Nickelodeon has released iCarly: Season 2, Volume 1, another split season offering of the first 11 episodes of the smash hit tween series' second outing, which began airing last September. One of the hottest shows on cable, drawing an increasing amount of positive feedback from kids, parents and the critics, iCarly may also be one of the funniest sitcoms on all of television right now...particularly when you see what passes for a sitcom on the dying Big Three dinosaurs. You don't have to have kids to enjoy its fast patter, agreeably smart-assed bent, and silly physical humor, but it's definitely more fun to watch it that way - it seems to charm most demos across the board.
I've written twice before about iCarly, so I won't spend a lot of time going over the background of the show, or the direction the first season took (you can read my reviews for Season 1, Volume 1 here, and Season 1, Volume 2 here). For those not familiar with the series, iCarly looks at the wacky misadventures of teen internet star, Carly Shay (Miranda Cosgrove). Living in a cool Seattle apartment with her peripatetic older brother, Spencer (Jerry Trainor), a conceptual artist who oftentimes acts more immature than his steady sister, Carly co-stars in iCarly, a popular tween webshow produced by tech whiz neighbor Freddie Benson (Nathan Kress), and co-hosted by Carly's bullying punk-without-a-cause friend, Sam Puckett (Jennette McCurdy). Carly is often caught in the middle of Sam's and Freddie's constant warring and pranking (Sam thinks Freddie is a weak tech nerd; Freddie thinks Sam is a slovenly juvenile delinquent/psychotic), when she's not trying to help Spencer out of one of his many jams (almost all of them due to his child-like enthusiasm for the unconventional). As with most girls Sam's and Carly's age, school and boys are their main topics of interest (outside of their webshow), although Carly doesn't have to look very far for a boyfriend if she ever decides to return Freddie's crush on her. Freddie's ultra-overprotective mother, Marissa Benson (Mary Scheer), is the only parental figure occasionally seen around the apartment, while disgusting Lewbert the Doorman (Jeremy Rowley) and strangely effeminate arch web-rival, Nevel Papperman (Reed Alexander), provide sporadic villainous support.
In my last review of iCarly, I expressed some concern about the Sam character, wondering if the producers and writers were celebrating someone who wasn't exactly the best role model for kids (chief among her many faults, she truly is a bully in the worst sense, physically harming kids with a snarling, humorless aplomb that rarely gets "punished" in the episodes). And for the most part, I still hold that feeling; yes, she's exaggerated for comedic purposes, but I'm not sure how many parents out there would actually want a similar-behaving girl like Sam hanging out with their kids (a notion that is addressed in the Christmas episode). But, to be fair, the lying-est, bullying-est King Weasel of them all on TV was Eddie Haskel from Leave It to Beaver ("Good afternoon, Mrs. Cleaver; my, don't you look lovely today? I was just showing young Theodore some wrestling moves."), a bona fide classic that came out over fifty years ago (during the supposedly homogenized 1950s network TV landscape), and it never hurt anyone, so...I guess we can live with smart-assed punk brat Sam.
Of course, what helps smooth over the uneasy feelings someone might have for the character is the fact that Jennette McCurdy is quite funny in her deadpan, blasé portrayal, particularly when she's either squabbling or riffing with the increasing confident farceur Miranda Cosgrove. In my first review of the series, I commented on how Cosgrove's at-times awkwardness was an endearing quality that made her seem fresh and believable in front of the cameras. Obviously becoming more comfortable with her role, by this second season, Cosgrove is beginning to break out here as a potential first-class TV comedienne. As funny as she is with the physical gags (she's quite good as spazzing out with McCurdy during their iCarly show, where both perfectly capture two high-spirited, hilarious teen girls screaming and yelling at everything, inbetween snotty rejoinders), she's becoming remarkably adept at double-takes and more subtle facial humor during her scenes. In the season opener, iSaw Him First, Cosgrove, with a handsome young actor, plays a love scene she wrote for a play (used to get the boy to kiss her so she can win a contest with Sam). And when the boy delivers a credible performance concerning his love for Carly, Cosgrove has Carly go from an over-anxious mooning tension to a genuinely startled, wide-eyed gape when she feels the impact of his words - all of it funny while coming across as perfectly believable, too. That's tough to do in these tween sitcoms that proliferate on cable - being humorous while still remaining a believable teen kids can recognize in themselves - and Cosgrove is only getting better at it with each episode. She's truly a talent to watch.
