‘High School USA!,’ a P for pointless
At 15 minutes, this new Fox animated series is short in length
July 18, 2013
Although want ads make multitasking sound like a good thing, most of us can’t handle even two things at once.
Neither can Fox’s new animated series “High School USA!” It’s seems to be trying to mock the idealized view of teen life in the old Archie Comics while also making points about contemporary high school. With its attention divided, the show misses its targets most of the time. Even though it’s only 15 minutes long, the few jokes that work don’t justify the time spent.
Airing as part of Fox’s new “Animation Domination High-Def” bloc on Saturdays at 11 p.m., starting on July 27 — and getting a sneak preview this Sunday, July 21, at 9:45 p.m. — “High School USA!” is about a small group of friends led by Marsh (voiced by Vincent Kartheiser), an Archie-like everyboy who is pursued by two attractive girls, the blond Amber (an uncredited actress) and the brunette Cassandra (Mandy Moore).
This love triangle recalls the eternal war between Betty and Veronica over the affections of the somewhat clueless Archie. Unimaginatively, the show suggests that Marsh is a latent homosexual, or at least an overt metrosexual.
Although both girls thought he was going to take them to the high school dance, he says that he can’t because he’s three pounds overweight and can’t fit into his “skinny tux.” Later, he brings a bouquet to the house of another member of the gang, Brad (T.J. Miller), and invites him to be his date to the dance.
Using the same standard joke, the show suggests that Cassandra wants to be more than just frenemies with Amber, and that the feeling may be mutual. Cassandra tries to get Amber to wear the same outfits, and when another member of the gang, Blackstein (Nathan Barnatt), asks the girls to the dance, Amber says, “We’d rather lez up with each other than go with you.”
“Totally,” says Cassandra, and they start to kiss, showing some cartoon tongue.
There’s more “fan service” in the opening credits, which show Amber drying herself off with a towel and Cassandra dropping her panties before sitting on the toilet. Giving equal time, the credits also include PG-13 shots of Marsh naked, but the show otherwise seems uninterested in the demographic that would find that interesting.
If someone were to make a parody of early-21st-century teen comedies, these moments could go in verbatim.
The episode scores some comic points in addressing its main target: school anti-bullying programs. Leading an assembly, the high school’s touchy-feely principal (another uncredited actor) says that “bully” stands for “Bullyish. Ungood. Like him? Like him a lot less now. whY? — because he’s a bully.”
The episode suggests that all the talk about this issue is an overreaction and probably useless. Brad says that he would totally beat the bully out of a bully. Then he’s caught being one, and everyone unites in ostracizing him.
But Marsh’s father (Dino Stamatopoulos, the show’s creator) has a heart-to-heart with him that ironically points out the lasting damage bullying can cause, and we see Brad’s mother physically abusing him. If there’s a message in this episode, it’s lost.
Largely failing as either parody or social satire, “High School USA!” needs to find a point of view, but we’d settle for any point at all.
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