waynepygram.com: Sam & Cat, Reviewed

waynepygram.com: Sam & Cat, Reviewed

Apparently, you weren't just fine since you didn't even complete your episode order.

When the best part of your show is the theme song, you know you're in trouble.

Ray discussed Sam & Cat during the Dan Schneider write-up posted recently, and thinking about it now has made me want to talk about the show in greater detail. Ray's definitely invited to join if he wants to, and hopefully, we can figure out exactly what made this show a failure.

Yeah, I'm not beating around the bush here. Sam & Cat was a terrible show. Even at the time, I wasn't crazy about it, and I stopped keeping up with it after the first couple episodes and watched as it collapsed under its own weight. It was a spin-off of two of Dan Schneider's hits, iCarly and Victorious. I guess there's some uniqueness to spinning off two different shows, but that's where the interest ends. The show follows Sam Puckett (iCarly) and Cat Valentine (Victorious) as they live in Cat's grandmother's place in Venice Beach and go through wacky adventures while running their own babysitting service.

Alright, the first thing I have to ask is.......why? Who asked for this show to happen? Why select these two characters? iCarly was on its last legs and was going to end very soon. Victorious was supposed to carry the torch from that point, which was made more clear by it winning Favorite TV Show at the Kids Choice Awards in 2012. Then it got cancelled, and the last season did the show no favors by being poorly written and unremarkable outside of a few episodes (like "Opposite Date" and "One Thousand Berry Balls"). With these events taking place, I don't think this is what was needed to fill the void. Sam & Cat was pretty generic for the most part, and I don't think most people would be upset if  it never happened. It doesn't really remind me of either show it was conceived from. Sam and Cat just go through random stuff every week and we were expected to laugh at it. The only connection to the original shows are Sam and Cat themselves, and they're not nearly entertaining enough to elevate the material they are given.

Which leads me to my next point: The chemistry. There's almost none of it between Sam and Cat. I mean, I know that's what happens when you create sitcom pairings through putting every character in a random name generator, but every episode just feels off. Sam and Cat are roommates and business partners, but they almost never feel like friends. They don't really bring out the best in each other or make you want to watch the next episode just to see what they do next. They're both characters that need someone stronger than them to play off of. On iCarly, Sam had Carly, Freddie, Spencer, and Gibby to play off of on a regular basis. All of them had different personalities and  ways of communicating. Victorious had Tori, Jade, Andre, Robbie, Beck, Trina, Sikowitz, and Sinjin to play off of Cat. That's eight different people Cat  had the chance to interact with on a regular basis. On this show, Sam and Cat only have  each other, Dice, Goomer,  and Nona. That's hardly anyone decent enough to be a foil to. And the characters are much weaker.  Dice is alright but nothing special, Goomer is a moron, and Nona barely has much screen time at all. The supporting cast doesn't steal the show, but just emphasizes exactly why this show was a bad idea.

What really stands out is that Sam and Cat aren't really themselves in this show. They come off like watered down, stereotypical versions of themselves. Which hurts the comedy a lot because you can tell they really need stronger characters to bring out their personalities. Every situation is based on two things:  Sam being lazy and gluttonous, and Cat being stupid and weird. I feel like at one point, their characters were more than that. With the spin-off, they just walk around and spit out as many punchlines as they can until the laugh track breaks. There's no value to the sitcom beyond it being Sam and Cat teaming up and doing things. On both the original shows, there were stakes to what the characters were doing. Sam had to save Carly from being killed by her prison friends or Cat had to go to San Diego to light a candle and celebrate her favorite actress who she thought passed away. Here, Sam just sits around watching TV and eating chili biscuits while Cat is doing one-woman shows about Abraham Lincoln. What reason do I have to care about anything these two are doing?

That's why it shouldn't be a surprise that "The Killer Tuna Jump" is the best episode of the series, because it tries to be more like iCarly and Victorious than any other episode. Jade, Freddie, and Robbie instantly outshine every other character on the show and make them look like amateurs. What they do on screen is way more interesting than whatever Sam and Cat do most of the time, and it makes me feel like if Jade was in Sam's place, the show would be ten times better. Ray mentioned something about the Victorious characters having this air of coolness about them, and I see it here in this episode. Jade takes the attention away whenever she's on screen. Freddie is the same way too, and Robbie to some extent also because of how much better his jokes are than Goomer's, for instance. For the first time, I actually care about what Sam and Cat are doing, because they get to be around characters they are already familiar with or have more to offer than the characters specifically created for the show.  Sam and Cat don't really have much of a social life outside of hanging out with a kid younger than them and a mentally disabled man older than them. So for them to finally act like girls in high school and not outdated sitcom buddies was really satisfying.

