In Nickelodeon’s attempt to create a popular boy band came the TV show Big Time Rush. The person behind this show also wrote Ned’s Declassified, which is one of my personal favorite Nickelodeon live action shows of all time. Sadly this show is nowhere near as good as that one but there is genuinely a level of effort put into the show overall. The story involves four Minnesota teens Kendall, James, Carlos, and Logan who become a boy band after one of them impresses record producer Gustavo Rocque during a music audition. Thus the boys move to a hotel known as the Palmwoods in L.A. (along with Kendall’s mother Mrs. Knight and his younger sister Katie) as they get into various shenanigans while on the road to becoming big shots.
Probably the low point of Big Time Rush is…Big Time Rush. Not only the “wanting to be famous” plot doesn’t offer anything new in substance but also the good thing about every good live and action and animated Nick show is that the mains feel like a unique unit. They are a team but multiple episodes will take the time to dive deep into their psyche, the connections they share to their friends and family, etc. as individuals. In this show the boys are almost always together and the more they try to enforce the fact that they’re a team, ironically the far less unique they feel. They are likable and the actors’ performances make their slapstick and comical shenanigans memorable but there’s little development. Some episodes dive into Logan’s ambition to be a doctor but it’s very downplayed. In what is one of the series’ more serious episodes Kendall encourages his long-time girlfriend Jo to go to New Zealand to pursue a major acting opportunity for her even though it hurts him and he might never see her again. Subsequent episodes do little to delve into Kendall’s character as a result of this and this plotline didn’t matter in the long run as Jo came back early (through what is admittedly a hilarious explanation) and despite some initial tension the two get back together and there isn’t anything different.
Like Ned’s Declassified the show didn’t use a laugh track (although there was one episode that actually briefly took a mean swing at it). Instead it opted for cartoony sound effects and background music. On the one hand there are times where this can get almost nearly as annoying as the laugh track since it is overused in every episode and can be unecessary. But on the other hand both aspects work in setting the tone for both the main and subplot and do add some layers of fun, energy, and overall liveliness to the various scenarios. But once again this comes at a price at well defining the four. Even when I found something funny I didn’t see much development and sometimes when it’s trying to be meaningful it comes off as cheesy.
But of course every good Nickelodeon show needs good jokes and the show does do well in providing beyond its cartoony sound effects and music and slapstick shenanigans. There were actually a couple of jokes that are legitimately clever that do hold up. But sadly for every good joke there’s also one that drags on sometimes all throughout the episode with either no pay off or a predictable one. In any case the show has at least some idea of how to pull off clever humor.
Perhaps the best part of this series however lies in the side characters. First there’s record producer Gustavo Rocque and Stephen Kramer Glickman absolutely hilariously hams it up in his hot-headedness but at the same time the show will take time to showcase the bond he shares with the boys (and by extension Kendall’s mother and Katie) and it’s something that grows throughout the seasons. Despite often getting angry with them and calling them dogs, he genuinely cares for them as exemplified in the season 1 finale when he sold his mansion and several of his possessions to buy the rights to the band rights off of Griffin. In early episodes he would mostly do nice things for the boys at either the urging of his assistant Kelly or not without a catch but as the series progresses he becomes more like family to the gang. Kelly herself is at first mostly the straight person to Gustavo’s antics and and the friendlier one to the boys but multiple episodes shows she can be just as brutal as her boss. These two feel like more of a unit than the main characters and the two share an interesting dynamic. There’s also Gustavo’s boss Arthur Griffin who’s always this happy yet threatening man of power and he plays it well and it can get a laugh in how delighfully he is a corprorate man of evil.
There’s also Kendall’s mother Mrs. Knight who is honestly one of the better Nickelodeon parents in live action. She proves to be quite protective, supportive, and caring for five children (three of whom aren’t even hers but she treats them as such). Even though she does often indulge in the kids’ antics she isn’t afraid to put her foot down in certain matters. Then there’s Katie who could have easily turned out annoying as the smarter mature younger sister but she and her brother share a very loving sibling bond and at the same time the show takes the time to show her immaturity and her spoiled nature but never to the point where it becomes insufferable.
Tara Strong plays the Palmwoods’ teacher and though she’s not in the show much, Strong’s performance can get a laugh and in many ways it’s easy to see Darran Norris’ Buddha Bob as a discount Gordy rom Ned’s Declassified but Norris’ performance and personality for the character does enough to make this feel like a different person. There’s the hotel manager Mr. Bitters and that name is horribly uncreative he’s mostly fine as the victim to the Palm woods craziness and gets a funny line once in a while. Both Camille and Jo are both characters that start off interesting but sadly whose roles just fade to being the “girlfriend” in the show’s long run.
On the whole Big Time Rush has many flaws. The cartoony exaggeration can get annoying, the main four are uninteresting, the main premise had been done to death, and the overall story doesn’t offer anything to really think about which prevents it from ever being a real classic. But to the show’s credit there is a sense of livelihood, humor, and energy to it (particularly with the side characters) that will definitely keep it from being one of the worst and I do wish all the best for the actors that were involved.