Slate TV critic Troy Patterson echoes the concerns about the smarmy qualities of the Disney series “The Suite Life on Deck” that Dan Savage discussed in the essay I linked to in June. “On Deck” is the follow-up series that takes real-life twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse. They are the proteges of child stars turned moguls Mary Kate and Ashley Olson. The show is a sort of “Love Boat” for tweens and much of its humor comes from Zack’s precocious ring-a-ding-ding hit-on-everything-in-a-bra personality.
The Suite Life is of course mild in its sexual content, offering double entendres-once-removed and gentle references to oiling up bikini models and such. How did the protagonists’ rock-star father meet their lounge-singer mother? It is strongly implied that she threw her underwear on stage, or so Dad claims. It takes a little effort to get one’s own panties in a bunch over a kids show employing material like that, but it’s a snap to feel unqualified disgust for the way the show giggles at Zack’s crass predations. In one episode, a new passenger turns his head, but he’s turned off by her baggage, her literal baggage. The luggage locks are a bad sign. “That means she’s suspicious and cautious,” he says. “I’m looking for naive and vulnerable.” Cue the laugh track. Elsewhere, he describes part of his philosophy of life to a pal: “There is nothing–nothing–better in this world than an unhappy hot girl.” In watching eight episodes of the show, I haven’t seen Zack achieve any romantic success, but nor have I seen him receive any proper sanction. Thus do I eagerly await Walt Disney’s presentation of a feature-film spinoff titled Zack & Cody’s Rockin’ Roofie Frat Party.
According to Patterson, this is the number one television program for children 6-11. It is hard for me to imagine that parents — or Disney — find this charming, funny, or appropriate.