Sam & Cat came at a time when Nickelodeon was trying to create a new generation of shows, many of which were given the ball to run with and were sacked by the network before they could even cross the goal line. I'm looking at How to Rock and The Haunted Hathaways as examples. It was never made to last, mostly because of the flimsy premise and the fact that  Ariana Grande was literally blowing up in the pop world around the time the show debuted. By the time the show was cancelled, Ariana's second album was close to hitting stores and she was only racking up more hits. Plus, it was apparent that as time went on, the actors were getting more tired and the show had absolutely nothing to say.


This is also when Schneider's Bakery officially started to decline. iCarly and Victorious got progressively worse around 2011/2012. These shows have been airing on TeenNick a lot over the past number of weeks and since it's more convenient that way for my TV, I've been watching the channel more times than I could count. Victorious in season three/four is almost a completely different show from season one, and iCarly began to suffer from bad pacing and less interesting stories. I think the stress of working on two popular shows at the same time was too much for Schneider and the writers, and I understand that Schneider was the kind of person to spread himself thin over all of his projects, but both shows suffered from getting the same amount of attention. All Sam & Cat did was continue the decline. The writing of the show was awkward and juvenile compared to its predecessors, and it was  first time a Schneider's Bakery show had nothing to offer me. It was dumb, it was bland, it was slow, and it wasn't worth watching more than a couple times. Even now, I'm struggling to think of a non-"Killer Tuna Jump" episode that I like. Not just like at the time, but right now. "Twinfection" wasn't too bad, mostly because Cat outsmarted Sam and tried to act like a normal person for once.

Sam & Cat is the show that officially put an end to Dan Schneider's run. I mean, it was popular with the kids, but it wasn't anywhere near as good as all the shows that came before it, and ended up inheriting the bad writing that plagued iCarly and Victorious as they were coming to an end. Would I watch it over Henry Danger and Game Shakers? Yeah, but by default. That's only because I know Sam and Cat from better shows, when they were better characters with actual personalities and interacted with characters that made them better. So what I just said was I prefer getting slapped in the face over getting kicked down low and getting shot. And what makes it worse is that Schneider's Bakery (along with Nickelodeon) never recovered.


...and yeah it just ends mid-sentence there, folks. Like I said, technical issues. This has been a known thing for a while which is why I took steps to try to preserve as much of Mike's original draft as possible...unfortunately Blogspot managed to eat those too :( So I'm going to post it now, see if Mike can piece together what was missing (fortunately it wasn't too much at least) then add my own thoughts.

I took care of it. I actually didn't lose anything because I forgot what I was going to say anyway. I might do one for Victorious next. 

Well in that case...you actually like Ten Thousand Berry Balls? I thought that episode was the poster child for the syndromes Victorious was suffering in its final season (half-season?) I don't mean to make this all about iCarly and Victorious when it's supposed to be about Sam & Cat but the comparisons are inevitable when they're the source material to begin with. Like Mike I've been watching reruns on TeenNick (why isn't it TeeNick anyway?) a bit more, especially since Victorious since if nothing else I feel it just has better rewatchability (perhaps that's more what I was getting at when I said it's better than iCarly). Except...it doesn't quite have the rewatchability I thought it had (or very specifically here, that final half-ish season). Said half-ish season premiered right when I was getting into both this network and Disney Channel, and at that specific time and place any episode of Victorious was like an incredibly hip and cool breath of fresh air compared to say ANT Farm or Dog With a Blog (and keep in mind I like those shows). The two or three Disney Channel shows that can realistically compete on grabbing that same teen zeitgeist - Shake it Up and even Wizards of Waverly Place and to at least some extent Good Luck Charlie - just didn't come anywhere close. It was like Nick gave Schneider free reign to do what he felt was needed to grab that teen demo, and it really felt like he created a Nickelodeon Breakfast Club in television format for the 2010s from that benefit.

Fast-forward a half-decade later and...I'm watching Wanko's Warehouse, an episode I had considered during that intervening half-decade one of the finest episodes of that final half-ish season and...I'm wondering just where the magic went. I'm still inclined to think Star-Spangled Tori was a great episode despite it being a finely-pointed series of unwarranted embarrassing events against its main character, but now I'm certain that's going to change if I watched it again. And Brain Squeezers is just...a bizarre episode. And an odd portent of what was coming with Sam & Cat.

