Tie-Dye July

tie dye circle

Summer was a big deal for me growing up. No, I wasn’t flying to Hawaii or going off to camp for two months. I knew I was on a much-needed break where I would be doing fun stuff, though. July is probably when it felt most like summer. By that point, I’d been out of school for several weeks, I’d finished the annual dance recital, and there was still time for family vacations, my birthday, and summer reading (which I admittedly liked sometimes).

I remember writing a poem about summer. I remember listening to summer songs. Swimming in the pool, going to the beach, enjoying Florida’s variety of water parks, or staying inside to watch movies and Disney Channel marathons.

It wasn’t so hard to let out a sigh of relief and enjoy the sunshine. It was nice to be a kid, run around in the sprinklers, and not have adult problems to burst my bubble. Seemingly endless days of t-shirts, shorts and flip flops stretched before me. And I needed that attire because it was really hot outside.

Remember tie-dying t-shirts? Remember hand-making your own jewelry? My mom kept a stock of beads in our art cabinet and would sit at the kitchen table helping my sister and me make bracelets and necklaces for ourselves or our friends.

Weeks of whole, beautiful days where I could swim, make crafts, sing my favorite songs, eat lunch in front of the TV, write stories, and get extra sleep…I’d sign up for that today!

At Past Foot Forward, we’re in summer mode. Join us here on the blog or on Instagram as we relive vacation sitcom episodes, summer DCOMs, and beachy songs that make us feel good now, just like they did years ago.

Celebrating Aly & AJ

In May 2021, Aly & AJ released their first full album since their teenage years. I love the singles and music videos they dropped ahead of A Touch of the Beat Gets You Off of Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun (which is an awesome title). At this moment, I haven’t listened to the entire album. Maybe I needed to walk down memory lane before embracing the next destination. Or maybe I’m just a pace behind some of my friends…I think it’s both.

Alyson and Amanda Joy Michalka remind me of walking into a fresh, beautiful greenhouse. There are so many hues and scents both familiar and new. Notes of the past mingle with present-day creations.

Aly AJ Rush

Aly & AJ’s debut album, Into the Rush, arrived as I entered middle school in 2005. I cannot think of a better album for a pre-teen to get her hands on. With Aly & AJ, I could be cool, enjoy the music, and let my emotions play out freely.

“On the Ride” is a BFF or sibling kind of song that rolls along as you appreciate whomever your companion is. It was unquestionably perfect for the Michalkas’ Disney Channel Original Movie, Cow Belles. “Protecting Me” was another song I knew from the channel because Aly’s Keely Teslow sang it on Phil of the Future. “Whenever, wherever, you’ll protect me no matter what…You’re always there for me when I need you most, day and night, you’re by my side protecting me.” In my mind, it could be about anyone–a friend, family member, significant other, or even God (more on that later).

Aly and AJ back cover of "Into the Rush"

Then we had “No One” from Ice Princess, the ideal combination of a song and a movie I loved to pieces. With the chorus saying “Don’t wanna be no one but me,” it’s easy to feel good and secure while listening to it. The imagery of “moving through the crowd, trying to find” myself still feels so right.

I’ll continue going out of order, even though I would imagine I usually listened to this album in order. We’ve got the “Walking on Sunshine” cover from Herbie: Fully Loaded and another light-hearted cover, “Do You Believe in Magic,” which was later on the Wizards of Waverly Place soundtrack, because duh, magic.

That’s A LOT of airplay from synergistic Disney soundtracks, and if you’re like me, you didn’t mind a bit. “Rush” is the pinnacle of the film connection for this CD. Tia and Tamera Mowry’s Twitches was matched so fabulously with Aly & AJ’s “Rush.” In one context, the song captures sweeping layers of “The Darkness” as the Mowry twins, adorned in 2000s fashion, discover their powers in the movie.

When I wrote an article about Aly & AJ this year for Nicki Swift, I learned about another context for “Rush.” Aly & AJ are gay icons and proud allies in the LGBTQ community. You might already know that Aly & AJ frequently work with The Trevor Project to raise awareness and funds. They wholeheartedly support the notion of being “every color that you are,” which comes from the chorus of “Rush”:

“Don’t let nobody tell you your life is over/Be every color that you are/Into the rush now/You don’t have to know how/Know it all before you try.”

On a personal note, I may have gotten this very album at a Christian bookstore that would have largely excluded LGBTQ communities. I don’t take that lightly as an adult.

That brings me to “Never Far Behind.” The song was apparently marketed to the contemporary Christian crowd and begins with: “I know this really isn’t you, I know your heart is somewhere else.” After a pre-chorus of “Hold on to what you believe,” the chorus goes:

“I will always be your friend
I know who you are inside
I am with you to the end
Never far behind
I am standing in the distance
You can take your time
And I will be there waiting
Never far behind”

Perhaps this one could be about someone losing faith? Or, like in some of the other songs, maybe it’s a person trying to find out who they are. For what it’s worth, Wikipedia says “Never Far Behind” was specifically included in the “Christian edition” of the CD and was also supposed to be on a Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack.

It’s a curious thing when religious and mainstream media start to overlap. As a person looking to affirm and honor others with the books I read, the music I sing, and the voices I listen to, I think I can look to Aly & AJ as they are right now. I’d love to hear even more about their faith journeys someday.

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As I glance at the physical album, I notice the yellow disc and see Aly’s butterfly-heart drawing next to the track list. “Collapsed” brings out the punk in me when I sing it…I love the ranting bridge and the abrupt ending. “Something More” opens softly and paints the scene of friendship turning to romance. “Speak For Myself” is a plea to be listened to and respected. If you look inside the CD booklet, you’ll notice the quote “Children are to be seen and not heard,” with the word “not” crossed out.

“Out of the Blue” is one of my favorites and is essentially a saga of forbidden love. I forgot about the final chorus flipping the narrative on its head. I’ll bold the places that differ from the main chorus.

“Out of the blue
We knew we should’ve been together
Don’t wanna get over you
When love makes the choice
It has a voice
Out of the blue”

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“In a Second” reminds me of “Something More” and even includes “something more” in its lyrics. But with “In a Second,” it seems more like the fate of the relationship is in the hands of the other person. “I Am One of Them” is so sad as it details the reality of missing children and tragic loss. I’m sure I didn’t fully grasp that one as a kid. “Sticks and Stones” is a solid anti-bullying song. “Why don’t they understand that someone else’s pain is not for gain?”

“Slow Down” was a good call for this CD because it allows the speaker to pause a relationship and “need a little time for air.” It shows that needing space and wanting closeness are both valid feelings in the realm of attraction.

