Reviews: ‘Big Time Rush’ and ‘I’m in the Band’

Television Critic

If it seems that every new TV series for young people is about pop music or pop stardom, two shows that begin tonight will do nothing to dispel the impression. In Nickelodeon’s “Big Time Rush,” four friends from Minnesota travel to Los Angeles to be molded into a boy band. “I’m in the Band,” on the boy-centric Disney XD -- “hyper-marketing to boys” is the phrase the network actually uses -- is about a guitar-shredding teenager who talks his way into an aging metal band.

“I’m in the Band”: A review of “I’m in the Band” on the Disney XD channel in Monday’s Calendar section said that the network uses the phrase “hyper-marketing to boys” to describe itself. The phrase it uses is “hyper-targeting boys.” —

Like most screen stories of show-biz kids -- going back to “Babes in Arms” and “Fame” (the series) -- they are less about the work and more about having friends and being special. Someone might occasionally say something like “Let’s try it in A,” but the songs in the shows (as in “Glee,” their slightly more mature cousin) always appear fully formed and highly polished, without effort and as if by magic.

The good news about “Big Time Rush” is that it was created by Scott Fellows, the man behind Nickelodeon’s great, madcap “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.” But where “Ned’s” took a middle schooler’s daily experience and made it the stuff of crazy dreams, “Rush” is about crazy dreams becoming the stuff of daily experience. There is a marketing angle, to be sure, the same crossing of the revenue streams that powers “Hannah Montana” and “American Idol” and “Glee,” and whose conceptual forerunner was “The Monkees” -- television shows that function as elaborate advertisements for music that in turn advertises the TV show. “Big Time Rush,” which has more than a little of “The Monkees” in its makeup, was developed with Sony Music specifically to move units.

At the same time, there is a situation comedy here, hyperactive and mostly charming, to which the music is incidental: Indeed, in tonight’s episode, the group (Kendall Schmidt, James Maslow, Logan Henderson and Carlos Pena, classically conceived as Smart One, Cute One, Clever One and Wacky One) does not sing at all. Savage Steve Holland, who directed many episodes of “Ned’s” (and also worked on the Disney Channel’s pop-music comedy “Jonas”), directs here as well, with the same cartoon cuts and noises and musical cues. Also familiar from the earlier show are its demented adults, including a teacher who used to be in a boy band himself and presents this bitter word problem: “If four boys are in a band making $10,000, their manager gets 15%, their record sales plummet 80%, what part of their dream is crushed? Anyone? ALL OF IT.”

In the very likable “I’m In the Band,” young Tripp Campbell (Logan Miller) becomes the fourth member of Iron Weasel, a sanitized trio of hard-rock has-beens (Steve Valentine, Greg Baker and Stephen Full) who move from their van into his spare room. Each Weasel is a different flavor of idiot, but they are lovable and amusing and, like the Three Stooges or Marx Brothers or an actual rock band, agelessly immature. They are only mild maniacs: When they get crazy in Tripp’s living room in the middle of the night, it’s by throwing a luau.

Yet the actors also rock convincingly, as does Miller, on songs such as “Pull My Finger.” (Creating real-world hits would seem not to be the point here.) The humor runs, some might say appropriately, to the juvenile -- for instance, the band had once been called My Dog’s Butt, “but we had to change it because nobody wanted to hear what My Dog’s Butt was releasing.” I suppose that is what is meant by “hyper-marketing to boys.”