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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Spectacular!' on Nickelodeon

Coming together to put on a show is just plain fun.

February 16, 2009|MARY McNAMARA | TELEVISION CRITIC

A few random observations on Nickelodeon's "Spectacular!" made by two experts in the genre:

"It's got really good songs. Like real songs, that you hear on the radio."

"That girl who plays Courtney [Tammin Sursok] is way better than Vanessa Hudgens because she's pretty and she can act."

"It is totally better than 'Camp Rock.' "

"Why do they always have to have a mean pretty girl in these movies?"

"The guy who plays Nikko [Nolan Gerard Funk] seems cooler than Troy, but I still think Zac Efron will do better in his career."

OK, OK, maybe that last is an indication that having a mother who is also a TV critic is not without consequences. But being on the backside of 10 and 8, my two older children are part of the post-"High School Musical" generation, and I have to say I agree with them on pretty much every point.

Everyone is going to call "Spectacular!" Nickelodeon's answer to the Disney franchise, and in a way it is. But the success of "HSM," "Camp Rock" and, to a certain extent, "Hannah Montana," the Jonas Brothers and even Nick's own "The Naked Brothers Band" simply marks a return of the old-fashioned, small-town musical that once ruled the big screen. You know, the ones in which a girl and a guy (often played by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney) saved something or other by puttin' on a show. Salvation through music, good hoofing and communal effort.

In "Spectacular's" case, the things that need saving are Nikko's nascent music career and his self-esteem -- he's been kicked out of his band and dumped by his girlfriend -- and Courtney's show choir, Spectacular, which has just lost its male lead, Royce (Simon Curtis). (Royce was also apparently Courtney's boyfriend, which is very confusing since he is a patented coded-as-gay character: He wears retro sports jackets with the sleeves rolled up and snaps his fingers in people's faces to make a point.)

The two breakups occur on the same day, and so Courtney has this great idea -- why doesn't Nikko come join Spectacular? After seeing the group perform "Eye of the Tiger" at a fair (really, the movie is worth watching just for this moment), Nikko can think of a million reasons why not. But when Courtney flashes enough prize money for him to cut a real demo, he's in.

It's a perfectly lovely odd-couple set-up -- she's all jazz-hands and control, he's Mr. Rock 'n' Roll -- amid the nice assortment of misfits who make up Spectacular (including a kid called Caspian. Caspian!)

There's even an advisor played by Greg Germann who, one suspects, is not precisely what he seems because, well, why would you waste Greg Germann? The mean pretty girl here is Tammi (Victoria Justice), the female lead of Spectacular's glitzy competition who lured Royce away. Utterly without humor (or even Sharpay's passion for pink), she is the weakest link, thrown in because, you know, you have to have a mean pretty girl.

There is much singing and dancing and witty barbs exchanged while everyone makes their way toward the Big Competition and the requisite epiphany that, although you must be true to yourself, the needs of the group still come before the desire of the individual. Oh, wait, I mean that there are more ways of doing things than just by the rules and that you should never leave your friends in the lurch.

It's lively and fun and some of the songs -- "Break My Heart," in particular -- are pretty terrific. Real music, you know, like you hear on the radio.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'Spectacular!'

Where: Nickelodeon

When: 8 tonight

Rating: Not rated

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