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Monday, April 1st, 2013

Even Clarissa Couldn't Explain 'Clarissa Now'

Sometimes TV shows drag their unfunny, uninteresting, yet highly rated feet across our living rooms for years. “Who let this happen?” we cry in vain. Other times, the powers that be get things right. That’s where “Brilliantly Canceled” comes in, looking at the shows that didn’t make it past their first season and saved us all a ton of grief.

Growing up is hard for anyone. But for a children's show, growing up means death. A series may be for ages 2-5 or 7-12, but what happens when the core viewers move out of that range? Should the show age with its audience? Should it look for a younger one? What about the show’s stars? Can they still relate to their followers? Instruct them? Guide them?

The early-90s were an amazing time for children’s television behemoth Nickelodeon. After inking a massive marketing deal, the station opened up shop in Orlando, Florida to produce its own game shows and animated series, as well a new lineup of pre-teen programming for Snick, their Saturday night teen-centric block. The station was growing with the audience and managed to keep them for a few more years. But when that audience comes to depend on TV to teach, this growing relationship gets more complicated. Just ask Clarissa Darling.

The host of her own sitcom and pre-teen encyclopedia, Melissa Joan Hart, the star of Clarissa Explains It All, was one Nick's first teen celebrities, guiding thousands of kids through the pressures of adolescence with the snarky confidence that only a 10-14 year old could have. And for five seasons, Clarissa's tween following hung on her every word.

But as is the curse with any child star, Hart’s aging was out of control. Soon, she would be another adult worthy of a sliming or gaking or whatever methods of humiliation Nickelodeon reserved for its elders. Certainly her younger brother Ferguson couldn't take the reigns. Clarissa would have to grow old with her fans or die. Those were the only two options. Nothing else.

Well, at least, that was the thought process behind Clarissa Now, a continuation of Explains it All, in which our Austinian heroine, now in college, interns at the offices of a New York City newspaper under the tutelage of the hard-drinking curmudgeon columnist Hugh Hamilton (Robert Klein). What 12-to-15-year-old couldn’t relate to Clarissa getting yelled at by Robert Klein?

The show’s tone is decidedly darker. The sparse opening credits begins with black background and the word “Clarissa” fading in and out, a sharp juxtaposition to the pastel pinks and blues of Explains It All’s. Clarissa no longer explains it all, but rather is humiliated and mocked by her co-workers. The city, from overcrowded subways to her manically depressed and alcoholic employer, eats her alive.

Clarissa Explains It All was a show based around the Hart’s ability to relate to her audience. She wasn’t perfect. She got pimples. She fought with her friends, family, and self. Clarissa Now attempts to put those skills to the test, but instead of carrying over those same insecurities, Clarissa is oblivious to them, plastering an excited smile on her face and giving it the old college try. Did any fans of the original series really want to see the girl who explained it all be called a “naive freak of nature?”

Apparently not.

Clarissa Now never cut it on CBS, who paid for the pilot, but it did air on Nickelodeon, where the show failed to click with its original fanbase. It's not too surprising. After all, tastes change from tween to teen. People reject things they loved as they move through different phases of life, and Clarissa, like so many of us, was better off staying young.

Check out this naïve freak of nature below.

Matt Schimkowitz is a writer, TV-watcher, and the only person ever to spend three consecutive nights in Nickelodeon Studios prison. Like you, he enjoys the finer things in life: drinking from coconuts, the latest Italian vogue, and complaining about movies, music, and TV on the Internet. Find more writing about canceled TV shows and other irrelevant nonsense on the twitter and blogosphere.

  • the guy who tried

    hi thanks for such a clear and interesting analysis of the series…but for your own info that's not what happened with the cbs show – it was truncated and taken in a direction unintended – by me anyway – and was never supposed to air – kinda tricky that it did. such are the vicisitudes of show biz. so many things get done and then they are viewed as intentional or history on some level when they are just unfortunate twists of fate. the original pilot before it was written was very much a continuation of the open minded indomitable spirit of the first…complete with fantasies, graphix and all the stuff that was fun before. an exec said no one would understand that "postmodern stuff" on network tv so they cut it all out…..sadly it was an opportunity for the audience to grow up with her and she'd get to wear some pretty cool clothes…all of that nixed as it changed directions at the behest of the powers that be….anyway that's my .02 cents. but thanks for taking the damn thing seriously!

  • ihatethis

    I had to stop reading after the first paragraph. The cynicism is just disgusting. Who are you, and why should I care about what you think of a show that only filmed one pilot episode almost 20 years ago?