It's funny to say this about a group whose original guiding force is still only 16 years of age, but "Jonas," the Jonas Brothers sitcom that premieres tonight on the Disney Channel, feels long in coming.
It is not just because I am old enough to confuse them with Hanson, a similarly gifted, similarly sibling trio who captured the hearts of tweens and more open-minded pop critics back around the turn of the century. It's just that the way things usually work with Disney, the music career is erected on the back of the TV one, and the Jonases, already multi-platinum millionaire pop stars with a Rolling Stone cover (and a "South Park" takedown) in their pocket, would normally be in their third sitcom season by now. (Technically, it is their second series, if you want to count the interstitial "Living the Dream," made up of bite-sized clips of the band on tour. And there is also last year's TV movie "Camp Rock," but they were already mega by then.)
Indeed, the show was delayed by the 2007-08 writers strike. Originally, Nick, Joe and Kevin were to play secret agent types -- the title was to have been rendered "J.O.N.A.S." for "Junior Operatives Networking As Spies" -- and although tonight's opening episode finds the brothers in disguise, it's only so they won't be recognized by their fans when they go to a coffeehouse to check out a girl Nick likes.
As brought to term, "Jonas" is a classic high school comedy (with musical interludes) and, like fellow Disney teencoms "Hannah Montana" and "Sonny With a Chance" (featuring "Camp Rock" costar Demi Lovato), it stars stars who play stars.
To ensure that no one mistakes this for a documentary, the Jonases have become the Lucases -- Jonas is now merely the name of their band. For balance, they've been given two comical female friends with whom there is no question of romance, one (Chelsea Staub as Stella) their teenage wardrobe mistress and the other (Nicole Anderson as Macy) a full-time fan whose love for all Jonases/Lucases precludes her falling for any particular one. There are parents, but, as in most such series, this is fundamentally a world without adults.
There's nothing to complain about here, and much to like. Some may find the brothers' music a little too perfectly coiffed, a little too automatically urgent. But they are less manufactured than many young pop sensations -- they write almost all of their songs -- and have absorbed the moves of generations of rock elders, which they recycle with enthusiasm. They're bona fide pop stars still young enough to be playing at being pop stars.
As actors, they're more contained -- natural and brotherly (naturally).
"You're just going to make fun of me," says Nick (the "serious one"), who has a problem.
"Nick, we're your brothers," says Kevin (the crazy one), as Joe (the cool one) completes the thought: "We're going to make fun of you no matter what it is."
The pop sounds notwithstanding, "Jonas" is less hysterical, in the behavioral sense, than most teen series, its tone whimsical and gently surreal. That the show -- whose various directors encouragingly include Savage Steve Holland, of the great "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" and Roger S.H. Schulman, from "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" -- is shot single-camera gives it a little extra weight. And if, like the Jonases' music, it doesn't exactly break new ground, it covers the old ground with assurance.
When: 8 tonight
Rating: TV-G (suitable for all ages)