Halfway through the pilot of “Astrid and Lilly Save the World,” best friends Astrid (Jana Morrison) and Lilly (Samanatha Aucoin) stare down a mysterious stranger (Oliver Renaud) with awe and suspicion. “I’m your guide,” he insists. When they continue to just blink back at him, he sighs and clarifies that he’s their “Giles,” knowing that, if nothing else, these proudly nerdy teens will probably get such a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” reference. And if the main inspiration for “Astrid & Lilly Save the World” weren’t clear enough before, all it takes is a glance at its first monster of the week, which might not be a vampire, but nevertheless has exactly the same kind of grooved prosthetic face as those that stalked Buffy and her Scooby gang over 20 years ago.
The difference is, neither Astrid nor Lilly are the peppy Valley Girl that Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy was. Ostracized by their classmates for being too big, too dorky, too passionate, Astrid and Lilly can’t imagine themselves being the star of their own show until a freak inter-dimensional accident forces them to realize they are. As the BFFs come to terms with the fact that they’ve accidentally opened a portal they need to close back up ASAP, they also start to accept themselves more than ever before. Morrison and Aucoin, relative TV newcomers, quickly sell their characters’ tight friendship, which makes up the crucial foundation for the show itself.
From Noelle Stehman and Betsy Van Stone, “Astrid and Lilly Save the World” is a warmhearted new comedy that feels like it could be an adaptation of a comic book written by Astrid and Lilly themselves. Its mysteries are self-aware and referential, and rarely hard to solve. Bullies lurk everywhere throughout the show’s candy-colored sets, but are restricted to the softest of PG insults. When the resident Cool Guy sneers that Astrid and Lilly should be called “The Pudge Patrol,” they take it hard before taking the term back as their own by episode’s end. Just about every character outside Astrid and Lilly feels like they’re playing to a studio audience, as if ripped from a Disney Channel sitcom set.
Despite the occasional gruesome death and dire stakes, it all feels rather…safe. There’s never really a doubt that Astrid and Lilly will save the world. But if you’re a young teenager who hasn’t gotten to see someone who looks and acts like you be one of TV’s Chosen Ones, it might be fun to see how they do it.
“Astrid & Lilly Save the World” premieres Wednesday, January 26 at 10 pm on Syfy.