There’s a new fandom in my house. My 10-year-old and I have been religiously watching Disney XD’s Kickin’ It. I feel like I need to whisper it. *shh don’t tell anyone how old I am*
I'm write YA and middle grade. I read mostly YA and middle grade books. But I’ve never really watched any middle grade television. I didn’t even realize until recently that Disney devotes a whole channel to the age. Some of it is mind-numbing. But some of it is pretty good.
Kickin’ It centers on five kids who take Karate at the Bobby Wasabi Dojo. There are no parents (except in conversation). The mentor is a goofy thirty-something who often has less sense than the kids. It reminds me a little bit of classic sitcoms from my childhood—ensemble cast, laugh-out-loud funny. Sort of like Happy Days. Anyone remember Happy Days?
The MC (Jack) is a good kid, learning about life with his friends. His mentor helps him out sometimes, but it’s mostly his own sensibilities and his friends who get themselves out of trouble. One of their favorite hangouts is a restaurant. There’s a good chemistry. (I was going to try to make a connection between Pat Morita (who played Arnold) from Happy Days and then went on to star in the Karate Kid, but I can’t make it work. LOL).
So how can I relate watching middle grade television to my writing? I’ve been thinking about it. What sets the mind numbing apart from the classic slapstick? There’s a fine line.
- Chemistry is important. The dumbest one-liner in the world becomes hysterical delivered by the right character at the right time.
- Character. If the audience likes the characters, they’ll believe almost anything. Even when he's climbing up the side of building.
- Romance. Seriously—my daughter and I are shipping Jack and the only girl on the show (Kim). It’s middle grade, so it’s subtle but believable. And adorable. (note to the producers...don't let them get together. Learn from your predecessors, you need to keep the romantic tension by keeping them apart).
- High Stakes. These kids are ninjas. They fight the bad guys and win. It’s completely unbelievable, but they stick together and come through for each other at the end. The cool thing is that the kid who plays Jack (Leo Howard) actually IS a black belt, so even though they are choreographed and completely over the top, the fight scenes aren’t just clipped together—there’s real skill there. And it doesn’t hurt that he looks like a young Rick Springfield. Don’t believe me—see below
- The dialogue is NOT real middle grade dialogue. And there’s a laugh track. But if you watch the mannerisms and small gestures, you can pick up ways to infuse the scenes in your own writing with detail.
And just for fun, don't you want to see a little Jessie's Girl? Can't embed, but here's the link. Enjoy!