The show bringing me the most joy here in this terrible year of 2017 is a Disney Channel original called Andi Mack. I’m going to have to spoil you for the exciting thing that happens at the end of the first episode to make you understand why this show is so great: Andi, a biracial Asian-American middle school girl with a pixie cut, finds out that her edgy, wayward older sister Bex is actually her mom.
This is a startling topic for Disney programming, but it doesn’t end there. A lot of time is spent with Bex, Andi’s sister/mom, and Celia, Andi’s mom/grandma. Their relationship is fraught and tense and portrayed in a very complicated, smart way. Celia steals nearly every scene she’s in, and a surprising amount of meaningful screen time is focuses on exclusively adult characters.
That being said, most of the show is about Andi and her two best friends and her crush. Best friend #1 is mature, smart, aggressively competitive Buffy, who is going to be president one day probably. She gets a plot line in which the school asks her to change her hair because a student complained that it was distracting, and while the storyline is about as unpolitical as a storyline overtly about policing Black hair can get, it’s still wild to see addressed on Disney.
Best friend #2 is nervous and excitable Cyrus, who may or may not be gay. It seems like he also has a crush on the boy Andi has a crush on. He gets set up with Jonah’s girlfriend’s friend and is pumped for what he calls his double date with Jonah and their ladies; when a later double date ends up just being him and Jonah, he’s ecstatic. An autocorrected text from Jonah that declares Cyrus “girly” leads to Cyrus panicking and learning about sports and changing his style before Jonah reveals he meant to call him “gnarly.”
I can’t figure out what the show is doing here in the long-term. The point is never to make fun of Cyrus, and Jonah is an incredibly popular and universally liked preteen boy because he’s genuinely nice to everyone. He really likes both Andi and Cyrus in all their dorkiness and, in Cyrus’s case, what would be described by many as girliness. But I don’t trust that Disney is ready to outright declare a main character gay. It’s possible that this show is just going as far as they’re allowed to by the censors and will continue to write Cyrus as gay without being able to own up to it – but we are only ten episodes into a show that has already been renewed for a second season, and I think that if they’re ever allowed to, Andi Mack will do a good job with Cyrus’s sexuality.
The writing of this show is genuinely very good about 90% of the time. Scenes are funny and weighty at the same time, and there’s some typical Disney slapstick humor and scene-chewing, but things make sense once you realize the show’s creator also created Lizzie McGuire. Andi trips over herself a lot but she’s also a great ultimate frisbee player – it’s not her main personality trait by far. (I’d actually say this show is a lot better than Lizzie McGuire was, but I don’t know how much of that is because I view middle schoolers as sometimes-endearing children now rather than as my painful not-distant-enough past.) In general, there’s a lot less yelling and absurd physicality than is present on most other contemporary Disney (and Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network) shows.
The show hasn’t really addressed race outside of the plotline about Buffy’s hair, and it hasn’t yet addressed what it’s doing with Cyrus’s sexuality, so we’ll have to wait and see how political it ever gets – Girl Meets World certainly took some Disneyfied political stances about bullying, cultural backgrounds, and more, but it centered on a white, heterosexual family, and also ended unexpectedly after about two and a half seasons. So. We’ll see.
Even if it doesn’t get more political, the show is novel for the family it’s providing and for the audience it’s providing that family to. And it’s just a genuinely enjoyable show! We need shows in this political climate where nearly every character is ultimately well-intentioned and nearly every relationship is positive, even as characters make mistakes and have conflicts.
I don’t care how old you are – Andi Mack is what you should watch to destress and build up positivity in 2017.