Mike literally took the words out of my mouth and improved upon them in this entire article, to the point where it's become one of my most favorite on this blog so far (by him or myself). So rather than agree with him on "Sam & Cat sucks" I'm going to add more my thoughts on the why and how. Like Mike said, Schneider had a peculiar habit of spreading himself thin - yet that didn't hurt him during Drake & Josh's entire run which was at least at points concurrent with Zoey 101 (a series that I for the most part just find...strange, if not at least well-intended in some of its social messages). Though given the final season of iCarly, the final season of Victorious, the first season of Sam & Cat and the Gibby spin-off pilot (yes that was a thing) were all happening at the same time, no duh something there had to suffer, and as it turned out it was ultimately everything. Pairing Sam with Jade seems an obvious choice but that's a choice that's really only genuinely obvious in hindsight. See, Sam and Cat were the moneymakers for the network. Their characters (or at least their respective actors) ate up tons of social media buzz at the time, especially Ariana (naturally, as she seems to be a better master at SM than almost all the other actors involved in either production save maybe Victoria herself) and the shipping....oh man. The shipping. You think GMW shipping was bad? That ain't nothing compared to iCarly and Victorious shipping (and even cross-shipping). The Schneider character shipping literally inspired the GMW shipping, really.

The point is, pairing Sam and Cat as opposed to say Sam and Jade maybe didn't make the most creative sense, but who cares because it made the most business sense and it's clear that was the only real requirement or thought process that went into the show. This show was as much the product of demographics marketing and consensus as it was Schneider himself. Put the two main characters together and then...and then.... Eh, Dan will think of something (spoiler alert: he didn't). 

Mike's definitely right about one thing (everything): it was also the beginning of the end. And I don't just mean Schneider's creative magic, but I very specifically mean that at the moment it was decided that this show's main creative criteria is putting whoever happens to be the most popular together, was the moment that lead to Dan screaming and yelling his way out of having Nickelodeon studio space and any association with Henry Danger beyond having his name on the credits half a decade later. The show didn't have a direction and didn't have much creative input because the network itself decided those were the least important facets. The network thought that in turn because, very clearly, it simply didn't have a high opinion of its own audience. 

That said, I thought Tuna Jump was...ok, although obviously the highlight was indeed Jade, Freddie and Robbie. They absolutely did make the episode. Twinfection was...ok, but again what made that episode was another character/actor completely stealing the show (yes even if it was just Jennette still - but it seems like they absolutely cast the reins off her for this one, and it was nice seeing Melanie being expanded beyond literally a few-seconds long single scene - and oh yeah Twinfection will forever go down for all the creepers being super-excited about Jennette and Ariana kissing on-screen, even if the exact context of that scene thoroughly destroys those fantasies). My favorite episode is actually Yay Day, because that was the one episode that most felt like they were actually trying to live up to the premise, particularly the part about Sam and Cat becoming best friends through circumstance. 

Mike also mentioned How to Rock and Haunted Hathaways, the former again concurrent with Victorious'/iCarly's final season (and thus when I first started watching the network) and the latter premiering a year later. I've seen exactly three episodes of How to Rock before that show effectively evaporated out of the human record - the pilot (on a random rerun), and two premieres, the episode where they take a driving test and the Christmas episode which ended up being the de facto series finale (I also read both the books from which this series is based off of - yeah, really - and I really enjoyed those). From what I saw, I thought it was decent, although I thought the driving episode was pretty mediocre. I also saw just about every episode of Haunted Hathaways although for the most part that was back when those premiered, and even the latest episode I've seen in reruns would've been at least a year ago. But from what I can remember...it's definitely hit-or-miss, and at a certain point the show observingly was less about its ghost/living blended family premise and more about "how much stuff can we dump on Amber Montana today?" (Or Amber Frank, as she's professionally known now). Also, Haunted Hathaways was cast off when Dan's magic over the network was already fatally weakened, after Sam & Cat's cancellation, while How to Rock was at Dan's height, effectively a sacrificial offering to Dan depending on who you talk to. Doesn't make it any less frustrating either way - and let's not talk about 100 Things to Do Before High School, which I awarded Best Show on the Network - for its first and only season. 

But...I don't know what else to say, especially since what Mike wrote really should go down as the definitive primer on Sam & Cat, and yes I mean that. Should it have happened at all? Creatively - in a very, very different form perhaps with differently characters (or at least one different character) entirely. But as a business decision, it was inevitable. The numbers made it too good to pass up. And it was the numbers that dictated the creativity of the show, and it was those numbers the show fell and died on.
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