I'm 32 years old and about to begin my second tour of duty through academia in order to earn a degree by learning how human bodies function. I've lived independently in the real world. So what if I enjoy animated movies? Okay, let me spell out the bottom line: I am in no way the demographic audience for The Disney Channel.
For the most part, The Disney Channel doesn't have a whole lot to offer me, either, so I don't run around bitching about its programming - especially not since I have a remote control which gives me the often-taken option of not watching its shows. So it's saying a remarkable thing that I've somehow taken a liking to Austin and Ally, an apparently popular show on The Disney Channel which reminds me a lot of some of the shows I used to watch as a kid. (Kenan and Kel is the closest parallel to my generation's shows that I can say that about, even though the parallels are loose at best.) Yes, I realize the title of Austin and Ally immediately brings to mind one of those ubiquitous sitcoms about which is named after the two title characters where one is a big guy and he's married to a ridiculously hot wife. Austin and Ally airs on The Disney Channel, though, so lord knows you can't have anything more than a platonic relationship between the two main characters. Yeah, at one point they do try, but it ends disastrously before it has much of a chance to begin, and the two go right back to being friends, as if nothing ever happened.
Yes, Austin and Ally is about the friendship between a pair of best friends who adore each other, but they knocked out the relationship tension early so that's all it is. The show revolves around Austin Moon (Ross Lynch), a singer and superstar-to-be. He's an impressive singer with an amazing stage presence, and by all means he's a guy with all the necessary tools to become a big star in the music industry. That's exactly what he dreams of doing. Everything about Austin screams "boy band," but Austin has a slightly higher bar set and is apparently somewhat lacking in the songwriting department. One day, he has one of those incredible strokes of fortune when he makes a fateful visit to a music store called Sonic Boom and stumbles into a room where Ally Dawson (Laura Marano) often stays to read, write, think, and generally recharge herself. Ally kicks Austin out in short order, but is shocked a day later when her best friend Patricia Maria de la Rosa (Raini Rodriguez) tells Ally that Austin is the latest web sensation because of a song SHE wrote. Austin, to his eternal credit, doesn't go the road of a diva by telling all the teenybopper rags that the song he was caught singing online was his own original creation. Instead, he does everything he can to let people in on the fact that the song was written by a girl named Ally that he had just met.
The two of them eventually warm to each other, and then they join forces. Ally will write the songs, Austin will sing them, Trish will manage Austin, and Austin's best friend Dez (Calum Worthy) will direct the music videos. Ally does have dreams of being a singing/songwriting superstar herself, but unlike the extroverted Austin, Ally is very shy and has a severe case of stage fright - in the earlier episodes of the series, she tries to duck every camera pointed at her.
Austin and Ally is about, well, Austin and Ally. They're the characters who get the most development by far. Trish and Dez get partial development at best, but they are largely single-gag characters because this is a Disney show and every Disney show needs the lazy character and the ditz, who are respectively Trish and Dez. Although Trish is Austin's manager, she is often introduced in episodes by announcing her latest day job, which she'll probably be fired from by the end of the episode. Dez is just a plain old ditz, because The Eleventh Commandment states clearly that all Disney sitcoms for kids must have a ditz character who is used primarily for slapstick.
This show revolves primarily around the teenagers. The characters have parents, but they mostly don't show up. Ally's father owns the Sonic Boom store, so he is stuck making a token appearance every now and then. Austin's parents are apparently mattress store gods who can't resist recreating their mattress store whenever they're given the slightest opening to bring it up and do so. Trish's parents have shown up once in all the episodes I've seen, and as for Dez, I'm taking it on word of god that he has any parents at all. The four main characters rule everything around them. Every episode ends with either Austin or Ally singing a new, original song. Usually it's Austin because he's the one going for broke in the industry, but in the later episodes of the show, Austin helps Ally overcome her stage fright and so she gets to take the spotlight sometimes.
Yeah, this is the neat little wrap-up in a nutshell. The show, so far as I've known it, has only had one two-part episode so far (a good thing because I think two-part episodes are cheap and half-assed), and everything is always solved nicely with a song. Again, Ross Lynch usually gets the spotlight for the big end song, and this makes sense because, according to tvtropes.org, he sings in a professional band called R5 with his brothers. But it's Laura Marano who really steals the show. Her website says she aspires to being in broadway musicals, and she easily has the talent to reach that goal. She's the most talented member of the cast by a mile, and is a wonderful comedic actress with a rangy singing voice.
The series in general revolves around Austin's rise to being a superstar. So a few common episodes are about Dez directing a video, Austin hurting himself and being unable to dance, Austin signing on with a big-time manager who promises to get him a gig performing at Times Square on New Year's Eve but learning the new manager is evil (being a Disney show, you had to know that because her name is Demonica), Austin not getting a new song in time, and a few things of that nature. Now, it's important to note that Austin is still just a kid, and naturally, he'll want to have a kid's typical childhood. There's only one episode which deals with that idea, where Austin tries to join his school basketball team, ends up getting hurt, and almost loses a big gig to play live at the half of a Miami Heat game. Austin and Ally does make passing mentions of his budding singing career, but it tends to hand-wave them, lest we forget that he's still a kid. Austin's fame is really more of a sideshow.
Being a Disney show, Austin and Ally has to come pre-packaged with a certain number of Lesson speeches, but part of the reason I like this show is because the Lessons are very rarely blatant and melodramatic. Yeah, there's an incredible number of "aww" moments in the series, but a lot of them are actually pretty heartfelt, melodramatic or not. It's clear the two main characters really care about each other, and at times they make decisions that might be personally or professionally detrimental in order to keep each other out of trouble.
Austin and Ally is definitely a show made for and catered to little kids. That's an important thing to remember. The writers aren't going to present any clever sexual innuendos or winking vulgarian shenanigans. The closest they come is in the opening theme - performed by Ross Lynch - when Lynch sings that it's no fun doing it solo. Therefore, a lot of the humor is slapstick, and suspension of disbelief tends to ask for quite a bit at times. There are things about the show that anyone can enjoy - Dez's insult and comeback contests against his Newman-like enemy Chuck are actually very clever. But the show caters so strongly to kids that there are a couple of recurring kid characters on it. One is Nelson, a piano student of Ally's, and a geek who reacts to frustrations with the phrase "aw, nartz!" Another is an annoying "reporter" named Megan, a ten-year-old whose use of the slang term "totes" (in place of the real world "totally") more than warrants an acid martini.
Yeah, Austin and Ally is a kid's show. Yet, I find myself hooked on it. There are times when you need to forget any hidden depths and pretexts a piece of mass media has to offer, and just flip it on and enjoy it. I find Austin and Ally to be one of those shows. It's certainly not good by any objective means, but I do like it enough to watch it regularly.
(PS: Last night, a new episode aired, and we finally met Dez's folks and sister.)