Kids' television, which has the license to be fanciful and strange in ways that grown-up TV does not, is a place where anything can happen. But it often seems a place where the same few things happen again and again.
Such it is with "How to Rock," a new prefab Nickelodeon sitcom-musical for tweens whose first two episodes premiere Saturday back to back. The work of experienced hands — show runner David Israel is a veteran of "3rd Rock From the Sun" and the wonderful "Grounded for Life" — it is, almost inevitably, not terrible. There are some good jokes in it ("We rock all night long — once even past 11" was one that made me laugh) and likable performances from its cast of young professionals, though they inhabit characters as stock as any out of a vaudeville melodrama.
Cymphonique Miller, who is the daughter of Master P and sister of the Nickelodeon veteran formerly known as Lil' Romeo, plays Kacey Simon, a popular mean girl — "popular" in this context always means "feared," not "liked" — who loses all her standing when she gets braces on her teeth and thick glasses for her eyes. The show is based on, though not exactly true to, a young adult novel — "How to Rock Braces and Glasses," by Meg Haston — published by Alloy Entertainment, an arm of the same cross-platform media company that brought forth "Gossip Girl," "The Vampire Diaries," "Pretty Little Liars" and "The Secret Circle" in their print and video forms.
In the blink of a bespectacled eye, Kacey becomes the enemy of her former friends and joins a band made up of kids she had seconds before disdained. (The opening episode concerns a talent show, a device that has never not been used in a show like this.) There are Stevie (Lulu Antariksa), the rebel and natural beauty; hunky Zander (Max Schneider), the new kid in school, which we know because a character says, "Hey, look, there's the new kid who just transferred to our school"; and a pair of hip-joined geek-nerds (Noah Crawford, Christopher Richard O'Neal), possibly not coincidentally reminiscent of Troy and Abed on "Community."
The music, the usual auto-tuned aspirational pop with a hip-hop breakdown, is there to move the hearts and spines of the young masses and provide a secondary revenue stream. (Tertiary, I guess, if you count the book, and the books that will follow.) The songs are larded with messages to love yourself as you are — "Only you can be you/Only I can be me," "You don't wanna be a wannabe" — messages the show itself both sells and belies, given that all the stars are good-looking, talented and on television.
Indeed, the nominal point of the series notwithstanding, "How to Rock" wastes no time getting Kasey out of her braces and glasses and back to her unencumbered glamorous (but now good) self, as if to spare its viewers the horror of her temporary imperfection. Which is to say it really has no point at all, other than feeding candy to babies — who do, after all, like candy.