In the past year the Jonas Brothers, three charming, talented, aggressively hairstyled, purity-ring-wearing brothers from northern New Jersey, transformed from a middling tween-focused band into perhaps the most significant pop juggernaut since ’N Sync.
They had a hit album and tour, experienced public romances and breakups and, in an unanticipated twist, earned some respect. They played — a bit awkwardly — with Stevie Wonder at the Grammy Awards. Rolling Stone magazine coordinated a surprisingly lively conversation between Nick Jonas, the band’s main songwriter, and one of his idols, Elvis Costello.
But “Jonas,” the brothers’ new Disney Channel sitcom, which begins Saturday, is a calculated, perhaps fearful step backward, a reclamation of innocence. Here Kevin, 21, Joe, 19, and Nick, 16, play the Lucas brothers, pop stars in retreat, trying to maintain normal lives at high school while fame rages just outside the door.
And yet there’s little innocent about “Jonas,” a blithe, thinly drawn, thus far unfunny show seeded with profound cynicism befitting a much older band. Nick chases a girl, Penny (Bridgit Mendler), a winsome blonde with a purple guitar who wants him only for his songwriting. And Stella (Chelsea Staub), the band’s schoolmate and fashion designer, spends Saturday’s episode designing tear-away Velcro clothing, a more economically efficient response to rabid shirt-grabbing fans. The show does neatly capture the many denizens of the rock star ecosystem. Here’s Stella, the loyalist who styles the band, chatting with Macy (Nicole Anderson), a twitching, zealous fan-droid who shrieks on command:
“What do you do,” Stella asks Macy, “just follow them around all day?”
Replies Macy, indignantly, “No, of course not!” And then, with a tragicomic exhale and hopeful fluttering eyelashes, “Why, do they see me?”
In the band’s music life, Nick gives off the savviest air, so it’s disappointing to see him here reduced to playing a dullard, a romantic incompetent resigned to life in the bubble. “Read the fan magazines,” he says to Penny. “I’m the serious one!” Or, as Macy describes him: “All that intensity!”
Because this premiere episode centers on Nick, Joe and Kevin have more room for tomfoolery, and it’s welcome. The show’s most credible moments come when the two oldest brothers needle the youngest about his crush; that sort of kid behavior never ages. But Nick has the air of an adult squeezed into children’s clothing and behavior — a glum, frustrated pop star playing a glum, frustrated pop star. Maybe he has never watched “The Monkees.”
The stench of obligation is overwhelming, except around Kevin, the least essential band member, but here on equal footing. In “Camp Rock,” last year’s Disney Channel hit movie, which starred the brothers, Joe was the lead, a bratty pop star in need of reform, a clever tweak to the group’s angelic image. In the initial, scrapped version for this show, the Jonas Brothers led double lives as spies, which, while a mockable conceit, at least was a conceit.
That this show lacks any such twist is less forgivable given that it’s not the Disney Channel’s first foray into the double consciousness of teen-pop fame. “Hannah Montana,” the Miley Cyrus vehicle, is about a pop star who leads a dual life. But while Ms. Cyrus grew up in, and through, “Hannah Montana,” the Jonas Brothers are already famous well beyond tweens. Their audience is wider and smarter and probably expects more than this noxious, awkward mix of art, commerce and romance.
“Are you saying the song’s available?” Nick asks Penny about the song he wrote for her, which she unsuccessfully used to woo another boy.
“It’s completely unattached,” she replies.
In that case, Nick proposes, “I think we have a demo to record.” All that intensity. Sigh.http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/02/arts/television/02jona.html?ref=television