Since I've become a little obsessed with Big Time Rush in the last few days -- by which I mean there are nine episodes on the TiVo and I snarled at Rachel when she asked if she could delete them -- I've been watching a lot of Nickelodeon. And thus I've been inundated with promos for Victorious so I figured what the heck, and TiVoed the pilot and second episode.
And then deleted them immediately, swearing to never watch the show again. Seriously. It was THAT BAD, and also THAT INFURATING.
Let me get the worst out of the way first: the second episode contained flat-out sexual assault played for laughs. I started to describe it to Jess (smoke pouring out of my ears from rage) and she already knew; she pointed me towards this angry rant by her friend (and Tweenage commenter!) BeyondHeroism. It encapsulates my feelings on that subplot nicely. And that's the reason I won't be watching the show again, because that shit isn't funny.
Beyond that -- if you can get beyond that -- the show was just bad.
Basically, the set up goes like this: Tori (Victoria Justice, of course) is a normal, average, typical girl whose sister happens to go to a performing arts school in Hollywood and is preparing for a big showcase with Andre, a piano player and composer. But the night of the big show, Tori's sister has an allergic reaction and can't sing, so Tori has to go on instead! She wows the crowd and is immediately enrolled in the school, but isn't sure she's good enough! Everyone says she is, so she gives it a chance, but on the first day she accidentally spills coffee on Douchebag Whose Name I Can't Remember But I Think I'm Supposed to Like ("Douchey Guy" for short), and as she's trying to help him clean up, his girlfriend Jade walks up and goes all Mean Girl on Tori for touching her boyfriend. She and Tori catfight for the rest of the episode until Tori out-sasses her and wins, the end.
Except it sucked way harder than that can possibly convey.
First, to give credit where it's due, Victoria herself is actually a pretty good singer. She could stand to take it down a few notches, but her voice is strong enough and despite the fact that she's popstarring it up to 11, she manages to avoid the Demi Lovato School of Tuneful Shouting. As an actress, she's passable. She managed to hit some punchlines, seriously blew others, but wasn't offensively bad. She was blandly likeable, but, well, that was the show's fault. More on that in a bit.
So the problems with the pilot: first off, her sister. Her sister is the one at the arts school who wants to be a star, right? But she's bad at singing. That's not my judgment, it's a gag (Trina: "How was that?" Tori: "Loud.") so it's unclear to me why she would be at this school, and why apparently no one ever thought to ask Tori if she also likes singing or whatever when she's presented in the show as being so much better. So it doesn't make a lot of sense that no one had ever actually asked Tori if she liked singing before, but whatever; there's a rant in there about female protagonists who aren't striving for anything, but that's not entirely about this show. Which is bad enough that I don't need tangential rants.
Aside from that, the instant feud between Tori and Jade really irritated me, because literally their only interaction before hating each other had to do with Douchey Guy. Look, I'll be honest, I'm never going to love mean girl characters and bullying; just not my thing. But this one annoyed me specifically because it wasn't, like, "Jade is jealous of Tori's mad skills," or even, "Jade is pissed because Tori spilled coffee on her." Nope: their entire feud revolved around the guy, who, by way of occasionally speaking to Tori, seems to be turning it into a really stupid love triangle. Now, I'm not fond of those either, but this one actually gives me a double-whammy of Do Not Want:
1) Douchey Guy has no character and doesn't do anything; I think we're supposed to want him to get together with Tori because he's just sort of there and is the only viable candidate, which he is because
2) The only other guys on the show are the nerdy sidekick with the puppet -- who I loathe because "puppet sexually harasses people" is not funny, it is creepy and gross -- and Andre. Andre! Who is talented, and actually shown interacting with Tori, and encouraging her, and being friendly and nice! (You know, when not sexually assaulting people and being an asshole, as he does in the second episode…) These are the sorts of things you should found a relationship on! But I don't think it's going to happen, and maybe I'm overly cynical about this, but I'm betting he stays supportive friendly guy and not flirty boyfriend material, because -- sigh -- he's black, and interracial relationships are still pretty rare on TV generally, and teen/tween fare in particular, and more so on Nick than on Disney.
Like I said, maybe I'm just being cynical. Maybe the show will surprise me! This is an area where I'd be thrilled to be wrong. But at the moment, despite showing an actual friendship between Tori and Andre, and even though they haven't worked to make this guy likeable, to show any reason why he and Tori would like each other, or actually given him any sort of personality at all, the narrative is shaping up in a Tori-and-Douchey-Guy-UST way.
[Note: actually, looking at cast pictures to go with this post, Douchey Guy appears to be more ethnically ambiguous than I remember from watching the show. So that does alleviate the "why no interracial relationships, show?" fear a little bit, though not totally, since black/white relationships are much more rare than white/hispanic or white/ethnically ambiguous relationships in tween/teen fare. But once again, a discussion for another day.]
So even though Jade is a fine, generic mean girl, I'm annoyed by her; I want to like Andre but he was detestable in the second episode; I hate Puppet Guy; I have zero interest in Douchey Guy. Tori's sister basically vanished. That leaves the teacher (generically wacky) and another female character, Cat, who the show jokes is bipolar. Because someone says something mean so she bursts into tears, but then someone gives her candy and she squeals! Yup, that's bipolar all right. Mental illnesses totally work like that, and also, are hilarious.
Then you've just got Tori herself. (I said I'd get around to her eventually, right? How long is this rant now?) She's best described by looking at the second episode. There's a subplot about how all students at her new school paint their lockers to represent themselves. Like, the piano guy has a keyboard on his, Douchey Guy says he has no secrets so his is somehow translucent, etc. Tori is made intensely uncomfortable by this, and her initial solution is to put up a white board on her locker, so other people can draw whatever they want on this area that reflects her. She has so little character that she's actually defined by other people. Jess once described the main problem with iCarly like this:
I like iCarly a lot, but one of the major weaknesses of the show is the character of Carly -- or, more precisely, the lack thereof. She's smart, but not a nerd! She's cool, but not too cool! She's not particularly temperamental or particularly laidback or particularly interested in things or particularly anything. She's not zany like Spencer or aggressive like Sam or nerdy like Freddie. All she ever gets to do on the show is react. This is not a good or strong or entertaining centerpiece for a television show!
It remains true! The shows are both Dan Schneider fare, and they both center around basically blank slate characters. The differences are that Carly herself actually makes things happen -- the iCarly show-within-a-show exists because it was Carly's idea -- and the supporting cast are pretty much all endearing. Victorious, on the other hand, centers around a blank-slate character who so far hasn't really made anything happen -- she's dragged on stage and talked into going to the school -- with a supporting cast I overwhelmingly disliked.
I know it's early going. Even good shows tend to need a handful of episodes to find their stride. But Victorious alternated between run-of-the-mill dreadfulness and actively, seriously offending me, so I won't be hanging around to see if it improves. Sorry, Nick, but this one's a failure.