Leaving it All to Nostalgia: iCarly Reboot Not a Total Flop

Three things I never thought I would live to see on “iCarly,” the beloved Nickelodeon sitcom that originally aired from 2007–2012: a lesbian kiss, an openly pansexual main character who pursues love interests of all genders, and a plotline about sex work. This changed, however, when I watched the 2021 reboot of the series, which aired from June through August on the streaming platform Paramount+.

The “iCarly” reboot returned with Miranda Cosgrove (Carly Shay), Nathan Kress (Freddie Benson), and Jerry Trainor (Spencer Shay) reprising their leading roles, in addition to an impressive slate of actors who reprised recurring roles from the original series (such as Reed Alexander, who plays Nevel Papperman, who largely left acting to pursue a career in reporting before reprising his role for the 2021 reboot). Laci Mosley (Harper Bettencourt) joined the cast as Carly’s new roommate and best friend, while ten-year-old Jaidyn Triplett (Millicent) joined the cast as Freddie’s adopted stepdaughter from the second of his two failed marriages.

Notably absent from the cast list were Jennette McCurdy (Sam Puckett) and Noah Munck (Gibby). McCurdy retired from acting following the series finale of “iCarly,” and in the years since, has spoken and written extensively about intense struggles that she faced behind the scenes while shooting the show, including battles with anorexia and both physical and emotional abuse from her mother. Though Munck has not released a public statement about why he chose not to return to “iCarly,” he likely did not return given that much of his character’s role in the original series involved removing his shirt and being humiliated.

Another creative notably absent from the “iCarly” reboot was Dan Schneider, the creator of massively popular children’s sitcoms including “The Amanda Show,” “Drake and Josh,” and, of course, “iCarly.” Schneider’s creative partnership with Nickelodeon ended in 2018, following allegations against him that included but were not limited to temper issues, abusive behavior, and inappropriate behavior around the underage female stars of his shows. With the departure of three principal figures in the show’s creation, the reboot not only had big shoes to fill, but immense baggage to overcome.

Let’s face it: reboots of beloved series are almost never good. Good reboots remain in the shadows of the original series, while bad reboots destroy the enduring legacies of the originals. One example of this is “Arrested Development,” which originally aired from 2003 to 2006 before Netflix resurrected it in 2013. Though the original three seasons of the series are irreverent and witty enough to keep themselves from falling into obscurity, fans of the reboot seasons number close to zero.

The reason that reboots commonly flop is simple: while the original media were made with sincerity, reboots are made with the knowledge that there is a legacy to live up to and fans to please. Reboots frequently fail to live up to their predecessors, especially when the creative team behind the original media has departed.

The “iCarly” reboot begins with Carly’s boyfriend breaking up with her as she proposes that they start a new vlogging channel together. Spencer is wealthy and famous after he created a marshmallow sculpture of the white house that accidentally caught on fire, and Freddie is living with his mom again after a failed startup and two divorces. His adopted stepdaughter, Millicent, is a ten-year-old business savant whose snark knows no end. Carly’s roommate, an aspiring stylist, works as a barista at “Skybucks” after her wealthy family lost everything.

The “iCarly” reboot makes clear from the beginning that, unlike the source media, it is not a television show for kids; Carly says “you gotta switch it up on a bitch” in the first episode. No character could possibly replace the iconicity of Sam, and it is refreshing that Harper gets to do her own thing instead of being an unoriginal replacement for Sam. Mosley is a welcome addition to the ensemble cast, consistently delivering her lines in a way that adds energy to every scene.

The show, however, does not deliver on the appeal of the original series because the internet plays a fundamentally different role now than it did fourteen years ago. In 2007, the internet was a magical place where anything could happen. Twitter was still an infant. YouTube was still a burgeoning platform for people to share amusing home videos, not a corporatized hellscape full of overproduced garbage. Facebook was growing in popularity, but not even close in scope to the monster that is now actively leading to the downfall of American democracy. In that media climate, it did not seem impossible that a teen girl and two of her friends could create a web show that would soon come to dominate the web. So much of “iCarly”’s charm came from the homegrown atmosphere of the early internet, where any type of wacky hijinks could happen with enough serendipity. In contrast, in the age of doxxing (revealing private information about someone such as their home address or SSN online), it now seems insane that Carly and her friends not only revealed their full names and school in their web show, but the name of their apartment building.

