‘Marvin, Marvin,’ not good, not good
Nickelodeon sitcom dredges up all the too-familiar alien tropes
November 21, 2012
Most actors on sitcoms aimed at tweens mug furiously, overstress their punch lines and pump up the volume throughout. It's hard to imagine a show in which an actor actually tones down his usual performance.
That show is Nickelodeon's "Marvin, Marvin," starring Lucas Cruikshank, who broke out on YouTube by playing a hyperactive 6-year-old with a digitally altered voice named Fred, a character he has since reprised in several movies and a series for Nickelodeon. Now, as a teenage extraterrestrial being raised by a normal American family, Cruikshank is not only more low-key than Fred; he's more low-key than the usual Nick sitcom star.
But that's the only surprising thing about this unimaginative comedy. The hoary premise is matched by stock characters and situations. Although parents will likely find the show less irritatingly noisy than its competition, it will leave kids underamused.
Marvin (Cruikshank) is an alien being raised by a human couple, Bob (Pat Finn) and Liz (Mim Drew), who found him after he was sent to Earth by his parents when his home planet came under attack. In the premiere episode, airing this Saturday, Nov. 24, at 8:30 p.m., Marvin decides to go to the high school attended by his foster sister, Teri (Victory Van Tuyl), even though Bob and Liz fear that Marvin's unusual behavior will blow his cover as a normal human.
Teri happens to be involved in one of the go-to storylines for teenage sitcom characters: She's running for class president against a much more popular classmate.
The writers didn't stretch creatively when constructing Marvin's character. Like most aliens in comedies, he is childishly naïve. At school, he calls Teri "dorkwad," then says, "That's what everyone's been calling me. Don't you love school?"
Like the Coneheads, he sometimes uses bizarrely formal syntax. For example, he addresses Bob as his "large torsoed parental humanoid." But this verbal tic comes and goes randomly.
Like E.T., he has a magic glowing finger. In one bizarre moment, Liz's father (Casey Sander), who lives with the family, asks Marvin to use it to heat up his coffee. Then, after the grandfather burns his tongue, the finger turns blue and Marvin offers to cool it off.
"Dad," says Liz, "get Marvin's finger out of your mouth."
Although subplots in which an old man exploits an innocent teenage boy might be a promising turn for a darker comedy than this, "Marvin, Marvin" steps back.
The jokes are aimed at the younger end of the tween spectrum. In the first few minutes, Marvin explains to Bob that if he wants to whisper, he'll have to talk to his butt, because that's where his ears are; then he and the family dog sniff each other's rear ends.
In a running joke, every time Marvin hears music, even just a ring tone, he dances spasmodically. These are the only moments when Cruikshank approaches the over-the-top performances he gave as Fred.
Maybe Cruikshank is trying to prove he doesn't need a digitized voice and fast-forwarded video to be funny, but if there ever were a show in which a little artificial energy is both warranted and needed, it's this one.
As is, "Marvin, Marvin" is simply bland, bland.
So, what network will win May sweeps?
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