I’ve surveyed this treasured record at exactly the right time in my life. I’m comforted by the memory of listening to it at a sleepover I hosted one summer. I feel at home whenever I hear some of these songs in Disney movies. As a vocalist, I know that singing with a sister brings out such glorious harmonies, a fact proven by Aly and AJ. They blend together without sacrificing their individual vocal identities.

So now, I’m going to get with the program and enjoy the artistry of Aly & AJ in 2021.

Stuck in the Suburbs Soundtrack: 2004

Even though it takes place during the school year, I view Stuck in the Suburbs as a summer DCOM. In fact, I’m pretty sure I bought the soundtrack during the summer of 2004, probably not long after the movie’s July 16 release date. I had just finished fourth grade and looked forward to just about every DCOM Disney Channel advertised. I liked the sports and adventure stories but was also attracted to anything with glitter or music (or both). You can imagine that Stuck in the Suburbs was pretty perfect for me. I wasn’t familiar with Taran Killam in those days, so he truly became Jordan Cahill to me as a kid. Danielle Panabaker and Brenda Song make one of the best DCOM duos, in my opinion. For more on the movie, listen to the “That’s So Matthew” podcast. I loved talking about Stuck in the Suburbs with Matthew and Bob–so much that I decided to reflect a little more on the soundtrack.

Jordan Cahill Songs

stuck suburbs 1

Let’s start with the music of fictional pop star extraordinaire, Jordan Cahill. We’ve got “More Than Me” (two versions), “Make a Wish,” and “On Top of the World.” All three are aspirational, but great fictional pop star fare. The first (pop) version of “More Than Me” isn’t right for Jordan, so we get the stripped-down acoustic version at the end. Save Ashbrook House! The main thing I think of with “More Than Me” is the music video shoot early in the film with all the screaming suburban fans. It looks like Jordan Cahill has everything he wants, but his true self is being stifled. Anyway, the tune is catchy and makes a great ringtone for Brittany Aarons.

“Make a Wish” is a “take a chance”-“have faith in you”-“we can do anything when we try” kind of song. (Those were actual lyrics.) It might sound a little corny, but I felt really empowered hearing this type of song as a kid, and I hope other people felt the same way. I love the part where the big instrumentals drop out of a chorus near the end.

“On Top of the World” is great for when you need yet another confidence boost. Who doesn’t want to think that they’re a star, really? Forget that old motivational speaker tape and pop this soundtrack in to hear “the crowd scream [your] name.” But don’t ask me for too many more quotes; I don’t have this one memorized.

Other Songs About Life

After you let Jordan Cahill’s songs pump you up, check out the rest of the album. These songs really are about life…and about being stuck. Observe: “Good Life”-Jesse McCartney, “A Whatever Life”-Haylie Duff, “Stuck in the Middle With You”-Stealers Wheel, “Stuck”-Stacie Orrico. And we can’t forget the song of 2004, “Over It,” sung by Anneliese van der Pol. Those are the salient ones, and they make a well-rounded set list. Jesse McCartney says, “It’s the good life, so why y’all trippin?” I guess it really is the good life if you’re a pop star! The guitar part is really groovy in that song. Haylie Duff’s “A Whatever Life” is the ultimate sad girl song, which we truly need in order to properly reflect on the friendship between Brittany and Natasha. My husband said the song reminds him a bit of those “Live, Laugh, Love” signs, but I still dig it. “

“Stuck in the Middle With You” is a pretty well-known song that’s been prominent in pop culture since it’s 1972 release. I have to say, though, I’m partial to the other “Stuck” song, by Stacie Orrico. Her 2003 self-titled album was on repeat in my bedroom for awhile. My favorite lines are, “Every now and then, when I’m all alone, I be wishin’ you would call me on the telephone.” If that’s not your jam, you probably liked “(There’s Gotta Be) More to Life” back in the day. 

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Now, let’s discuss “Over It.” Do you remember the music video? It was so compelling to watch Anneliese van der Pol sing this song. She nailed it and brought such emotion to the lyrics. “Take me away, jump in the car, drive till the gas runs out and walk so far that we can’t see this place anymore.” Or the opener: “How could you know, that behind my eyes a sad girl cries?” It still gets me. 

I loved discussing this movie with my friends on Matthew’s podcast in May. Stuck in the Suburbs shows how a suburban teen girl and a successful pop star can actually have similar feelings. We can all feel trapped in mundanity or be a couple steps short of the lives we want. I think the music does a great job of bringing out those themes. Perhaps together, we can “be so much more than me,” after all.

The Cheetah Girls: A Soundtrack for Dreaming

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The Cheetah Girls (2003)…a DCOM we can quote, a soundtrack we can sing. Nearly two decades later, I still love the movie and the music. Based on Deborah Gregory’s book series, The Cheetah Girls was executive produced by Debra Martin Chase and Whitney Houston (these legends also produced The Princess Diaries).

Debra Martin Chase told the LA Times back in ’03, “I thought it was really important that visually all girls saw that they were included in the Cheetah Girls. It’s a state of mind. It’s an attitude. Everybody, no matter the color of your spots, can be a Cheetah Girl.” Message received. This movie and its music combined to deliver an aesthetic I adored. Cheetah spots were fashionable, but they were even cooler when four fabulous young women put them on and sang their hearts out. I grew up singing in choirs at school and at church. Pop music was my outlet. Third grade Allison would stick a disc in the purple boom box, grab a hair brush, come up with a few dance moves, and sing along with my favorite artists. What better album to sing along to than The Cheetah Girls? I called this one “short and sweet” on Instagram because it weighs in at eight songs. Four of them are sung by The Cheetah Girls:

“Cheetah Sisters”

Cheetah Sisters

Pensive by the piano or ramped up for the finale, “Cheetah Sisters” perfectly captures the sentiment that people who look different can still be family and achieve big dreams. “Someone’s always there behind to catch us if we fall,” and in today’s world, I think we can all be inspired to stand behind someone and do the catching.

“Cinderella”

TCG Cinderella

I stumbled upon some interesting research on this song one night. Growing up, I always thought this track was original to Play, the Swedish girl group that also sang “Us Against the World” (which you heard in a Lizzie McGuire episode and in Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Holiday in the Sun film). You should read an EXCELLENT Twitter thread by Jordan Brown explaining that a group called i5 (“International 5”) actually sang the song first. A few years after i5 brought it into the world, “Cinderella” made the perfect talent show audition piece for the Cheetahs.

“Girl Power”

TCG Girl Power

“I’ve made mistakes before, but I know I’m not perfect. It’s okay ’cause who could ever be?” I’m so glad that message played throughout my childhood and teen years. Hannah Montana told me “Nobody’s Perfect.” A Christian artist named Natalie Grant told me “there’s no such thing as perfect people, there’s no such thing as a perfect life.” But The Cheetah Girls first told me that it was okay to be imperfect. I can still “throw [my] hands up” and “know that [I’m] a star.” The girls had to bring their A-game to that meeting with Jackal Johnson, and with this song, they certainly brought it.