The new “iCarly,” on the other hand, is too grounded in the mundane reality of being an adult and the mundane insanity that is being an internet user in 2021. Whereas in the original series every episode began with an “iCarly” segment, the show fades into the background of the new series. Instead, we see situations that are too real to grasp the entirety of our attention. Griffin (Drew Roy), one of Carly’s boyfriends from the original series, recruits both her and Freddie into a multi-level marketing scheme. Spencer dates a #girlboss CEO who harvests the gang’s data to sell to third parties. Carly goes to Webicon to receive a lifetime achievement award, only to find that the convention is as poorly planned as the Fyre Festival.

All of these plotlines have one thing in common: instead of celebrating the potential of the internet like in the original series, they rehash terrible internet-specific narratives that are neither unique nor particularly engaging. Even worse are the episode-long story arcs that attempt to address internet culture specifically, such as the third episode of the series, in which Carly makes a funny face that becomes the basis for a meme. The episode incorporates food Instagrammers and accusations of people being problematic in a way that is not only shockingly unfunny, but also hits the audience over the head with its interpretation of how late millennials and early Gen Z behave on the internet.

The mundaneness of these plotlines is worsened by the fact that Carly’s character simply does not have enough depth to meaningfully evolve from acting as the show’s “straight man” to being another wacky member of the gang. Cosgrove has somehow gotten worse at acting since “iCarly”’s original ending in 2012, and the identical manner in which she recites all of her lines gives the impression that episode to episode, we are watching the exact same dynamics play out every time. This feeling of repetition, in turn, is exacerbated by the fact that episode-long plotlines are essentially inconsequential for the rest of the series. When Freddie invests his entire life savings into a multi-level-marketing series, we see the consequences for one episode only, and in the next episode everything is somehow fine again. A psychic literally dies at Carly’s 27th birthday party, a one-off gag that we never hear about again.

The intense losses combined with the almost total lack of continuity is disorienting; the new “iCarly” is deadset on being an adult show, but we never see adult consequences for the characters. Moreover, though zany characters like Spencer and Harper are wonderful, the show is sorely lacking a “straight man” to balance out their extreme personalities and ground the show in a way that matters. The closest thing the show has is Millicent, Freddie’s ten-year-old adopted stepdaughter. Even she is not normal in the way that a “straight man” should be, but her business acumen gives her a level of practicality and level-headedness that the other characters do not have. Moreover, the evolution of her relationship with Freddie (It’s genuinely touching when she starts calling him Dad and comes to support him!) is one of the only grounding factors of a show whose M.O. is a jarring lack of continuity.

Even Millicent’s addition to the main cast, however, is questionable. Triplett is undeniably talented, but her character is annoying by virtue of being a smart-aleck child in a show intended for adults. Moreover, Millicent takes on a role within the show as the sole Gen Z voice in a sea of cheugy millennials, a creative choice that also makes no sense; the show’s target audience is adults who watched “iCarly” as children, who are almost entirely early Gen Z (both 1998-2001). By presenting a ten-year-old as the voice of the generation, the writers, who are almost certainly millennials, are isolating most of their viewers.

Overall, though the “iCarly” reboot does not hold up whatsoever from a critical lens, it was a fun watch over the summer. I enjoyed watching it every week with my friends Jake Chanenson ’21 and Camryn Slosky ’22 and picking apart what we liked and disliked about the writing and execution. As far as reboots go, though “iCarly” fails to capture the magic of the original through focusing on adult storylines and played-out tropes of the current internet, it’s not a flop. The new “iCarly” solidly falls into the upper tier of reboots meant to capitalize on nostalgia (and, in this case, attract more viewers to new streaming services) because, even though it does not hold up as well as the original, it is still entertaining to watch. The “iCarly” reboot is doing its best with the hand the world has dealt it (principal actors not returning, the internet being insane now), and that’s the best adults who watched it as children can ask for.

“iCarly” (2021) is streaming on Paramount+.

Anatole Shukla

Anatole Shukla '22 is an Editor Emeritus of The Phoenix. He is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and studied economics, linguistics, and Russian language while at Swarthmore.

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