The difference between “Big Time Rush” — Nickelodeon’s lackluster first collaboration with Sony Music — and their latest joint venture, “Victorious,” rests almost entirely on 17-year-old Victoria Justice’s petite shoulders. Both shows are near plot-free and set in a high school for the performing arts, as if the original “Fame” were given a frontal lobotomy. But Justice is winsome and talented enough to provide the latest show a leg up in connecting with tween girls — and not incidentally, maybe selling some music in the process.
Produced by kid TV specialist Dan Schneider (who Justice worked for on “Zoey 101”), “Victorious” begins with the simplest of showbiz premises: Shy Tori (Justice) is reluctantly drafted as a last-minute replacement for her limelight-hogging, self-absorbed older sister (Daniella Monet) at a talent showcase. She of course wows the crowd with her song-and-dance number, earning her admission to Hollywood Arts High School, where she’s quickly confronted by a cast of eccentric characters.
Tori is subjected to the equivalent of tame sorority hazing by mean girl Jade (Elizabeth Gillies), in part because she appears to have caught the eye of Jade’s b.f. Beck (Avan Jogia). And proving everything old is new again, there’s actually a ventriloquist (Matthew Bennett) whose ever-present dummy blurts out comments he’s too afraid to say.
Then again, “Victorious” has been cobbled together with the wooden-headed market in mind, and nobody will confuse the one musical number with “Glee.” Still, Justice has the ability to project a vulnerable girl-next-door quality in her sitcom scenes, then unleash her inner Britney once the music starts.
In the context of the musical-comedy mixes on the Disney Channel that Nick clearly wants to emulate, successful kidvid franchises have clearly been built on less.