“Together We Can”

TCG Together

I think this was such a strong way to open the movie. “Together we can shoot the moon, stop the rain, even ride a hurricane.” I can’t help but sing the lyrics every time I see the title in print. Don’t forget that this song makes a resurgence when The Cheetah Girls serenade Toto while the pooch is being rescued.

Other Songs

The Cheetah Girls needed a few other songs for their first Disney Channel story. You’ll remember “C’mon” as Sonic Chaos’ talent show rap. “Girlfriend” by Char is the backdrop for Chanel and Galleria’s spontaneous dance in front of the record store. Then we’ve got “Breakthrough” for Chanel’s huge shopping spree, sung by Hope 7 (you know, the ones who “grab the brassy golden ring” on “I Want Everything”?). And of course, we’ve gotta have a sad montage song, which brings us to Christi Mac’s “End of the Line.” That one tugs on the heartstrings.

I don’t think I can pick a favorite song out of the whole soundtrack. The Cheetah tunes are all so special, and the additional music helps move the movie in important ways. After singing all of these masterpieces in my head, I’m due for a Cheetah rewatch. Probably will spend an afternoon on all three! Thanks for reading–I’d love to hear how The Cheetah Girls soundtrack impacted you.

Radio Disney jamsvol.5

There are a lot of things about being a kid that I remember fondly, and one of them is Radio Disney. I loved tuning into my local station, AM 600, to hear the best mix of mainstream pop and Disney-made hits. Even though the Disney Channel is famous for its talented young actor-singers, it was Radio Disney that highlighted the stars’ musical talents and got all the kids at home excited about new music. But in 2002, most in-house Disney singers hadn’t released their albums yet. So who was on the fifth Radio Disney jams CD? I’m so glad you asked.

We had Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, 3 Doors Down, 3LW, Jump 5, M2M, LMNT, Baha Men, A*Teens, Christina Milian, Simon and Milo, Play + Chris Trousdale, Dream Street, No Secrets, Aaron Carter + Nick & No Secrets. That’s right, a couple of lucky ducks got to be on this CD twice.

There was a little bit of Disney Channel synergy here with Christina Milian (the Kim Possible theme song) and with Simon and Milo (“Get a Clue”). You also might remember that LMNT’s “Hey Juliet” was in the Frankie Muniz episode of Lizzie McGuire (side note, LMNT sang “Open Your Eyes (To Love)” for The Lizzie McGuire Movie). And the A*Teens version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was on the Lilo & Stitch soundtrack.

My favorite song on this compilation might have to be “Pop (Deep Dish Cha-Ching Remix)” by N*SYNC. Honestly, I remember hearing this remix before I ever really knew what “Pop” was about. I rediscovered the song in high school and couldn’t stop singing it.

I love “Kids in America” (No Secrets) because I did a jazz dance to it back in my recital days. “God Bless the USA” is special because I’m a huge Jump 5 fan, and I liked the message of that song growing up (I always thought it was cool that they subbed out “children and my wife” and sang “family by my side” instead).

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The fifth Radio Disney jams CD is my favorite because it’s so energetic and fun. Baha Men’s “Move it Like This” and “I Say Yeah” (the last song on the CD) make me want to dance and sing along. “Oh Aaron” is just hilarious, and 3LW’s “Playas Gon’ Play” was my only exposure to that group before Adrienne and Kiely became Cheetah Girls. I’ve gotta say, I was a little perplexed by “Kryptonite,” but I like it better now. There’s a hidden gem called “Everything” by M2M that you should check out. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it seems that Backstreet’s “What Makes You Different (Makes You Beautiful)” was huge at the time. Finally, it’s so sad that Chris Trousdale is no longer with us. I love hearing his voice with No Secrets on “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” I remember enjoying the song quite a lot as a young girl.

(Now you can watch the Baha Men…)

One of the best things about the Radio Disney CD collection was this: I could learn some of the best songs of the moment without having to own every single CD that came out. I had plenty of albums, but it would be hard to buy them all! Also, the RD CDs are pretty accurate time capsules of what was playing on our stations back then.

Funny story. I did not have every single jams CD, but a childhood friend must have had them all…along with the boy band posters that covered nearly every inch of this friend’s bedroom walls. I might have been a little jealous. That turn-of-the-century pop culture energy stayed with me. It was fun to be a kid when some of pop’s biggest acts of all time were taking off. Cheers to more Radio Disney CDs in 2021!

Movgul: The Best Place for Movie Lovers!

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Tatiana Mandis, the creator of the Movgul app! Tatiana is a 20-year-old from New York City. She is currently an Art History student at Brown University. Tatiana has always been enthusiastic about films, considering them as a form of art. Her favorite movie right now is Pulp Fiction

Read on to learn about Movgul, an exciting new app where cinephiles can share or ask for movie recommendations.

Movgul’s interface is inviting, user-friendly, and totally focused on the movies you love! Click here to try it.

Tatiana came up with this idea (while working hard as a student!) and told me about how the app came to be.

Tatiana: I’ve always been attracted to movies. I’ve always really enjoyed watching movies, especially old movies. That’s just something that I’ve been doing for a very long time, and when the pandemic hit, I noticed I was relying on movies even more than I usually do, just for an escape, and just to like, try to transport myself, I guess. A lot of my friends were doing the same thing, so we would just send movie recommendations to each other via Snapchat or text messages. And one night it just kind of hit me. What if there was an easier way to exchange these recommendations or share with a greater audience of people who are actually receptive to those recommendations? I looked online, and I couldn’t find an app that did that. I had no knowledge of how to go about building an app or anything. I kind of just took the initiative and figured it out as I went along, and that night, I thought of a name. I wanted everyone to feel that their opinion on movies was really validated on the app, and that everyone was kind of a “movie mogul.” So that was where the name came from. And then I didn’t make it a ratings-based app because I wanted it to be a really positive place where everyone felt that their opinions were valid, so there’s no star ratings system or anything. It’s just people sharing recommendations in and of themselves as a positive thing. I thought that would be a great way to build a nice community of movie-lovers. 

I designed each page of the app, which was really cool. I’m really into graphic design and sketching, so that was fun. And then, I had to figure out how to market it, how to contact people to get the word out. It’s been really exciting. Yesterday I came across the sketches I made for Movgul the night I had the idea, and now the app is functioning. It looks exactly like what my sketches were that night…it’s really rewarding to see that, that it came to life.

