The Complete First Season (2006-2007) (Walt Disney Home Video-2008)
How you respond to Hannah Montana can probably be crystallized by how you react to this mental picture:
An actress, playing the Queen of England, competing in a dancing video game, telling her opponent, with a clipped, aristocratic accent, “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.”
If you think this sounds dumb, then keep walking, nothing to see here…
However, if that little scenario tickles you, then welcome to the world of Hannah Montana, a tween-aged fantasy land where a slightly dorky middle school student can be the biggest music star in the world, but no one notices because as a singer she wears loud clothes and a blonde wig.
Hannah Montana is not necessarily a good sitcom, but it really doesn’t even try to be. Children’s sitcoms aren’t supposed to be cutting edge or revolutionary or thought provoking – they are supposed to have pies in the face, embarrassing pratfalls in front of cute guys (or cute girls), boys in girls’ clothing and bullies eventually put in their place.
As such, Hannah Montana joins a long line of starter-sitcoms – cute, lightweight and fun for kids who are home after school and don’t feel like going on the internet or going out to play in the sun.
In the last couple of decades alone you’ve had Saved By the Bell, Hang Time, Clarissa Explains It All, Lizzie McGuire, The Amanda Show, Even Stevens, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, That’s So Raven, Drake & Josh, Unfabulous and many, many, more.
Not surprisingly, quite a few of the stars of these shows graduated to differing levels of later stardom – including Tiffani Amber-Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, Anthony Anderson, Melissa Joan Hart, Hilary Duff, Amanda Bynes, Shia LeBoeuf, Ashley Tisdale, Raven Simone, Drake Bell, Josh Peck, Emma Roberts, etc.
However, in Hannah Montana they may have the biggest cultural zeitgeist of all, the shooting star that is Miley Cyrus.
Cyrus, who has ridden the Hannah Montana train to pop stardom and has been merchandised relentlessly by the Disney hype machine, is a charming and natural actress. She isn’t asked to do too much and she does what she is given very well.
Cyrus plays Miley Stewart, a cute teen girl who is hiding a secret – that she is Hannah Montana – the biggest pop star in the world! Therefore, during the day, she is a normal girl negotiating the minefields of teen popularity, but by night she is a pop-culture icon.
It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out, particularly since it seems like at least half of Hannah’s songs are about being a normal girl who just happens to double as a superstar.
So, basically, Hannah Montana is The Partridge Family for the iPhone generation.
Strangely, Miley is not just a normal middle school girl, though. The show keeps insisting that she is an abnormally unpopular one – though this unpopularity never really is shown except for episodes which are specifically tailored to that plot point.
Honestly, you never quite believe that Hannah would be as big a star as she is – nor that Miley would be the social pariah she is in her school. She’s cute, funny, upbeat and talented, hardly the recipe for school-aged ostracism.
Miley’s daddy, 90s one-hit-wonder Billy Ray Cyrus (of “Achy Breaky Heart” fame) plays Miley’s daddy, 90s one-hit-wonder Robbie Ray Stewart, who gave up his “fame” to care for his young children. (The mother was lost in one of those mysterious sitcom disappearances. From the way she is discussed – on the rare occasions she is mentioned – you assume that mom died, but that is never actually explained.)
Robbie Ray takes over caring for Miley and son Jackson (Jason Earles), who plays goofy sidekick with over-the-top panache. He also becomes Hannah’s manager, guitarist and main songwriter (though there is one scene where he is shown “writing” one of Hannah’s songs – a song she performed a few episodes earlier.).
Billy Ray has fun with his past fame, making mullet jokes, tossing out lines like “Oh, my achy breaky back!” and once even allowing them to show a brief snippet of very dated-looking early-90s performance footage. If he feels any guilt or shame for riding the coattails of his teenaged daughter – in the show or in real life – Billy Ray never seems to show it.
They never quite explain how a former one-hit-wonder who never does gigs anymore explains being able to afford a gorgeous Malibu beach house with no visible means of income. I guess his neighbors assume that Robbie Ray has the world’s best royalties package.
The Stewarts are folksy types in the big city, as can be told by the fact that they are constantly using homey sayings like: “That boy doesn’t have the brains the good Lord gave a hunk of turkey jerky.” Or “Being a teenaged girl is harder than walking through a balloon shop with a porcupine purse.” Or “It was easier than finding a mullet at a trucker’s convention.” Or “That boy flip-flops more than a catfish in a moon bouncer.” Or there is “Sweet niblets!” for which the show seems to be trying to get catch-phrase status. There are dozens more over the course of the season. A never-seen Uncle Earl gets to be the subject in many of these little nuggets.
Hannah’s best friend Lilly is played by Emily Osment – sister of former child star Haley Joel Osment of The Sixth Sense – and yes, that does mean that she did get saddled with a gratuitous “I see dead people” joke. In fact, Hannah Montana is full of outdated gags (even in 2006-2007, when these episodes were filmed) referencing the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Frankie Muniz and The Godfather.
I was kind of shocked to see that the first season of Hannah Montana had 26 episodes. I don’t watch the Disney Channel often (as a single man with no kids, there is little reason to…) but I have caught the show on ABC Saturday mornings maybe ten times over the years… and every time it seemed to be the same two or three episodes. For the record, they were the Queen episode mentioned before, an episode where Miley’s high school nemesis wins a contest to sing on TV with Hannah Montana and one where Miley has to go on a date to her own alter-ego’s concert, so she has to keep running back and forth from the stage to the crowd. (Now, after watching the whole first season, I see they had a few variations on that storyline.)
So what? They may have recycled a few storylines from The Brady Bunch.
I had come to believe they had made maybe ten episodes that they were rerunning over and over ad infinitum. (I had that same theory of Saturday morning channel-mates The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and That’s So Raven, which also always seem to be the same few episodes on endless repeat mode.)
Proving me wrong, here they are – 26 half-hour slabs of Hannah Montana – none of which are going to make anyone forget Seinfeld or I Love Lucy, but taken on their own terms, the show is light-heartedly entertaining for all audiences. I laughed watching this box set more than I would have ever expected, which is all that Hannah Montana ever wanted. And, I have to admit, a few of the songs wormed their way into my subconscious as well. So, yes, watching Hannah Montana is time well spent.
However, if you have a pre-teen girl, this is the Holy Grail.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 14, 2008.