Last week’s episode began with a somewhat obscure reference to the classic holiday chestnut, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” A girl comes into the shop and tries out a piano only to have Ray really lose it with a lame Jimmy Stewart impersonation. Ray flips out. Charlotte pleads for him to get a grip for the sake of the children. And then the moment is gone. Very funny. If you were a fan of the offbeat humor of “iCarly,” then you’ll love this new show, “Henry Danger,” from the same creator. Dan Schneider is the co-creator with Dana Olsen. And you’ll know Dana Olsen from his writing for the movies, “George of the Jungle” and “Inspector Gadget.” If you’re new to “Henry Danger,” or if you’re already a fan, read on. This is something very different.
Ray Bradbury was fond of saying that he read every genre. And he was especially keen on keeping up with books for young readers. In that spirit, I present to you, “Henry Danger,” one of the smartest shows on television, whatever your age. This is on Nickelodeon and, for the purposes of this review, we’ll consider what I’ll conveniently call, “kid humor.” Now, here’s the thing, kid humor is awesome and pretty darn universal.
Kids, let’s just say, are closer to knowing what they want than adults. It seems like they understand things, like a sense of humor, at a purer level. They appreciate a well-constructed sight gag right along with an ironic aside and that’s that. Kids know all the tropes. They know what adults find funny better than some adults realize. At the end of the day, kids get a good joke better than some older folk. Kids will accept something funny at a highly sophisticated level, whether it’s silly or surreal, or preferably both at the same time.
What “Henry Danger” does is live right in that kid humor zone. The creative team understands. They understand things like beloved characters are larger-than-life and can also suddenly explode. They appreciate that kids understand the great duality: fiction can be more real that everyday life while, at the same time, it’s also just fiction. There are numerous examples of how the show relishes breaking the fourth wall, as they say. Part of the fun comes from inverting and subverting. For starters, this is a wonderfully deadpan and absurd send-up of superheroes. Our superhero is simply known as Captain Man (played by Cooper Barnes) and his secret lair is, wait for it…the Man Cave.
Captain Man’s origin story is a perfect satire of all origin stories. Little Ray was simply too close to a crazy experiment that his mad scientist father was conducting. An accident led to Ray becoming indestructible. And this led to a relatively easy-going career as the superhero protector of the small town of Swellview. And, just as things started to get a little hectic, Ray hired a teenager, Henry Hart (played by Jace Norman), to be his assistant, aka Kid Danger. Both Cooper Barnes and Jace Norman exude a winning charm and exemplify what makes this show so smooth and fun to watch. Rounding out the inner circle are Henry’s closest friends, Charlotte (played by Riele Downs) and Jasper (played by Sean Ryan Fox). Everyone on the show contributes to a particularly zany vibe.
The first rule of comedy is that nothing is sacred. Kids witness all too often the strained looks of concern from adults. And kids know there’s hardly any reason for all the worry. Are we really having a crisis, mom? No, actually, we’re not. Maybe that’s why Henry’s parents (played by Kelly Sullivan and Jeffrey Nicholas Brown) are so utterly clueless. A pure act of rebellion from the writers! And when Henry’s little sister, Piper, (played by Ella Anderson) acts up and gives everyone a hard time with her rudeness and crazy demands, what should Henry do? Well, he could always take his nifty raygun, entrusted to him by Captain Man, and knock his sister out. Reasonable? No, but funny!
We are told that kids hunger for resolution. But have you asked a kid lately what he or she hungers for? When it comes to comedy, what’s most funny is the opposite of resolution. Just as the final scene is set to lull us back into a sense of security, that’s a perfect time to have things topple over. In one episode, the running gag is that no one is safe from falling off a rooftop, even after the last precaution is supposed to be in place. In another episode, Captain Man and Kid Danger have botched things up so badly with a neighborhood father and son that the only solution is to wipe away their memories and leave them in an alley. Disturbing? Yes, but funny!
It’s a combination of the writing and the particular actors. The writing is bubbling with irreverence and the actors run with the sophisticated absurd humor. The energy of the cast in undeniable. The chemistry is pitch perfect. It’s simply one of the smartest shows on television. You can see it Saturday at 8pm/7 central, on Nickelodeon. For more details, visit our friends at Nickelodeon right here.
And for a sneak peek at the next episode, “Elevator Kiss,” on this Saturday, visit Dan Schneider’s website right here.