Allison: I love that you aren’t basing it on stars or numbers, that it’s the recommendations, because people have such different tastes. I deal with nostalgia, so if I’m looking for some feel-good movie from middle school, that’s very specific, and someone out there might have a great idea. So I think the recommendations are so useful. And like you said, Movgul is the first social networking app designed for users to exchange movie recommendations. I see that you can post your recommendations or reviews, or you can ask about something you want to watch. How do those functions work on the app?

Tatiana: If you’re looking for something very specific, like ‘what do I watch with my boyfriend tonight?’, you can press “ask for recommendation,” and that gets sent to all your followers, so they can comment some suggestions that come to mind for them. You can also use the search function to find different movies or you can look at your friends’ posts. But for a more specific experience, you can directly ask your followers.

Allison: I also love that members can list a few of their favorite movies or genres so that Titanic fans or horror fans have an easier time finding one another. So is that one thing that’s driving the community here, that you want people to be able to locate others who might have similar tastes?

Tatiana: Yeah, exactly, and I made the profiles all public, so there’s no way of having a private account. You also can’t see who other people are following, so it’s not about who’s following who. I really wanted to eliminate that aspect of social media. It’s not about being popular–it’s more about connecting with other people who love movies. Maybe that’s your friends and family, and maybe it’s not. And you can find another social group on this app that you connect with. 

Allison: Sure, creating engagement naturally rather than users trying to become some [social media] phenomenon. 

Tatiana: Exactly, and I thought this would be a great space for people since everyone’s so receptive to it, if you download the app and you want to receive and give movie recommendations, that creates enthusiasm.

Allison: I saw on the website that users can engage with the app more casually, too. Maybe that’s just perusing someone’s profile if they notice that a person has been watching things that they like.

Tatiana: Exactly, if they notice they have the same taste in genre or movies, they can look at that person’s feed to get some other recommendations.

Allison: How do we sign up? Just go to the app store to download?

Tatiana: It’s super easy. Just go the app store to download–making an account is just email, password, username, or log in with Facebook or Apple ID. You can fill out your top three movies or favorite genres, and basically, start engaging with the community.

Allison: That’s so cool! It looks very user-friendly and easy for people to navigate. Is there any genre you can think of on the app, or classic movie genres?

Tatiana: I have about 30 in the database, so there are quite a few genres. I’ve really focused on making this app for cinephiles and people who want to watch movies. I’m really receptive to feedback!

Allison: I’m sure it’ll be so helpful to have this community where people can ask questions and know what’s being recommended and where they can check it out! Is there anything else people might want to know about how the app can help them expand their horizons and enjoy the viewing experience?

Tatiana: You can really use the app however you want. If you’re not someone who wants to write reviews of movies or share your experience with movies, your whole entire feed can just be you asking people for recommendations, and that could be how you use the app. Or you could be a more engaged user and share movie reviews and ask for recommendations, so it’s really up to the person. Also, there’s the feature of being able to upload a photo, so maybe that would be a funny movie meme, or a quote or screengrab of a scene. So there are other ways to utilize the app.

Allison: This is so inclusive, there are no distractions. You’re just here to be able to talk about the movies. That’s really refreshing. Is there anything else you would want people to know, or why this is such a great thing to put out into the marketplace?

Tatiana: I think it’s the positivity, that’s really a big aspect of it. I really do want everyone to feel like it’s an inclusive community, and that’s why it’s so easy to use. I made it as aesthetically pleasing and functional as possible. Every button has a purpose…There’s nothing on the app you don’t need or won’t use. That’s what I want the users to know, is that this app is literally made for them. I really want their feedback; I really want their engagement. I think that’s what makes it different from other apps. It really is a place where everyone is a movie mogul!

Thank you to Tatiana for telling us about Movgul! Movie lovers need to check it out ASAP. If you’ve watched something you want others to see, you can post about it and include a photo if you want. Looking for your next movie night selection? Ask the community for a recommendation! Movgul is easy to use, inclusive of all people and interests, and full of excellent movie ideas! Head to the App Store or the Movgul website today.

DJ Bob Runkel on 11 Years of The DJ Bob Show

It feels so good to return to the blog with my friend, Bob Runkel. Bob is proudly a podcaster with CP (cerebral palsy), and we are celebrating eleven years of The DJ Bob Show this summer! When I first tuned in not that long ago, Bob’s show immediately brought me joy, taught me things I didn’t know, and confirmed my passion for pop culture. Bob Runkel met me where I was, and he didn’t even know it. He’s delivered fantastic interviews for over a decade in every realm of entertainment. Did you know that he found Boo from Monsters, Inc. (Mary Gibbs) and interviewed her? Or that he talked to Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother??

My first Zoom conversation with Bob took place earlier this year, and he and I had plenty to talk about. Every time we catch up, we realize how many pop culture memories we share and how similarly we feel about the entertainment industry of today. Bob’s favorite Radio Disney Jams CD is Volume 2, mine is Volume 3 (it was an important Radio Disney episode of The DJ Bob Show with Robin Jones that truly brought us together). We both love Jump5 and remember the lyrics to their songs. We’ll randomly start singing “Floorfiller” by A*Teens. We can laugh and get excited about our shared interests, but we’re also rather academic about them.

I’m so grateful to get to share some of my interview with Bob. He discusses his experiences with the goal of creating a more inclusive world in life and on television. He’s been on the air since he was a teenager, and I know you’ll love Bob’s show–check it out right here, and enjoy our conversation below!

Left, DJ Bob Show logo. Right, DJ Bob Runkel

Allison: When you started the podcast, you had bands, authors, more indie people. Even now, it’s not all about nostalgia, but that’s one of your pillars of pop culture. What is your philosophy of nostalgia, as a fan, as a person working in this field?

Bob: The stuff from my childhood means more to me because I couldn’t really do much else…There are some things that I just can’t physically do, and that’s okay. But something that I’ve always been interested in is the new song on the radio or the newest TV show or the newest album. I remember getting Backstreet Boys’ Millennium on release day. That whole late-90s era resonates with me, but I’m not afraid to talk about new stuff that matters.

Allison: “Pop culture past and present,” you’ve proven that with the kinds of episodes you’ve done.

Bob: All this stuff is based on my memories, the nostalgia stuff. If you’ve noticed, I’ve talked more about my disability in the episodes, and even that is rooted in the nostalgia angle because I never saw myself on TV as a kid. You know? And I want to cover those things too, like the rare occasions that disabilities were onscreen back then, because it’s important.

For those not familiar with cerebral palsy, Bob talks a bit about what it has meant for him.

