The major problem with trying to follow American sitcoms as they air in their home land is that seasons can be dragged out for prolonged periods of time, with pesky hiatuses occurring without warning, due to sports events and political coverage, or sometimes just for the hell of it. The Disney Channel sitcom Liv and Maddie stands out as an especially egregious example of the way that 21 episodes can be eked out over a seemingly endless “season”, with its pilot “previewing” way back in July 2013, and its finale only airing this week, July 2014! That’s the exact opposite of binge-watching, dammit!
But it was worth hanging in there, because this teen-oriented family sitcom is properly laugh-out-loud funny, and boasts a (hopefully) star-making turn by the uber-talented and insanely adorable Dove Cameron as a pair of identical twins: ‘Liv Rooney’ is a girly, glittery actress, who returns to her humble hometown after starring in a hugely-successful musical TV show, hoping to reconnect with her estranged twin ‘Maddie’, a snorting, sports-loving tomboy. Although I’m generally a bit sneery about Disney’s weird obsession with convincing young girls that “Princess” and “Pop-Star” are the only careers they should ever aspire to, at least here it’s (sorta) balanced out by Maddie’s ambitions to become an Olympic-level athlete… and Liv’s acting career and fame were mined for several pretty good storylines and jokes throughout the season, so I can’t really complain. The trick of having two Camerons on-screen at once (via doubles and split-screen FX) was pretty seamless, and I quickly forgot that they were being played by the same actress… they’re both such colourful characters in their own right, with such distinctive little quirks and catchphrases. Obviously they look alike, but they certainly don’t dress or talk or act alike! I don’t want to get too gushy, but I think Cameron is an exceptional comedic actress, with a wonderfully expressive face, great timing, and boundless energy… on top of which she also sings a damn catchy theme song too! In my humble opinion, she could easily be the next Anne Hathaway… not that we’re finished with the “old” one yet, of course!
From Lizzie McGuire to Dani’s House, the precocious, scheming younger brother has become a bit of a cliché in shows like this one, but ‘Parker Rooney’ (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) is given some surprisingly funny and clever lines to deliver here… and the way he casually refers to his older brother as a “munch” always amuses me. Obviously it’s a family-friendly abbreviation of “butt-munch”, but it still sounds quite offensive and derogatory the way he says it! Meanwhile, ‘Joey Rooney’ (Joey Bragg) is an admirably upbeat and confident geek-boy, who likes to spend his spare time building rockets, leading a support-group/drumming-circle for shy kids, and searching for hidden treasure. A part of me kinda wishes the writers had combined this character with Maddie’s, so she was more of an academically-focussed geek-girl, to provide a starker contrast to Liv’s more superficial fame-seeking… though that’s certainly not meant as a slight on Bragg, who’s great fun in the role. As for the parents, played by Kali Rocha and Benjamin King, well… they come across as very silly, and even more childish than the kids at times, so I rarely found their solo scenes amusing. I also have an issue with all the “talking head” sections, where characters break the fourth wall and crack jokes at the audience… but I guess I’m just going to have to learn to accept that convention, even though it doesn’t make any sense outside of a mockumentary context.
Maddie’s best friend and basketball teammate ‘Willow’ is played by Jessica Marie Garcia, who I always felt a little sorry for… her character spent most of her time either desperately chasing after a terrified/repulsed Joey, or in full-on obnoxious “jock” mode… but in Willow’s more rational moments, Garcia actually came across as quite a likeable actress. Oh, and in ep #1.17 (“Howl-A-Rooney”), there was a cameo by Laura Marano as ‘Fangs’, a feral girl raised by wolves, who Liv hired to coach her on lupine behaviour, as research for a movie role. I didn’t recognise her on sight, because it’s been a while since I last saw her on-screen… and she’s usually a lot cleaner and less snarly that she was here!