Crap My Nephew Watches #2: Henry Danger

Of course it’s just a phase, but for a minute there I was genuinely concerned that the Crap My Nephew Watches segment was going to end before it really ever started, and that Minecraft videos would be all Jonathan would ever require to quell his desire for televisual entertainment. Alas, man does not live by extremely blocky bread alone, and Jon finally rediscovered his treasure trove of Nickcoms on the DVR, beginning his journey back to shows starring fleshy meatbags with what I think is his favorite, Henry Danger (not to be confused with Henry Darger).

The opening credits say it all, but since I’m assuming you don’t want to expose yourself to any more of this nonsense than necessary if you’re not the parent of a preteen child, I’ll sum it up: Henry Hart (Jace Norman) stumbles upon the secret underground lair of indestructible local superhero Captain Man (Cooper Barnes) and gets to become his sidekick, Kid Danger. Early in the series, a girl named Charlotte (Riele Downs) discovers Henry’s secret; subsequently, she gets to be in the loop and perform some occasional heroics of her own. Other characters billed in the intro are Henry’s sister Piper (Ella Anderson—we’ll get to her, oh my, yes, we will get to her) and his friend Jasper (Sean Ryan Fox), one of those friends who never brings anything to the table but is for unknown reasons tolerated nonetheless. There are other supporting characters, of course, but I’ll only mention them if they’re an essential part of something I’m describing.

Strangely, Henry Danger is not the only currently running superhero sitcom on Nickelodeon. There’s also The Thundermans, which lifts the thing about a family of superheroes living in anonymity wholesale from The Incredibles and adds a rabbit with the voice of Master Shake. The Thundermans premiered October 14, 2013, while Henry Danger first aired July 26, 2014. That doesn’t exactly sound like a vote of confidence on Nickelodeon’s part in the former, though it’s tough not to admit that putting your chips all in on Dan Schneider[1] is never an ill-advised move. The Thundermans is execrable, though an episode recently aired in which Paul F. Tompkins guest-starred as a villain, so your morbid curiosity may very well win out on that one.

Henry Danger is slightly better than The Thundermans, in that it has managed to show minor, though visible, signs of improvement since day one. Herewith, a sampling of four episodes from the past month.

“Elevator Kiss.” Sometimes Henry has a girlfriend named Bianca, though really it’s not a big part of the show, and she’s only shown up twice so far. Henry, in his Kid Danger get-up, saves Bianca from an elevator shaft, and while they’re dangling from a rope she kisses him. It’s later explained to him that she kissed Kid Danger, not Henry, so technically she’s cheating on him since she doesn’t know Kid Danger is Henry. In the end, Henry tests her fidelity by seeing what will happen if he goes in for a kiss after saving her a second time (spoiler: she admits the first time was a mistake and that she already has an awesome boyfriend), though not before he drives her out from a board game session among friends by verbally assaulting her and being an obnoxious dillhole for five minutes that feel like 11 hours. I hate teenage relationships.

“Man of the House”. Even for a Nickcom, this is one of the most severely messed-up half-hours of television I’ve ever watched. While Henry’s dad is away in Baltimore, his mom gets mugged, and Captain Man, whose crush on her is not subtle in the slightest, decides he has to take it upon himself to move in to Henry’s house and protect her. He makes pancakes; they get a family portrait done; he sits on Henry’s head; it’s incredibly weird and off-putting. I’m surprised they didn’t just flat-out imply that Captain Man and Mrs. Hart had sex—Schneider shows sneak so much past the censors they may as well have tried.

The dad eventually comes home at the end. His feelings on the matter are brought up only in the most cursory fashion and not cared about by anyone whatsoever.

There’s a scene in the cold open where the dad is video-chatting with Piper and she just puts the laptop outside, and the gardener finds it and rubs it on his belly while the video chat is still going. Jon thinks it’s the second funniest thing in the world right now[2], so I have seen it roughly seven thousand times.

“Dream Busters.” Characters in Nickcoms already act like they should be institutionalized anyway, so an episode like this at least gets to justify the behavior. Henry is unconscious and trapped in a bizarre dream at the beginning of the episode, and Captain Man and his handyman Schwoz send Charlotte into his dream to wake him up. Best of the bunch covered here, by which I mean “least worst”.