Bob: When I was born, I was born three months early, and that caused me to be delayed. I wasn’t walking straight up and by the age of two, I was diagnosed with CP, which is a birth defect. It’s essentially a brain injury, but it’s mainly physical…A lot of it has to do with accessibility. “I can’t do this mixing board because of my hands. How can we make that work? How can we alter it?” So everything, especially now with this new mic that I just got, everything is through the computer. No knobs, no buttons, it’s just controlled with the mouse. That’s it. So the simpler, the better. But I also don’t want simple to override quality, so I try to find things that kind of check both boxes.

Bob and I share a passion for the scholarly side of nostalgia, pop culture, and television. He had the honor of interviewing Blue’s Clues creator Angela Santomero. She told Bob, “I know who you are. I’ve been looking forward to this interview all day.” Bob has also interviewed Josh Dela Cruz and Carolyn Fe from Blue’s Clues & You! There’s a reason that such great guests keep coming back to The DJ Bob Show.

Bob: They always want to talk to me…I love that I can be a place where people can go that I’m not just another interview for them. That they can feel safe and they can feel comfortable expressing their thoughts.

Bob as a little one changing CDs

Allison: You bring people together; you’ve had reunions (like this epic virtual meet-up with the cast and crew of PB&J Otter).

Bob: My favorite thing to do.

Allison: That’s awesome. You’re organizing something where people who may not have spoken to one another in years–because of you, and your love of what they made–are back together again. That’s really cool. You find ways to engage with people and draw out something they’ve never shared before. You have a way of bringing out creators’ unique experiences working on those projects and what their lives were like during those times.

Bob: I’ve been able to have time with these people off the air, I know what to hit.

Allison: Let’s talk about you and puppetry. You have a huge interest in puppetry, which is cool. You aren’t only dealing with kids’ shows there.

Bob: I’ve never thought about that! Wow, I do talk about puppetry a lot. But, do you wanna know why?

Allison: Sure, yeah.

Bob: Not only people in children’s entertainment, but people in puppetry are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. You’ve kind of gotta be if you’re working in that space. You’re being creative and out like that. I always tell puppeteers when I talk to them in private, because of my physical limitations, when I have these conversations, I’m living vicariously through them. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of it like that.

Bob is close to Noel MacNeal, the legendary voice and puppeteer of Bear on Bear and the Big Blue House! Noel actually turned the tables and interviewed Bob last year for the tenth anniversary of The DJ Bob Show.

Bob: The puppetry thing really started with Noel. Noel was the first foray into nostalgia for this show, and if you know what works, keep it. The first time I met Noel, we went to this puppetry slam where everybody showcases their act, and there was this real adult actor that came on, and my mom just thinks these puppets are just cutesy, bitsy…Let’s just say, two foam letters were doing something other than talking about the alphabet. And you got to see their relationship grow, even to the point where they had a kid. My mom was like, “Puppetry can do that?”

People have this stigma, if you heard my chat with Stephanie D’Abruzzo, she talks about the stigma of puppetry and kids’ TV. Some of my favorite shows are puppetry-related. There was a show on Disney XD called Crash and Bernstein awhile back, and the performer of Crash was like, “It was too edgy for them.” When people see puppets, they think it’s going to be Sesame Street all the time; that’s been an institution for like 52 years now. I think they just wrapped 52. Puppetry has always been a mainstay of the show because they’re some of the nicest people.

Allison: I just think about the Muppets and Jim Henson. Some of that’s for children, but plenty of it’s not.

Bob: The pilot of The Muppet Show was called “Sex and Violence.” It’s nothing new to them. There are adults creating this stuff.

Allison: That’s making me think it’s like a lot of other things we love about pop culture. There’s something for every age group.

Bob: One of my favorite interviews is Chris Thomas Hayes. We Facetime at least once a week. We’re just bros. We just talk about what everybody’s doing, and we’re creative. We’re working on projects together. The puppetry world is so small, but it’s so fun to be a fly on the wall.

Allison: It was interesting at the end of that episode because you said if you could reboot any show, you would do Family Matters. Tell me about that.

Bob: Family Matters is a special show to me because I always consider myself, especially when I was younger (not so much now), I was the white version of Steve Urkel. When I was in middle school, I had a huge crush on this girl that was way out of my league. Another thing you’ll have to realize is, because of my physical limitations, I’m not really that into sports. I can’t do them, technically. I told the gym teacher that I wanted to stay after for the basketball game. They know that I’m not into sports. There’s only one reason I want to stay—to impress the girls, and try to be the hero. I’ve always kind of resonated with Steve.

Allison: I’m a huge TGIF fan, so I was like, “another thing we have to bond over!” You said you would have a character who’s just like Steve, except he or she is in a wheelchair. I’m interested in the things you bring to light about disability representation on screen.

Bob: I was so not ready to talk about it because I didn’t want it to be that show. I’ll be honest. I’ve met disability podcasters where they use it to their advantage, to get stuff.

That’s not what Bob does. In fact, he shared his standard interview request letter with me:

“The DJ Bob Show has been celebrating pop culture, past and present, for over a decade. My life with cerebral palsy has afforded me a unique opportunity to explore subjects of great interest and passion, and this is reflected in my body of work.”

Bob: It’s never “feel bad for me.” It’s there, out in the open. In and out, that’s it. I’m not gonna hide it! You can’t hide it, the wheelchair’s huge!

Allison: You have spoken about a show that had disability representation, but the wheelchairs were really outdated.

Bob: People don’t care. Unless they live with it or live with somebody with it, it’s just a passing thought…They don’t know any better. They don’t know anything about people in wheelchairs, especially when that stuff was being written. Most times, you don’t see a powerchair. You see the thing with the two wheels and the spokes. As a wheelchair user, that shit is uncomfortable.

Allison: It looks uncomfortable…I’ve been thinking more about representation on TV, and representation of disability doesn’t take enough focus.

Bob: You know why? Not enough stories are being written, not enough stories are being showcased. Not enough stories are things we haven’t seen before. Disability representation is important, too. That can be sandwiched in between other things. Because it’s important, but the story has to be right.

Bob being cool as a kid

Allison: When you say the story has to be right, I’m thinking of a couple of things. Do you prefer that the story be written by someone who has experienced it? And do you prefer that the story be acted out by someone with that experience, instead of someone without?

Bob: That’s a loaded question. I don’t care who writes it or who tells the story, as long as they get some kind of intel, and they’re not just getting their research from a book. They’re not getting their research from an interview they watched on YouTube for ten minutes. They’re not taking one experience they’ve had with someone with CP and doing a one-size-fits-all thing. They’re examining every aspect of CP. And one thing I do want to express is that I’ve talked about being the poster child for CP and how I didn’t want to be that. I do want to inspire people. What I want to do with my podcast is talk about my disability in a different way and have it correlate to pop culture, and I’m sure you’ve realized that.