And naturally, Jerry Trainor doesn't disappoint as the hopped-up Spencer. I felt last season that Trainor's appearances slacked off during the second half, but here, he's front and center again and quite hilarious, as always. Trainor has several classic moments in this first half of the season, including his addiction to the Pac Man-like Pak Rat old-school video game he rescues from the dump in iStage an Intervention (he finds a dead raccoon in it); his efforts to sell Sunshine Girl fudgeballs so a little girl can get a bike in iOwe You (and that's because the little girl's mother is gorgeous - they should have Spencer date more often; Trainor is very charming/goofy in a light romantic comedy way); his foray into the CB world (I love his defiantly whining declarations of freedom of speech after his annoying jokes tick off all the truckers); his efforts to learn Japanese in iGo to Japan (his face whenever he's electrocuted is priceless), and his immediate knuckling under when he tries to lie at a video store in iRocked the Vote (compare Trainor's hysterical mugging to the painfully unfunny Lewbert character, which seems a holdover from an earlier Nick show, You Can't Do That on TV). Let's hope Trainor continues to stay front and center on the show.
Here are the 11 half-hour episodes of iCarly: Season 2, Volume 1, as described on the reverse side of the front DVD cover (the episode iGo to Japan is double length; it was specially billed as the first iCarly "movie" when it premiered last year:
iSaw Him First
Carly and Sam fall for the same guy and go nuts competing for his attention!
iStage An Intervention
Spencer becomes addicted to an old video game, while Sam messes with Freddie for refusing to forward a "chain email."
Sam owes Freddie and Carly a good chunk of money, so she does the unthinkable: she gets a job!
A "Messing With Lewbert" sketch goes terribly wrong! When Freddie's mom steps in to care for the injured doorman, romance blossoms between them!
iGo to Japan
iCarly is nominated for an iWeb Award! After a totally unpleasant flight to Japan, trouble starts when they're kidnapped by their competition!
The owner of the best pie shop in town dies, and now Carly and her friends must find the one pie recipe to cure their cravings!
An angry Carly wishes for a normal brother. Her wish is granted, and a Christmas angel shows her how everything would change for the worse!
Sam crosses the line when, live on iCarly, she exposes Freddie's secret of having never kissed a girl!
iGive Away a Car
The winner of iCarly's first car giveaway ends up being none other than Nevel! Too bad they don't actually have a car to give away!
iRocked the Vote
After he loses to guest star David Archuleta on America Sings, the iCarly crew helps the losing contestant make a music video.
iCarly takes a hit when Freddie says internet sensation Fred is "not that funny." Meanwhile, Spencer finds his magic meatball!
The full-screen, 1.33:1 video transfers for iCarly - Season 2, Volume 1 look quite good, with a sharpish picture, correctly valued color, and few if any compression issues (interlacing is noticeable at times, during the faster action).
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio track is entirely adequate, with a good loudness level, and occasional directional effects. Super-clean and picked-out dialogue is a plus. Close-captions are included.
As with the other iCarly DVD releases, a few bonus "behind the scenes" extras are included, but they're not much of a selling point for kids.
iCarly keeps up the buzz-worthy comedy with another set of genuinely funny episodes in iCarly: Season 2, Volume 1. Miranda Cosgrove is becoming quite an accomplished comedic actress, while Jerry Trainor as flipped-out Spencer is always good for a belly laugh whenever he's on screen. Smart, flip writing and an accomplished young cast of farceurs makes iCarly: Season 2, Volume 1 certainly the funniest tween show out there (yes...it's officially dethroned Hannah Montana for that title). I highly recommend iCarly: Season 2, Volume 1.
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.