Hannah Montana

(The Internet has made TV criticism more prominent, but the kinds of shows TV critics write about - serialized dramas and single-camera comedies - are rarely the kinds of shows that become popular with a mass audience. Every week, TV Club is going to drop in on one of the top-rated programs in the nation, one that we don't normally cover. What makes these shows popular? Should we be covering them more often? Are our preconceived notions about quality not necessarily following popularity justified, or are we jumping to conclusions? This week, Marah Eakin examines one of the top-rated shows for kids as it comes to an end: Hannah Montana. The feature will be on hiatus for the holidays, and will return in early January.

Believe it or not, it’s only been a little over four years since Hannah Montana debuted on the Disney Channel and since precocious little Miley Cyrus burst forth into the collective consciousness, for better or worse.

Hannah Montana is set to end its run in 2011, and the show’s in its glory run of flashback episodes, guest stars, and, as of just a few weeks ago, “the big reveal,” where the whole world is apparently shocked to learn that Hannah Montana is just a regular girl wearing a blonde wig.

Whether the decision to take Hannah off the air is Disney’s or Cyrus’, who knows. It’s probably a meeting of the minds. There are new tweens to hire and put in grown-up clothes, and, of course, Miley’s just recently turned 18 and is apparently celebrating her adulthood by doing massive bong rips of Salvia and listening to Bush. Gavin Rossdale must be very proud.

Tonight’s episode of Hannah Montana picked up right where Disney-heads left off last time. Miley Stewart had come out as pop superstar Hannah Montana, was interviewed by ABC’s Robin Roberts (conveniently, considering the Disney-ABC connection), and was just starting to deal with her newfound fame. In the meantime, she got into Stanford, got caught by paparazzi spilling syrup on her shirt, and listened to her dad, ex-country superstar Robbie Ray (conveniently, again, played by Billy Ray Cyrus, who I’m pretty sure was sporting a wig) wonder “what in the sam heck happened to the bacon?”

As far as children’s television goes, Hannah Montana rides the full wave of stereotypes. It has an absolutely horrible, oppressive laugh track. It’s chock full of pratfalls, funny faces, and a bunch of co-stars who will presumably age poorly and never work again.

For her part, Cyrus is the queen of the hams. Just like that “pretty cool” Saturday Night Live parody, she’s got a voice that sounds like she just might have a severe sinus ailment, hair extensions that probably cost more than my car, and a real “gawrsh” attitude.

On this particular episode, Miley’s godmother Dolly Parton shows up (she’s actually Miley’s real life godmother too, if you want to be all jealous about it) to help Cyrus out with her newfound fame. She descends from the sky in a self-piloted helicopter with a feather boa ladder, clad in high heels, a tight and sequined track suit, and one of her trademark wigs.

Here’s the thing about Dolly, though: She’s camp to the max, but she knows it. On Hannah, she’s shuckin’ and jivin’, telling groaners about visible panty lines, and schilling for fake autobiographies.

Miley Cyrus seems to have taken lessons in the Best Little Whorehouse school for acting, but, frankly, she just can’t pull it off. She’s a clown, whereas Dolly’s, well, a doll. It’s because she’s in sequins and nine inch heels with a waist to match that she can make jokes about her ass and it’s okay. Cyrus goes from off the shoulder top to off the shoulder top, hair always perfectly tousled, and we’re supposed to assume she’s just like us. She’s not, and audiences should know that, but since you’re dealing with 6, 7, 8, or maybe 12-year-olds, they don’t. They aspire to be her, to be able to spill syrup on their shirts at home and then sing to millions at night. To have their very own pool house in the back of their parents’ house, even when they’re still in high school. To be so much smarter than almost all the adults around them for the most part, but give them respect.

It’s shaky times for Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana on this episode because, at least according to all the media and harsh adults calling the faux-Larry King show she appears on, she’s crushed her fans and destroyed her career. Still, when she conquers her fear and goes on Dolly’s live television special, she rocks out and gets tons of “We love you Miley” shouts from her fans (or, you know, a canned set of voices we’re supposed to believe are from the audience, who obviously cannot see she’s lip syncing, and pretty poorly). The new Miley/Hannah’s not going to let fear run her life, and she’s going to be who she’s going to be. Hopefully, her fans will accept that.

Especially in light of recent pole grinding, lap dancing, and salvia ripping, you have to wonder if this is a thinly veiled reference to Miley Cyrus herself. Yo, she’s going to get stupid tattoos and have 25-year-old boyfriends, and we can love it or shove it. Unfortunately for her, though, most of the kids who have grown up with her shouldn’t have any problem shoving it, unless she can turn around and stay culturally relevant for years to come. We can only “Party In The U.S.A.” for so long, you know, and Hannah’s climb is just about done.

Stray observations:

  • For the record, I’ve maybe seen one or two episodes of Hannah Montana before today, so I’m not an expert. I have, however, seen the Hannah Montana movie and, for some reason, Cyrus’ horrible “serious” acting debut, The Last Song.
  • It’s easy to forget this, but all the commercials on the Disney channel are–surprise!–for Disney related shows and products. Even the ones that appear not to be, like the Movie Surfers’ behind the scene look at Tron, are, of course, still related. Disney’s a machine, yo! Gotta keep the kids buying, buying, buying.
  • • “I’m an adult here. I get to teach the lessons, not learn them. That’s the tradeoff I get for a saggy gut and droopy butt," Robbie Ray on leading by example.
  • Miley’s brother Jackson: “What’s two plus two?” Friend/foe/fan Rico: “I think it’s four, but it might be three with a wig on.”
  • In one of Miley’s flash forwards, she images herself as a shut-in 20 years later, performing a wedding between two of her cats, producing the only line that made me even slightly giggle all night: “We’re gathered here today to join Sir Francis Licksalot and Kitty von Cottonsox in holy catrimony. I believe you’ve written your own meows.”
  • Wikipedia says that dead-eyed fashion goth Taylor Momsen tried out to be Hannah before she landed on Gossip Girl. Just think, people, our kids could have had her as their role model. Compared to Cyrus, we may have gotten off easy.

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