Acting is undoubtedly in the genes, although traces of auntie Julia’s megawatt smile can also be found on the face of young Emma Roberts, star of the new Nick tween series “Unfabulous.” Even with such stellar pedigree, Roberts, daughter of actor Eric and niece to Oscar winner Julia, has a charm all her own as the savvy but awkward young Addie Singer.
“Unfabulous,” along with equally appealing new companion series “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide,” taps into those quintessential elements that for better or worse make junior high so memorable.
Inevitable comparisons to Lizzie McGuire, the other accident-prone, gawky TV middle schooler, no doubt will abound. The two shows share remarkable similarities — goofy but well-meaning parents, annoying brothers, stalwart but offbeat friends.
Whereas McGuire’s Hilary Duff evolved into the junior high ideal as opposed to the one viewers could identify with, Roberts offers a much more accessible character with Addie. Her comic delivery, sly smile and diminutive stature for her age make her much more relatable, if not necessarily marketable, to tween girls.
It also helps that writer-creator-producer Sue Rose gives Addie a sharp wit and a guitar in order to articulate the whimsical and sometimes overwhelming feelings of adolescence. When life gets complicated, Addie whips out the 12-strings and muses aloud with her Phoebe-Buffay-like songs.
Premiere episode revolves around the first day of school and the traditional beginning-of-the-year party. When the usual venue becomes unavailable, the party review board, an unofficial body of power in which the popular girls hold court, hears proposals for a new site.
Even with the shag-carpeting deduction, Addie’s offer to use her family’s basement is accepted because her older brother is deemed “hot.” Addie is, of course, hoping to use the opportunity to win the attention of the school heart-throb, but a punch bowl accident and ill-placed Webcam conspire to bring her nothing but embarrassment.
Director Linda Mendoza utilizes some creative graphics to breathe fresh air into the requisite TV voiceovers, but she displays real panache when working with the more fantastic elements of the show. All of the embarrassing details and nuances of junior high are exaggerated to hysterical effect, perfectly illustrating the overly dramatic nature of kids at this age.
Rose also wryly incorporates the various ramifications that new technological advances can have in this social stratum, especially with a funny bit about instant text messaging and the turnaround speed of gossip.
Jill Sobule, who penned pop hits “Supermodel” and “I Kissed a Girl,” provides the clever and catchy rifts that adroitly capture Addie’s current foibles.
Molly Hagan and Markus Flanagan don’t do much to help the maligned reputation of TV parents, but they add a professional touch to what are otherwise stiff and unpolished secondary perfs.
“Unfabulous” does gain points for a diversified cast, including a principal who uses a wheelchair, as well as a student body that reflects a realistic view of the world.