Friday evenings were a magical time when I was young. Coming from a household with strict rules regarding weekday television time, Friday nights at five were reserved for Walt Disney — more specifically, for Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs), which conveniently aired right after Girl Scouts and just before dinner. It was during this time that the Disney channel was putting out its best work. From classics like “Smart House” and “Life Size,” to the heavily-franchised “High School Musical” and “Cheetah Girls,” there is no question that the DCOM game was strong — I’d go as far as to call it the Golden Age of Disney Channel.
Whether it was my fast-approaching adolescence or teenage rebelliousness, I noticed that around the time I distanced myself from the channel, Disney began to take an abrupt shift away from originality and toward high-profit franchises. In the past few years, the Disney Channel of yore has almost blinked itself into obscurity, replaced by a channel that seems to value franchise-friendly material over originality.
A recent YouTube search for DCOMs led to the very movies that had made such an impression on my youth, yet they all had something in common: age. Of all the DCOM movies I had searched for, none of the more celebrated films were spectacularly new, with the majority settling somewhere around the late 1990s to the early 2000s. In the year 2000, the Disney Channel released 12 DCOMs: one for every month of the year. Although recent material is still being tossed out by the channel at a steady rate, one has to wonder where the magic went.
From 2003 to 2007, the Disney Channel entertained with one of its better-known series, “That’s So Raven,” a hit live-action sitcom detailing the antics of teen psychic Raven Baxter (Raven-Symoné, “The View”) as she navigated life, love and family. Growing up, the series was essential to my pre-adolescent angst — whether it was through the close scrapes the gang had with their parents or the trials being an outcast in high school could bring, Raven was relatable above all else.
So when Raven-Symoné recently announced her plans to depart the daytime talk show “The View” to work full-time on a “That’s So Raven” spin-off series, I originally celebrated her return to Disney. I would gladly support anything to bring back nostalgia. However, there is a question of originality still at play here. Take “Boy Meets World,” which was developed into the spinoff “Girl Meets World” in 2014. Though “Boy Meets World” was a staple of the vintage Disney Channel, revival programs still beg the question — when is originality tossed aside in favor of nostalgia?
When production details began flooding social media, my nostalgia turned quickly to déjà vu, as the plot suspiciously follows the storyline for Netflix’s revival series, “Fuller House.” And though “Fuller House” promised nostalgia, many fans were left disappointed, as the series had little to offer in terms of new material in the premiere season. It’s this lack of originality that sparks my concerns for “That’s So Raven” — what can this spin-off bring us that “That’s So Raven” hasn’t already covered? While it’s known that original cast members, such as Anneliese van der Pol’s (“Vampires Suck”) Chelsea will return, there are serious questions still left unanswered. How will the reboot relate to the original series? What generation is Disney aiming for, exactly?
These questions are trivial — answers will soon emerge as the series progresses further into production, though the points they raise will remain relevant for the new standard of television production. It’s become quite obvious over the years that there is a stunning lack of originality in the newer DCOMs, possibly stemming from the abundance of source material within their more recent series. Although I’ll be anticipating Raven-Symoné’s series as much as the next fan, I’ll be going in with a critical mind, yearning for a return to the old school Disney Channel and awaiting some much-needed change.