“In 5, 4, 3, 2…” For older Gen Z kids, this countdown is infamous. It is, of course, the start of every episode of iCarly. The hit Nickelodeon teen show ran from 2007 – 2012, breaking records and winning universal acclaim along the way. Nine years later, the show is halfway through the first season of its Paramount+ produced revival, and in the last week, it has been confirmed that it will be returning for another season. Reboots and revivals are a tricky affair, especially with an established fandom as active as the iCarly one once was. How then has this show, which hasn’t even officially reached screens beyond the US yet, created a successful formula?
When the revival was first announced last December, it came as a complete surprise to fans. The original show had ended well with a resolute finale back in 2012. Also, Jennette McCurdy, who played Carly’s best friend Sam, had made clear through multiple interviews that she would never return to that role. Given that Sam was a fan-favourite, the choice to move forward without her seemed an unusual one.
iCarly for adults?
The other surprise that came from the original announcement was that this new edition of the show would be for adults. It was slightly unsure what ‘for adults’ meant, especially given other reboots of children’s media that have happened up until this point. Disney Channel shows like Raven’s Home and Boy Meets World take beloved characters from our childhoods, and have them feature in the background as parents to a new generation of characters – the same age as the intended viewership. However, it was made clear from the outset that the iCarly revival would be different, focusing on the characters we already know and love, as well as a few additions to fill the gaps left by non-returning cast members. The show would also use this as an opportunity to improve the diversity of the race and sexuality of the main line-up.
When the first trailer dropped, audiences got more of a sense of what this meant. It promised the same bizarre comedy and tone of the original, but also hinted that these characters would be acting as we’d expect of people in their mid-to-late 20s. There would be drinking now, and cussing (albeit the network-friendly sitcom kind), and dating. Once the show dropped, fans were pleasantly surprised to see that the creators had properly delivered on all of the above. It has received mostly positive reviews, and sits currently at a 7.1 rating on IMDB.
A show ahead of its time
When you think about the themes of the original show, it makes complete sense for there to be a revival now; iCarly focused on three teenagers running a webshow back in the early days of content creation (YouTube was only two years old). The show was ahead of its time in many ways: tackling influencer sponsorship deals, cancel culture, fandom shipping wars, and even celebrity exhibition fights before they were universally recognised. Now, fourteen years later, we are inundated with content from a multitude of apps, and a culture that is shaped by it. The adult Carly (Miranda Cosgrove), addresses the fact that influencers are getting younger, and the character of Millicent (Jaidyn Triplett), Freddie’s eleven year-old stepdaughter, helps to frame this generational difference and the relationship to online content creation. While the revival focuses considerably less on the webshow element than its predecessor, this cultural landscape still provides a promising backdrop with plenty of potential for social commentary.
Growing up with your audience
However, it’s more the ways in which the show has grown up with its characters and viewers that has contributed to its success. It’s what Hilary Duff hoped to achieve with the Lizzie McGuire reboot, which was pulled by Disney+ due to being too adult. The creative team of that show didn’t compromise, and having now seen the new iCarly, it’s clear that the ‘Disney-friendly’ version would be a disservice to both the characters and the fans alike.
Even during iCarly’s initial run, the plotlines matured as the cast did. The later seasons focused more on the romantic lives of the characters, as well as containing more innuendos. Now, with an adult cast, the revival has matured even further, openly referring to the characters’ sex lives and dealing with the pressure to succeed in your 20s, especially when you haven’t got to where you thought you’d be. It does all of this with a healthy dose of ridiculousness though, or as Polygon put it, “It’s weirdly good and goodly weird.” And in a way, it’s comforting that it is. It doesn’t feel the need to be overly sexual to prove it’s adult, nor does it feel the need to be a dark or gritty take, which would feel completely out of character. It completely embodies Carly’s own comment to her brother Spencer (Jerry Trainor) in the original show’s finale, that “being a grown-up doesn’t mean that you have to stop being silly, creative, and fun.”
This new show has understood its target audience—fans of the original show—and has leant heavily into that nostalgia; they even use the same theme song that Cosgrove recorded in 2007. It serves as a reminder that really, when adults see characters they loved as kids on screen again, all they really want is to see them be okay, having grown up as we have. There is plenty of stress away from the screen, and while we want there to be a sense of realism in how these characters’ lives have panned out, that doesn’t translate to losing the quirkiness that the characters are known for. As Variety noted, “the revival feels like catching up with a childhood friend and sharing in the challenges of adulthood, without shedding any of the humour or personality from when you first met.”
With its success continuing as they head towards a second season, I hope that the iCarly revival will serve as a blueprint for other reboots of children’s media. The world could do with a little bit more nostalgic, yet contemporary, fun.
Words by Rehana Nurmahi
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