When we started the podcast, I never talked about my disability, ever. I just wanted to be the regular guy that did a show. Once I realized my show was different, I thought I should probably talk about why. But it creates a dialogue. If I talk more about my disability, that gives you an opportunity for you to ask questions, for my guests to ask questions, and then we can have a nice conversation like you and I are having right now.

Allison: Because you have been open about it (which you don’t have to be), I think that makes people more comfortable. And people who come on the show have learned more from you because of that.

Bob: One of my goals is for one of these directors or producers to take my conversation into consideration when they’re working on their next project.

Allison: Absolutely.

Bob: And to say, “Oh, he taught me something today. I’m going to implement this.”

I’d like to thank Bob and congratulate him on his 11th anniversary of podcasting this summer. Watch for new episodes as the podcast celebrates! For me and Bob, the conversation is ongoing. We are collaborating on some exciting projects this year and were guests on the That’s So Matthew podcast recently! Join the conversation. You can find me on Instagram @pastfootforward or fill out the form on the site (under Work with Allison). Here’s how to reach Bob:

Instagram: @runkstagram

Website: https://www.djbobshow.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheDJBobShow

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST! We know you’ll love it.

Remembering My Childhood Library

The exterior, brown brick, of my childhood library

About a week ago, my brain bounced around looking for the next nostalgic topic (as it often does). The journey of starting a blog has opened up my mind to all kinds of memories. I’m writing about my childhood library because it’s part of who I grew up to be–a reader, a learner, and someone who likes checking out movies for free. 🙂

I can almost remember my first coherent library memory, toddling through those automatic doors of the Mandarin Branch in Jacksonville, Florida. When my mom walks me back to the children’s section in 1990something, I see a huge green and yellow dragon hanging from the ceiling. (I hope it’s still there!) One half of the room is filled with picture books of different varieties, the other half with chapter books of all kinds. A respectable section of the wall is lined with VHS tapes that will make you laugh, cry, and learn something. A personal favorite? The 1988 Ramona video collection, based on the books by the late and beloved Beverly Cleary.

Surprisingly, one of my first concepts of 90s Nickelodeon came from this library. A small carousel would display a rotation of popular kids’ books. I believe I glanced at the cover of a Clarissa Explains It All novelization, along with a cover depicting characters from the Animorphs series. Throw in Shelby Woo or Alex Mack, probably. I can’t remember exactly, but that carousel had some of the coolest TV properties in book form. I’m amazed at how much of an impression those covers had on me, even if I was too young to watch all the shows they were based on.

For me, there wasn’t just one single public library. My mom’s motto seemed to be, “Have library card, will travel.” We went all over town for the bookworm goodness, and I’m so thankful to have been exposed to the library system at such a young age. While I pored over interesting chapter book titles, my little sister would look at picture books or play in the toddler area. She was obsessed with the movie A Simple Wish starring Martin Short and Mara Wilson, and we always checked that one out over the river in Julington Creek.

Animorphs, Clarissa, and Alex Mack books

We visited several other branches of the library, but I started to really fall in love with the main branch downtown as I neared the end of my music degree in college. The downtown library had tons of musical scores, biographies, CDs, and several floors of other works I was interested in.

I don’t live in Jacksonville now, but that town taught me how to use the library. I became pretty adept at finding what I was looking for, whether for pleasure reading or a school project. In addition to all the fiction and nonfiction books I checked out, I found all kinds of videos and DVDs that I enjoyed watching with my family or by myself.

It’s become a habit when I visit somewhere or move somewhere to find my local library and seek out the coolest bookstores. University libraries are another subject I would gladly write about, but the public library is the one that connects us all. People in school, out of school, all ages and backgrounds, linked together by a love of reading as we peruse shelf after shelf.

I’ll get off my library soapbox and return to the power of memory. A book is tactile, so we can feel the cover, the spine, the pages. And yes, that book smell is pretty important. I’m not opposed to e-reading, but those sensory aspects of the physical form have always stayed with me. Even if I don’t remember the title, I remember the feeling of picking up the book, feeling it in my hands, looking at the cover art, reading the book blurb, and deciding whether or not to take it home. In elementary school, if it had one of my favorite characters on it, that was a bonus.

 

Entering kindergarten at the end of the 1990s, literacy was a prevalent message wherever I went. I could watch Reading Rainbow with LeVar Burton, then enter a contest to read a certain amount of books for school (anyone else remember getting a Pizza Hut pizza for that?), and see inspiring, colorful posters with the word “READ” splashed across them.

Books were/are a way of opening kids’ minds and encouraging them to use their imaginations. From my recollection, the 90s was the decade of reading.

If you’ve stopped here before, you’ve seen me wax philosophic about having a time machine or even being born earlier than I was. However, I don’t feel that way about my library experience. I cherish the memories I have and appreciate the spirit those early reading days instilled in me. If you ask my parents what my first word was, they’ll say that I growled at them to “READ!” Between the books we bought and the ones we checked out, I was fortunate to have a plentiful supply of reading material. I’m not great at immersing myself in fiction right now since my mind is so focused on research, but I think good stories can be found anywhere. Thanks for reading a little bit of mine.

My Favorite Non-DCOMs!

I think and write about Disney Channel Original Movies regularly because I love them. Many of us DCOM enthusiasts know exactly which DCOMs are mysteriously missing from Disney+. Some of us also love to talk about the cut-off between DCOMs and their predecessors, “Disney Channel Premiere Films.”

You know all the movies (like Premiere Films) the Disney Channel would air that weren’t actually DCOMs? There are many of them, and I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favorites! Just consider these my lucky 7 “honorary DCOMs.” I managed to represent three decades and a handful of memorable stories that you might love, too!

The Paper Brigade

Paper Brigade

The Paper Brigade holds a special place in my heart. Gunther Wheeler (Kyle Howard) is a New York City teen who moves to a small town and quickly crushes on a pretty girl. When bullies present him with the opportunity to buy concert tickets, Gunther works as a paper boy to save up and take his crush on a date. There are all kinds of shenanigans as Gunther runs around town with the Paper Brigade. A huge bonus is that Joey Miyashima (coach from Double Teamed, principal from High School Musical) plays the milkman. Sadly, this one has become pretty rare. Maybe we should make a petition for Disney+ to add it.

Another quick note that makes this Disney Channel Premiere Film interesting: the exact release date is a bit ambiguous. It’s most likely in 1996, with a video release in 1997. I’ll report back when I track that info down!

