VH1's 'Totally Awesome' Playfully Draws on '80s Teen Films

EntertainmentTelevisionVH1 (tv network)Satire (genre)MoviesJoey Kern

Satire is the most challenging form to pull off successfully, especially on TV. Witness "The Naked Gun." Before it became a money machine in theaters, it was a multi-megaton bomb on ABC as "Police Squad." Even after the Leslie Nielsen movies became box office blockbusters, an attempt to revive "The Naked Gun" on CBS imploded. Too many of the masses are spoof-impaired. They just don't get it. Hence George S. Kaufman's worthy observation that satire is what closes on Saturday night.

Spitting in the eye of history, VH1 has chosen Saturday, Nov. 4 at 9 p.m. to open "Totally Awesome", a playful send-up of teen films of the '80s (because VH1 doesn't have enough '80s-based programs, quips Ben Stein, who narrates). Technically, this means it will also close on Saturday, but not, it's to be hoped, for the usual reason.

Almost every scene pays homage in some way to flicks such as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "The Karate Kid" and "Footloose." Part of the fun is matching the "Totally Awesome" scenes with their '80s inspirations.

The Gunderson family is relocating from Pittsburgh to a small town in California. The two teenage children are despondent at having to start their social lives anew. The reality turns out to be worse than their fears.

Charlie is greeted by being named the geekiest senior at his new school, an insult punctuated by a kick in a tender area. Then he's humiliated by the school heartbreaker, Kimberly, who is in cahoots with the biggest man on campus, Kipp.

Things are even more distressing for 16-year-old Lori. Dance is her life and she's accomplished enough to have harbored aspirations to join the Pittsburgh Ballet. She's devastated to discover that her new school has outlawed dancing, because the last time it was allowed, people's feet became loose. To compensate for the ban, the school now stages "stand-arounds."

The Gunderson kids are undaunted. Charlie decides the way to win the girl of his dreams and get off the geek list is to win the school's decathlon championship. To prep, he enlists the aid of a gardener named Yamagashi, who encourages his protege with seemingly profound bromides.

Lori, meanwhile, conspires with an inept school janitor, Gabriel, to defy the dance ban in a revolutionary manner.

The cast, while clearly winking at the audience in every scene, plays it the only way they can to make the project work: totally straight.

Mikey Day and Dominique Swain are the earnest Gunderson kids, who approach each of their crusades as if they are involved in the nuclear disarmament of North Korea. James Hong seems to be channeling the spirit of Pat Morita as Yamagashi, and Chris Kattan brings the ideal amount of unjustified self-importance to Gabriel.

The featured players are well complemented by Brittany Daniel as loathsome social climber Kimberly, Joey Kern as Kipp and Nicki Clyne as Billie, the obligatory social outcast secretly pining for Charlie, who sees her only as a friend.

"Totally Awesome" is totally silly, but in a totally entertaining way.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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