A not-so-sweet sour note from a disgruntled parent. Disney has released The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: Sweet Suite Victory on DVD, a three episode compilation of the grating, obnoxious sitcom that appears to be a big ratings hit on The Disney Channel. I've walked in and out of the room when The Suite Life of Zack and Cody has been on one of our TVs, and besides an insanely insistent laugh track where apparently every single line is a gut-buster, nothing about it stuck in my head. Sitting down to watch these three over-the-top approximations of adult sitcoms, I can guarantee you that I'll keep right on walking through the room whenever I hear that laugh track again.
Dylan and Cole Sprouse, identical twins, play Zack and Cody Martin, identical twins, who live at the luxurious Tipton Hotel in Boston. Their single mom, Carey Martin (Kim Rhodes), is a singer at the hotel (with a hell of a long contract evidently), so the trio set up residence in the posh establishment. And wait till you see all the wacky adventures those two little demons get up to! Sigh. Okay, helping Zack and Cody fill out their 22-minute episodes are Ashley Tisdale as Maddie Fitzpatrick, a struggling singer who works at the hotel, and Brenda Song as London Tipton, a spoiled-rotten Asian princess who the producers not-so-cleverly disguise as a blatant knock-off of Paris Hilton. And what crazy "work/home sitcom" would be complete without crazy employees, including Adrian R'Mante as Esteban, the bellboy, Phill Lewis as the uptight hotel manager Mr. Moseby, and Brian Stepanek as Arwin, the apparently mentally challenged handyman who enthusiastically backs all of Zack and Cody's shenanigans. Just watch the fireworks explode with that goofy crew! Christ.
Hey, I like silly sitcoms for kids; I just reviewed Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, a big laugh-getter ten years ago for Disney's ABC, and I was pleased to see how well that charming, funny show held up. And I suppose the millions of kids growing up on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody will also no doubt look back on it fondly when they're older. We all do that with TV shows, regardless of how they come off in later years. But I found it hard to stomach this relentless mug-fest; it has a surprisingly hard edge to it, a snappish meanness to it that I found off-putting, but which I suppose is representative of what Hollywood producers think kids are like nowadays.
I've never been big on the "precocious child actor who spouts lines obviously written by a 45-year-old writer" kind of comedy; it always seems forced and terribly obvious to me. And The Suite Life of Zack and Cody is filled to the brim with that kind of lazy writing. There's a scene where Zack and Cody's mom is detailing the train wreck-of-a-personal-life she's had, and when asking one of the boys (who cares which one, frankly) what lesson he could learn from that, the unsmiling little creep goes, "You need to pick better men?" It's a glib, facile, post-Friends kind of throwaway line that should give pause to parents who worry about increasingly rude, disrespectful, socially inept kids out there. After all, they're lapping this crap up, and you can bet the show's overall tone of snide little put-downs will creep into the little tweens noggins.
I was also surprised at the level of physical threats involved in the show. Someone is always grabbing someone by the shirt or arm or collar, and threatening them with physical violence (one character comes right out and says, "...or I'll beat you," when demanding things be done their way). Sure, The Three Stooges used to hit each other with axes, but that was fantasy violence which believe me, no kid in their right mind tried to emulate. These little guys though put out a shallow, snotty vibe that just might make the wrong kind of impression on little kids. Watching the two twin actors, I was somewhat taken aback not only by the less-than-subtle mugging that they've obviously been instructed in - apparently, if you want to sell a "big laugh" on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, you just act like you're having a seizure - but also by the almost snarling snappishness of their delivery. Some viewers may say that's real life; that's how brothers behave. Well, that certainly is true - sometimes. But it's not a model of behavior to emulate and celebrate, and certainly not on a full-time basis in a sitcom that supposed to be light and funny - and one that is aimed directly at little kids. For me, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: Sweet Suite Victory was a decidedly sour little cookie I would rather have passed on.
Here are the 3, twenty-two-minute episodes of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: Sweet Suite Victory:
Band in Boston
The twins fight about what songs to sing with their band, London and Maddie fight about who's going to sing lead, while the hotel tries to figure out where they're going to practice.
The twins fight about who's going to make the better middle school president, in the upcoming election.
Not So Suite 16
The twins fight about which birthday party to go to: Maddie's or London's.
The full frame video image for The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: Sweet Suite Victory had compression issues and ghosting, with occasional softness here and there, as well as some fuzz whenever one of the cheap special effects used in the series pops up (the jet pack flying scene would make Walt cry).
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Stereo mix is wildly unnecessary for this dirt clod of a series. When I think of all the DVDs of classic movies and TV shows I've reviewed this year that didn't even get a simple 2.0 stereo mix....
There's a four and a half minute blooper reel included (the "highlight" appears to be one of the kids breaking wind), along with an interactive trivia game hosted by Brenda Song.
According to the fake studio audience reaction on the unhinged laugh track, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: Sweet Suite Victory is the funniest sitcom in the history of television! According to this reviewer, however, you would do well to stay away from its obnoxious influence. Besides; if you must watch this show, it plays on your cable every day, day in and day out, making this hit-and-miss compilation DVD relatively worthless. Skip The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: Sweet Suite Victory.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.