Model Behavior

Model Behavior collage

This 2000 TV movie is one of the best from The Wonderful World of Disney. Maggie Lawson doubles up as Alex Burroughs, a “normal” girl, and Janine Adams, a model. The teens bump into each other at an event Alex and her dad are catering. It’s the ultimate switch-a-roo, giving Janine a chance to go to high school while Alex has the opportunity to live a so-called glamorous life. The film is so memorable because it gives two completely different young women a chance to live in each other’s worlds. Also, *NSYNC’s “Here We Go” plays at the beginning, and I remember jamming out to that song before I even hit kindergarten. And yes, JT plays one of the love interests, “pretty boy Jason Sharp.” If you remember that line, we need to talk. 🙂 We get Kathie Lee Gifford and Nobody’s Angel, too?! This movie is like hitting the new millennium jackpot.

Life-Size

Life-Size

Ah, Life-Size. It came out just a week before Model Behavior and stars Lindsay Lohan and Tyra Banks. Lindsay’s character, Casey, loves football and can’t stand dolls. That means it’s the worst thing ever when her dad’s co-worker/potential love interest gives Casey a doll for her birthday. The Barbie look-a-like is Eve, who comes to life when Casey is trying to bring back her deceased mother. As disappointed as Casey is for her spell to go awry, she bonds with Eve and is genuinely sad when it’s time for the woman to become a doll again. Lindsay Lohan and Tyra Banks made such a great team in this unique family classic.

Eve really is a star, and I can still sing the entire “Be a Star” song for you. I also love the “C’est La Vie” montage where Eve is trying on outfits like the one pictured above. Another movie Disney+ needs to load up ASAP.

16 Wishes

16 Wishes

And now, the middle of the list, the only movie here that’s not from the 90s or 2000s! 16 Wishes stars Debby Ryan and premiered in 2010. Why isn’t it a DCOM, you ask? The movie was a joint effort between Disney Channel and MarVista Entertainment, with a co-production partner from Unity Pictures. Still, it definitely felt like a DCOM. Debby Ryan is Abby Jensen, a girl with high aspirations for her 16th birthday. When her wish list turns into a weird alternate reality, Abby realizes that her life before might not have been so bad. The music is perfectly 2010, and Jean-Luc Bilodeau from Baby Daddy is so great here. I think this movie stands out to me because it premiered in the US about a month before I turned 16. And I was still watching the Disney Channel! Good times.

Seventeen Again

seventeen again

I wrote a bit more about Seventeen Again (2000) on my “Tahj Mowry Appreciation Day” post, but I must place it on an honorary DCOM list. Honestly, I think a lot of us thought this one really was a DCOM for awhile. It actually premiered on Showtime before Disney Channel edited it to their liking. If you check out the full version, you’ll likely notice a sex education scene you never saw watching the movie on Disney!

As I’ve said, having Tia, Tamera, and Tahj together is simply the best. I think it’s so fun to watch Tia and Tamera as granddaughter and grandmother, respectively (Tamera’s character, Cat, accidentally bathes with de-aging soap created by her grandson and becomes young again, along with the grandpa). This film is a mix of sci-fi, romance, comedy, and the glorious year 2000.

Wish Upon A Star

Wish Upon a Star

We find ourselves gazing upon another Disney Channel Premiere Film, one that’s often discussed along with Susie Q (which is not one I remember as well, and frankly, kind of a depressing one). Wish Upon a Star is Katherine Heigl’s claim to fame since she played the older sister, Alexia Wheaton. Danielle Harris is the little sister, Hayley Wheaton. Hayley wishes on a star that she can be Alexia, and she wakes up the next morning in Alexia’s body. The big sis isn’t too pleased to have to live as Hayley, but the siblings grow so much closer through all the body-switching and high school drama.

The style sticks in my mind for this film–so many mini-skirts and heels! so much make-up! Go watch it if you haven’t seen it in awhile. You will notice how the flavor is not DCOM, but still delightful (and yeah, very 1996).

My Date with the President’s Daughter

My Date with the President's Daughter

My Date with the President’s Daughter is so Disney Channel that it’s hard to believe it’s not a DCOM. This one first aired on The Wonderful World of Disney in 1998 and stars Will Friedle as Duncan Fletcher, the lucky guy who goes on a date with Hallie Richmond (Elisabeth Harnois). Hallie doesn’t tell Duncan that she’s the president’s daughter. He gets to find out when he rolls up to the White House in the company car his dad did not give him permission to drive.

Duncan and Hallie’s night is hilarious, heartfelt, and full of surprises. It’s a shame that this one isn’t on Disney+ either, especially with that rockin’ theme song by the Presidents of the United States. I would totally wear that pink dress today, and I’ve gotta say, this is one of the non-DCOMs I remember best. Disney Channel played it quite frequently for a few years and made us feel like it was one of their own. I’m thankful to have grown up with such great honorary DCOMs to supplement the canon.

Are there any I didn’t mention that you particularly love? 🙂

Tahj Mowry Appreciation Day

Tahj Mowry Collage

I would love to interview Tahj Mowry (and Tia and Tamera). The siblings continue to have thriving careers, and I love watching them on screen now as much as I did back in the day. Tahj was in so many of my favorite shows and movies growing up. In addition to appearing on Sister, Sister and starring on Smart Guy, he was one of the most adorable characters on Full House, Teddy. That wasn’t his first television role, though. He guest-starred on Who’s the Boss in 1990 and had other guest/recurring roles while on Full House. Sonic the Hedgehog fans would definitely remember him as the voice of young Sonic.

After Full House ended, Tahj had guest roles on Friends and Star Trek: Voyager and had already lent his voice to animated shows like Disney’s Aladdin TV series. The 90s were a busy time for the young actor. He first appeared on Sister, Sister in 1994 and returned in ’95 and ’97, playing T.J. Henderson that last time as a crossover with Smart Guy. The twins returned the favor and guest-starred on Smart Guy, too.

In the 2000s, Tahj was just as busy acting and had even more of a presence at the Disney Channel. Kids like me were watching him on Smart Guy reruns and seeing him take the lead in his own DCOMs. Kim Possible fans know and love him as the voice of Wade. And we can’t forget that Tahj took part in Disney Channel’s Circle of Stars for the “Circle of Life” project in 2003.

I am taking today to express my appreciation of Tahj because it is the 20th anniversary of his first DCOM, Hounded. And what’s also cool is that his second DCOM, The Poof Point, turns 20 in September. I say starring in two DCOMs in one year is pretty impressive. I don’t believe Disney aired them quite as much as some of the others, unfortunately.

