Writer-producer Dan Schneider displays a Jedi masterlike acumen for creating shows that appeal to kids in the awkward years of adolescence. His latest creation, “iCarly,” is already a proven hit on Nickelodeon. The super-sized episode, “iCarly Saves TV,” is sure to deliver eyeballs as well, although it does not deliver anything different from the standard episodes — it’s pretty much an elaborate marketing plan to help launch the iCarly music CD, a disc featuring songs inspired by the series.
Although clearly based in tween fantasy and farce, “iCarly” is a safe and silly place to play out the various major/minor dramas that often plague those years. Miranda Cosgrove, who literally grew up on Schneider’s show “Drake & Josh,” stars as Carly Shay, a Seattle teen who lives with her artist brother Spencer (Jerry Trainor) and has her own Web show at icarly.com.
Co-hosted by Carly’s best friend Sam Puckett (Jennette McCurdy) and produced by neighbor and friend Freddie Benson (Jonathan Kress), the show-within-a-show features YouTube-like videos, silly stunts and the occasional musical or novelty act.
The episode kicks off when desperate network executive Brad Brenner (David Starzyk) finds his young daughter laughing at the Gallagherlike antics of iCarly, and gets the idea to turn the webcast into a sitcom.
At first, it seems like a dream come true, what with exotic fruit baskets, limo rides and succulent ribs at the craft services table, but soon Brenner, eager to please test audiences, starts tinkering with the show. Quickly, a giant dinosaur puppet named Zeebo replaces Sam, Freddie becomes a network staff gopher, and Carly is upstaged by Amber Tate (Rachel Fox), an irritatingly cute child actress brought in to generate more appeal.
The episode serves as a great sendup of TV execs desperate to pillage and recycle creative ideas. Leon Thomas’ guest appearance as band leader Harper is an enjoyable but blatant reminder of the homogeneous nature of the series.
Despite the rather fanciful premise of kids existing in a fabulously cool broadcast studio fully funded by absent parents, “iCarly” manages to convey a nice sense of familial camaraderie, especially with the three main characters. Cosgrove is a slightly manic but well-meaning tween and strikes a nice balance with the rather pushy and aggressive Sam. Trainor as Spencer is endearingly goofy, while the sweetly nerdy Freddie gives A.V. Club enthusiasts a much needed image boost.
Opening segment features the extended video version of the theme song “Leave It All to Me,” sung by Cosgrove along with a special appearance by Drake Bell.