Disney Channel brings an expected formula to its live-action comedies, down to the use of a big event, a la “Teen Beach 2,” to launch its latest, “Best Friends Whenever.” Still, the potential fun and (gasp) even educational value in the concept, about two mismatched pals who stumble onto the ability to time travel, is largely squandered on micro moments, like going back to that morning to see if they can fix a mistake. Success will depend mostly on how well the target audience sparks to the leads, but beyond that, the future looks more slim than grim.
The show focuses on Shelby (Lauren Taylor) and Cyd (Landry Bender, a product of the Disney farm system, having played a supporting role in “Crash and Bernstein”), with the latter forced to live with her friend because her parents are off on an archaeological dig for three years – conveniently, the average run of a Disney Channel comedy before the stars hit their expiration date. Although it’s Cyd who has been temporarily orphaned, Shelby’s parental units are absentees as well, with the goofball comedy coming from her twin brothers (Benjamin Cole Royer, Matthew Lewis Royer), who both harbor a slightly creepy crush on the new boarder.
Shelby spends the entire premiere obsessing over a dreamy boy (Emery Kelly), while Cyd just longs for something to eat. But the real hijinks don’t occur until they get accidentally hit by a laser beam courtesy of their brainiac friend Barry (Gus Kamp), which suddenly allows them to do the whole flashback and forward thing, though to little use.
As with all Disney Channel series, there’s a stock nerd, Marci (Madison Hu), with the potential to be the breakout Urkel type, eager to befriend the central duo. Yet as constructed by Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas, “BFW” (not to be confused with NBC’s short-lived “Best Friends Forever”) appears more content to focus on the humdrum details of Shelby and Cyd’s frantic lives than, say, sending them back to meet Abraham Lincoln or ahead to a time of flying cars.
Instead, there’s a lot of squabbling between the leads, who remain bosom buddies even though their personalities are very different. This being the Disney Channel, that also requires some creative name-calling, with Cyd labeling Shelby “an uptight scrunch,” for which she later apologizes, while claiming it’s not really a word.
Although the channel clearly knows its intended audience, it’s still a trifle disappointing to see the time-travel possibilities dealt with in such a tired, haphazard way – servicing the title in as rudimentary a manner as possible. Then again, while complaining about a show calibrated to the tastes of preteens might be cathartic, belaboring the point just risks sounding like an uptight scrunch.