Family that rocks together

Times Staff Writer

"The Naked Brothers Band" seems a rather saucy title for a Nickelodeon kids' show. In fact, nobody gets more naked than their pajamas in tonight's premiere, although in one scene Nat Wolff's pants do fall down. The Naked Brothers are actual brothers Nat and Alex Wolff, ages 12 and 9 respectively, and the band is composed of their actual friends Thomas, David, Qaasim and Allie. Their actual friend Cooper plays their manager, and their actual grown-up cousin Jesse plays their "baby-sitter," hairstylist and reader of horoscopes. Father Michael Wolff (who led the band on "The Arsenio Hall Show") plays their father. Only Allie has to play someone with a different name, perhaps because it was felt that Rosalina sounds better for a tweenage love interest. I will admit it does seem to add a certain exotic something.

The TV show grew out of an independent film, "The Naked Brothers Band Movie," written and directed by the brothers' mother, actress Polly Draper ("thirtysomething"), who runs the show as well. Despite several big-name cameos (Cyndi Lauper, Uma Thurman, Tony Shalhoub and what looks like the cast of "thirtysomething" gathered in one shot), the movie version, which incorporates old home video of a younger Nat and Alex, feels like something of a vanity project. The TV show is tighter, faster and more focused.

The show is built around the familiar TV dynamic of the smart, slightly sensitive older brother versus the really smart, completely insensitive younger brother (see "The Adventures of Pete & Pete," still the Nickelodeon high-water mark); Alex, who plays the drums, or plays the drummer -- which is to say, he gets to be the loon -- has the better part, and he sinks his teeth into it and shakes it around like a dog with a stuffed squirrel.

Like the film, the series is framed as a mockumentary, and though we are perhaps coming near the end of the usefulness of that form as a low-budget narrative tool, I at least can't remember seeing it done with kids. The semi-improvisational rhythms give it a different flavor from other tweencoms -- the amateurism shines through, in a good way. (The funniest thing in the two episodes I've seen is Qaasim trying to get his guitar out of a gig bag while delivering his lines.) In this respect, it's a kind of Viacommed "Little Rascals."

They are not struggling, the Naked Brothers Band, like the Monkees or the Partridge Family. They are so successful that their father (the only parent on screen) seems like a vestigial appendage; he keeps showing up with an accordion, trying to hang with the band, and they keep sending him away. But if I could buy the Ramones as the most popular band in the world in "Rock 'n' Roll High School," I will accept that these small people might be making hit records and winning VMA awards.

And the songs, written by Nat, are not bad, though his occasional little-soul-man exhortations can create an unpleasant cognitive dissonance. I do remember Hanson, after all, and the Jackson 5, back when Michael was no older than Nat Wolff. Indeed, there are surely more actual bands with kids in them than there are fictional kids' bands. My wife was at the airport the other day, coming through Customs, and ran into the 13-year-old son of some friends, on his way back from playing some dates in England with his band -- it can happen.

There is something slightly creepy knowing that it's a family production rather than, in the usual way, acted by people pretending to know one another. That seems more honest, somehow. But that is merely prejudice, you can't call it criticism.


'The Naked Brothers Band'

Where: Nickelodeon

When: 8:30 tonight

Rating: TV-Y7, directed toward older children

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