Hounded

Hounded is one of the DCOMs I have most enjoyed rewatching as an adult. It’s funny, it’s unexpected, it has that tugs-at-your-heartstrings effect that is so specific to the early-2000s brand of Disney Channel movies. Tahj plays Jay Martin, a kid who wants to go to an arts school instead of taking his brother’s chosen path of military school. Shia LaBeouf plays the headmaster’s son, Ronny, and he and his dad (Ed Begley Jr) use their privilege to steal any spot Jay could have had for a scholarship to the arts school. To make a long story short, these villains, the Van Dusen family, have a feisty Pomeranian named Camille, who accidentally goes home with Jay when he’s snooping on the Van Dusen property. It’s hard to quantify this DCOM because it’s just so different from the more formulaic ones. In a nutshell, it’s a madcap adventure between two brothers who grow closer by the end, but they’re in a rather odd situation since they accidentally kidnap a pet. In this movie, I am impressed by Tahj’s range of emotion. He has to be hysterical one minute and quiet and reflective the next. He’s cowering in terror from a dog, then he’s craftily plotting to return the dog to her owners. I’d recommend watching Hounded on Disney+ if you’ve never seen it or don’t remember it.

The Poof Point cover

2001 was a great year for DCOMs. There were ten that year (as opposed to 12 in 2000 and seven in 2002). The Poof Point was sandwiched in between Jumping Ship (the sequel to Horse Sense) and Halloweentown II, which is a good spot to be in, if you ask me. The story with The Poof Point is that Edison “Eddie” Ballard (Tahj) and his sister, Marie Curie Ballard (Raquel Lee), must save their scientist parents from a de-aging experiment that will eventually make mom and dad go “poof.” By the way, the parents are played by Mark Curry and Dawnn Lewis, so it’s a little bit of a Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper reunion. I think it’s fun and rather suspenseful to watch the teenagers try to rescue their parents. In the process, Eddie and Marie witness their mom and dad going back through their lives until they are teenagers, children, and babies who almost disappear. This DCOM is not the only scientific-leaning project, but it’s not really anything like the others of its time. There’s no cloning like there is in The Other Me, no aliens like in Stepsister from Planet Weird. No other creatures like you’d remember from some of the many Halloween movies. I haven’t watched this one in quite some time, so that will be happening soon.

seventeen again

Let’s back up to 2000. I could never forget that Tahj was in a little movie called Seventeen Again (this is completely separate from Zac Efron’s 17 Again). In fact, it hasn’t been too long since I rewatched this film FREE on YouTube through an official channel. Why isn’t it on Disney+? Well, it’s not a DCOM. Seventeen Again originally aired on Showtime in 2000 and was edited for the Disney Channel not long after that. We may rightfully call this one an honorary DCOM. The channel aired it a healthy amount, and it was an event to look forward to for fans of Sister, Sister and Smart Guy alike. All three Mowry stars were together! Tahj is the smart little brother (sounds familiar), and Tia is the fashionable big sister trying to fit in at a new high school. Tamera’s role is where it gets interesting. Willie (Tahj) is doing an anti-aging experiment (also sounds familiar), but his formula winds up in the soap his grandparents use while visiting. Grandma and Grandpa are getting divorced, but once they’re transformed into teenagers, they fall in love all over again. Tamera is teenage Grandma, and Mark Taylor is teenage Grandpa. Tahj’s role isn’t quite as big as his sisters’ roles, but the movie is still known for including the three famous Mowrys.

There are two other roles I want to go back to. I appreciate Kim Possible and Tahj’s role in it, but I wouldn’t win any KP fandom awards. I want to rewind out of the 2000s and zero in on Full House and Smart Guy. The end of Full House was just two years before the beginning of Smart Guy. Tahj was in an impressive 14 episodes of Full House from 1991 to 1995. His character, Teddy, is one of Michelle’s best friends. Teddy’s arc is interesting because he and his family move away and move back to San Francisco a couple years later. Michelle, Teddy, and Denise (Jurnee Smollett) have an entire storyline in which Michelle must learn how to have two best friends. Lucky for Michelle, she lives in a house run by three best friends (you know, Danny, Joey, and Jesse). There are so many adorable Teddy moments on the series, but one of the most memorable would have to be when Teddy and Michelle stow away in Danny’s car because Michelle is lonely when her dad starts dating a lot. They sneak into the restaurant with Danny and Vicky and help themselves to dessert. In later episodes, Teddy continues to be a wonderful part of Michelle’s friend group, and I really think these kids are some of the coolest to recur on the series.

Smart Guy is what I’ve been thinking about the most over the past few days because I’ve been rewatching the entire series. I started to watch season one awhile ago, but once I got into season two last week, things really picked up in terms of character development and lessons. Now I’m into season three. I could write a whole post just about this show, and maybe I will sometime! The main thing I want to celebrate about this series is that it consistently feels real. Not gimmicky or overacted. The Hendersons come across as a real family in a loving home. Like Full House, Smart Guy runs without a mother in the family, but the personalities of the dad and the kids fill up the room as they live their lives. I love their house because it looks so cozy and inviting. I think the high school atmosphere is a good balance of education, fun, and typical teenage problems. Not all of the jokes work anymore, but plenty of them do. In my book, Floyd Henderson (John Marshall Jones) is a great dad who loves his kids while still disciplining them. Marcus (Jason Weaver) is a cool older brother who misses the mark sometimes but shows maturity and wisdom other times. Yvette (Essence Atkins) is Marcus and T.J.’s older sister, a beautiful fashionista with a good heart, a strong mind, and just the right amount of sass. Mo Tibbs (Omar Gooding) is Marcus’s best friend and basically another member of the Henderson family. He provides a lot of the comedic relief and surprises people with what he’ll do or say next. T.J. is, of course, the smart guy. Tahj Mowry gives the role equal parts cuteness, inquisitiveness, and growth over the course of three seasons.

T.J. is a genius who lets his ability get the best of him once in awhile. He might correct a teacher in front of the class or use words other people can’t understand. T.J. means well, but he still has a lot of growing up to do, no matter how smart he is. There are some serious episodes that put T.J. face to face with real world problems. One of the most severe (and frightening) is the Internet safety episode in the second season. T.J. and his friend buy bootleg games from someone in a chat room who they think is a kid. The seller isn’t just an adult–he’s an adult luring children into his video game basement and asking them to take off their clothes. I had forgotten about that episode until rewatching it over the weekend. Growing up can be scary and downright dangerous, and T.J. is lucky to have a dad he can go to in such an awful situation.

smart guy penguin

The hardest thing for T.J. is that he is a child living in a teenage world. People can’t understand what that is like for him, and they don’t always think of his feelings. He wants to fit in and be liked, which many viewers can relate to in some way. Yvette and Marcus really care about their brother’s wellbeing. They’re not perfect, but they help him with his problems and want him to feel loved. One of the first images of T.J. that comes to my mind is from the school mascot episode. That Piedmont penguin grows up a lot in a few seasons, and I wish the show had gone on awhile longer. Tahj and his brilliant ensemble cast made Smart Guy iconic. If you haven’t seen much of the show and you have a Disney+ subscription, I highly recommend you watch it. After all, it is Tahj Mowry Appreciation Day! 🙂