Keke Palmer, center, (pictured with co-stars Ashley Argota and Matt Shively)… (Gavin Bond / Nickelodeon )
Move over, Miley. Nickelodeon is launching the already very accomplished Keke Palmer into the best-of-both-worlds world tonight at 9:30 with "True Jackson, VP," and hallelujah, there's no singing or guitar playing.
Palmer, who starred in "Akeelah and the Bee," plays True Jackson, a fashion-savvy high school girl who accidentally becomes the head of the youth division at major fashion label Mad Style. How does she do this? By selling sandwiches in the fashion district wearing Mad Style duds that she modified (and all over America, girls will be reaching for the scissors and some orange buttons).
Max, the head of Mad (please, please let Mad Max be intentional) is played deliciously by Greg Proops ("Whose Line Is It Anyway?"). He takes one look at True and hires her On The Spot.
Two seconds later, True (kudos, by the way, to whomever came up with that very cool name) is ensconced in her own fabulous office, with a view of Fifth Avenue and a highly resentful grown-up assistant. Of course, all those snarky fashionistas are none too pleased to be upstaged by a teenager -- fellow VP Amanda (Danielle Bisutti) is particularly put out. "Well then, eat a handful of jelly beans," she says when True informs her she isn't allowed to drink coffee, "because it's going to be a long night."
Fortunately, True has her trusty sidekicks -- the ADD-addled Lulu (Ashley Argota) and cool-geek Ryan (Matt Shively) -- to help her survive a world not much different from high school.
If this sounds like a junior edition of "Ugly Betty," or "Hannah Montana" in the fashion world, it is, but so what? Ever since children's literature rejected the fairy-tale morality of "The Red Shoes," most stories written for kids, from E. Nesbit's to J.K. Rowling's, are wish-fulfillment dramas in which children take on the adult world. I'm just grateful that "True Jackson, VP" ditched the exhausting coming-of-age-through-music theme -- the adult mind can only handle so many digitally sweetened young voices lecturing them about the need to express oneself.
And with its coterie of models, designers and other well-known diva types, the fashion world is ripe for a junior takedown. Kids watch other kids on television mainly to pick up dramatic moves and witty rejoinders of which "True Jackson, VP" promises many. (There is not the CD-synergy so beloved by Disney, but the merchandising possibilities are endless and obvious.)
It may take a few episodes for the young actors to find their groove -- as Lulu, for instance, Argota seemed at several times in danger of actually destroying the set with her agitated physical comedy -- but that's the nature of pilots. Proops is hilarious (and looks great too), Bisutti hits her notes with a lovely "The Devil Wears Prada" flare and smaller roles, including True's assistant and the guy who answers the phones, show comedic promise.
But the heart of the matter is Palmer, who easily plays both sassy and serious, broad comedy and subtle, and has great appeal. She is already a star, and True should make her an even bigger one.
'True Jackson, VP'
When: 9:30 tonight
Rating: TV-Y (suitable for young children)