In Henry’s dream, his parents are replaced by impersonators of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. “Kim” has a caricaturishly inflated backside and “Kanye” screams “I’m a genius!” anytime anyone tries to talk to him. I’m not sure how these portrayals don’t constitute libel of some kind. I guess it could be protected as parody. But they refer to them by name as “Kim” and “Kanye”. I suppose they’re counting on the fact that throwback sitcoms for children are so far off Kim and Kanye’s radar that it will never be an issue. Also worth noting is the fact that I know nothing about how libel works.

“Kid Grounded”. Henry can’t go out sidekicking because his sister Piper rats him out for sneaking out and getting home late. Henry takes her down with him and rats her out for watching an R-rated movie called French Basement, one of those Noodle Incident-type things I am now rabidly curious about. While Henry is grounded, Charlotte fills in as Kid Danger. It’s a pretty cool moment when you get to see her in the costume, truth be told—one of those empowering moments children’s television is getting increasingly good at presenting without comment, fully aware of the impact it can have on an impressionable psyche.

Some conflict arises when Henry dismisses Charlotte’s ability to do his job because she’s a girl, which, given how to this point their friendship has developed in a totally platonic fashion with no hint of real difference between them, is really dumb to just throw in there all of a sudden. The writers must not have felt there was enough tension between Henry and Piper for one episode, which is ridiculous because when Piper is involved there is always tension, albeit usually of the sort where you wonder which moment will be the one where you reach through the television and garrote her.

And speaking of Piper…..

If you watched Drake & Josh, you might remember the title characters’ little sister Megan, played by Miranda Cosgrove. You might also remember hating her with the white-hot fury of a hundred nuclear explosions. Well, guess what? Piper is a thousand times worse than Megan. She’s exactly like Megan in that she only interacts with someone if it brings her joy and the other person pain, except her default volume and facial expression are maximum and “like she just smelled a fart”. I have no idea why these irredeemable characters that violate every tenet of good comedy keep turning up in these shows.[3] If they never set up for an eventual transformation into a supervillain, it will represent a sorely wasted opportunity to give her the only justifiable excuse for her wretched attitude.

Fortunately, there are signs that Nickelodeon Studios may have noticed their foundation shifting from the mountain of hate mail visited upon them, because it seems like Piper is actually lightening up somewhat in recent weeks. She shows up in a few bizarre asides not doing much of anything, like in “Dream Busters” when she’s all blissed out and playing the lute, and she’s downright nice when she’s taking pictures of Captain Man in “Man of the House”. The farther away they can move from a version of Piper that makes me wish physical harm on the actress who plays her, the better.

There is also a thread, occasionally touched upon, where Piper has a massive crush on Kid Danger, not knowing of course that Kid Danger is her brother. I don’t need to tell you how unnerving this is.

Despite everything I have told you, there is nothing too offensive about this episode, other than the pointless sexism. The worst thing Piper does is cut Henry’s phone charger in half, but that’s like a 2 on the Piper scale. This alone is good enough for a B at least on the show’s curve.

[1] For those not familiar, Dan Schneider is essentially the king of live-action Nickelodeon television. If you have a child, they like at least three of his shows. If you were a teenager in the 80s, you might remember him as Dennis Blunden from the sitcom Head of the Class. However, his achievements as a creator and producer far outweigh his acting success. Here is a list of successful shows he has created: All That. Kenan & KelThe Amanda Show. Drake & Josh. Zoey 101iCarly. Victorious. Sam & Cat. Those are just the ones that were on Nickelodeon. The closest he’s ever come to a flop on Nick is Sam & Cat, which still produced 36 episodes, and would have run for six seasons with reruns airing until the heat death of the universe had it not been enshrouded in so much behind-the-scenes drama.

[2] The funniest thing is the last 12 seconds or so of this Dragon Ball Z parody dub I showed him. (I only showed him that 12-second chunk, not the rest.)

[3] Just kidding, I do. It’s because kids (who have terrible taste in everything) think it’s funny.

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