowie is clearly better, since he's much more lax in general, but he still sets boundaries when necessary.
So what's the moral here? "Drinking is bad," clearly, but what about the rest of the episode? They didn't need all that stuff with the dad just to say "Drinking is bad." Here's one possibility: "You may think your crazy fun-loving relative doesn't have any rules, but certain things, like drinking, is off-limits no matter what," possibly. But that's not really true. What about the kids with crazy fun-loving stoner uncles who actually let them do whatever they want? It's hard to say, but the most solid moral I got from this episode was "Don't hang with the roadies." Perhaps an unorthodox message for a children's television show, but an important life lesson nonetheless. I'm glad the next generation won't have to learn this the hard way.
Another unusual moral that I liked was "You can still like people who aren't vegetarians even if you are one". Early on in the series Sharon becomes a vegetarian and begins to berate her family and friends for eating meat. Even dreamy Alden, who works in a slaughterhouse for extra cash, does not escape her critical glare. In the end, she realizes that, even though she truly believes that eating meat is wrong, she can't force her beliefs on other people. Good to see the tired "Stand up for what you believe in" being modified with a clause: "except when that means being a self-righteous bee-otch."
OverallI like it. How about you?
Braceface is on the ABC Family channel at 4:30 PM where I live, with new episodes on Fridays. Check your local listings.