For all the attention heaped on “Glee,” the kid-oriented cable channels have long been making a concerted push into twinning comedy and music, though in most instances — and Nickelodeon’s latest, “How to Rock,” is no exception — it’s a case of enduring the jokes to get to the songs. A showcase for teen singer Cymphonique Miller, the series feels as if it were plucked from the 1960s, despite the multicultural cast; still, if it can connect with the tween girls watching lead-in “Victorious,” Nick brass won’t have any reason to hide their smiles.
Perhaps appropriately then, a bit of anachronistic plotting is required to set the story in motion. The leader of a group of mean girls who dub themselves “The Perfs” (short for perfect, naturally), Miller’s Kacey gets a double dose of bad news in the premiere: She needs braces and glasses, thrusting her into the ranks of the flawed. (One might ask about contact lenses and clear braces, but one would be wasting one’s time.)
The ordeal lasts just long enough to inspire Kacey to cozy up with a group of outsiders, who have their own band, Gravity 5. The opener (part of a back-to-back episode launch) thus focuses on whether Kacey will sing with them in the big talent show against her former mates, Molly (Samantha Boscarino) and Grace (Halston Sage), with whom she loved to pose and shop.
Forget about an “Ugly Betty” vibe, however. Miller wears the glasses and braces just long enough to get things started — and teach her a valuable lesson about who her friends really are — before conveniently losing those handicaps. Yes, it muddles the message, but when you’ve got a million-dollar face, why let anything risk getting in the way of marketing it?
Indeed, as with any number of recent kid-oriented series, “How to Rock” — developed by David M. Israel and written by Jim O’Doherty, both veterans of “Grounded for Life” — exists largely to showcase the music, with Miller and company performing original songs to peddle via iTunes.
Miller is certainly a beauty with a first-rate set of pipes, assuming one’s musical senses have been properly dulled by “American Idol.” And if you’re 8 or 9, you’ve grown up in a world where “Idol” was always on.
In a way, there’s something oddly reassuring by how old-fashioned these shows are, down to the empty title. Parents tend to worry kids are growing up too fast. If you can get them to sit through shows like this, they’re still your little girl — even if you watch alongside them through slightly gritted teeth.