The most, and almost the only, surprising thing about “Bucket & Skinner’s Epic Adventures,” a new tweencom debuting Friday on Nickelodeon before taking up its regular Sunday post, is that the character called Skinner is the one you’d expect, given a certain emptiness of head, to be called Bucket.
Nickelodeon has been in its time a place where marvelous, strange and poetic things have happened — yes, “The Adventures of Pete & Pete,” I’m talking to you, but also to “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide” and “The Secret World of Alex Mack,” the last of which was co-created by Thomas W. Lynch, who developed “Bucket & Skinner.” But with Nick’s “iCarly” the biggest thing since Disney’s “Hannah Montana,” cute, star-driven, kidcentric multicamera sitcoms will be dominating the view for the foreseeable future.
“Bucket & Skinner” plays completely within that sandbox. Created by Boyce Bugliari and Jamie McLaughlin (the Andy Richter sitcom “Quintuplets,” the Robert Evans cartoon “Kid Notorious”), it is by design a prefab sort of show, with familiar characters in familiar relations, original only that it is dressed in the boardshorts and wetsuits of a Southern California beach town.
Our heroes are high school freshmen, which matters only as a synonym for social powerlessness. (School itself does not matter.) Bucket (Taylor Gray) is the prettier one, soft and shy and clumsy in a long tradition of late-blooming teen idols that little girls may at once desire and desire to mother. He has a crush on Kelly (Ashley Argota, from Nick’s “True Jackson, VP”), who is “a junior, popular, an insane surfer” — out of his class in more ways than one. But Skinner (Dillon Lane), a Spicoli-sans-spliff who is always happy, does not burn on that wheel of desire: “I’ve had two dreams in my life — to have a tail and to surf 15-foot waves.” (Skinner: “Do you have any idea how big that is?” Bucket: “Fifteen feet?” Skinner: “At least!”) Both actors are 17, playing 14.
The primary obstacle in their Lucy-and-Ethel quest for standing is Aloe (Glenn McCuen), a self-adoring, back-flipping, break-dancing rich-kid jock who goes about with a henchman named Sven and a pair of catch-phrases — “Fact!” and “Aloe out!” — that it has been determined you cannot hear too often. Bucket’s Uncle Three Pieces (George Back), who owns a surf shop, is the token adult; typically, he is without actual authority or even agency. Kelly’s little sister Piper (Tiffany Espensen) holds down the precocious-tot chair. And there is a play fitted.
The recycled cardboard from which the series has been constructed has been painted gaily enough, and Lane, who gets most of the best, oddest lines, has a goofy charm. (“No grade given,” Skinner reads from the paper he’s just gotten back. “See school nurse.”). The show fulfills its mission: It is an industrial entertainment, a candy-colored machine to snare budding consumers who (once again) are not being served so much as being served up.