Sunday, September 8, 2013

TV Recap: The Secret World of Alex Mack "The Test"

One of my favorite online pastimes is reading recaps of TV shows, movies, and books- . I have only written a few recaps in my life, and once I did it, I discovered that it is actually a fun outlet for creativity. Beyond summarizing a book, TV show, or movie, recapping requires actively viewing or reading the piece and then providing your own unique commentary about the contents. Every recap is different, reflecting the views and sense of humor in each recapper. That is why I find them fascinating. Thus, I have decided to implement them into this blog.

A quick word of caution: recapping is incredibly time-consuming. I will try to post as many recaps as I can, but trust me, this will take some time to complete. So don't expect one every day or anything- for crying out loud, I have a day job.

I picked my first recap at random, and I chose to do an episode of The Secret World of Alex Mack, which was a TV show that played on Nickelodeon in the mid-to-late 1990s. If you aren't familiar with the show or have forgotten about it, here is a brief synapses:

Alex Mack is an "average kid" living in a town called Paradise Valley, California. On her first day of junior high, she is walking home from school and is nearly hit by a truck from a chemical plant where her father, a chemist, works. From this accident, she is doused with a top-secret chemical called GC-161. This chemical is being tested as a weight-loss miracle, but it has not yet been released. After the accident, Alex develops strange superhuman abilities, such as telekinesis, the ability to shoot electrical currents from her fingertips, and the ability to morph herself into a liquid puddle. Throughout the series, the only people aware of her abilities are her older sister Annie, who takes after their father in scientific brilliance, and her best friend Ray. Nobody else knows about her abilities; she keeps them a secret from the rest of her family and friends. Although the chemical plant is aware that a kid was doused with the chemical, they do not know it was Alex. Thus, under the leadership of their corrupt CEO, Danielle Atron, the chemical plant seeks to track Alex down and capture her- and get rid of her so the secret side effects of the chemical will never be revealed.

Caught up? Okay. Good. Without further ado, let us start the recap, shall we?SHOW TITLE: The Secret World of Alex Mack

EPISODE TITLE: "The Test" (season 3 episode 19)


A PLOT: Alex starts high school and is so stressed about doing well that she resorts to cheating.

B PLOT: Dave starts stalking Alex with the help of his handy-dandy "So You Want to Be a Spy" kit

Until recently, I did not know that Tommy Lynch co-created this show! Who would have thought that the co-creator of Alex Mack ?

So this episode opens with Alex, Louis, Ray, and Robin lying on their backs in some dreamy field, talking in eerily calm voices about the clouds in the sky. Louis brings up that it is almost their first day of high school (gasp!), which Alex grimaces at. She whines about how high school is just ever-so-serious, and that every little thing they do will now "count" toward getting into college, toward their career, and whether or not they will get their drivers license (?).

Oh, Alex. Dear, sweet little Alex. Trust me, in the real world, nobody really cares about what you did in high school. All they care about is how well you can hold your own in the job market. Trust me, I'm 27 and most of my high school shenanigans are long forgotten. All anyone cares about is my resume and whether I pay my taxes.

Ray makes the mistake of asking Robin, the resident Debbie Downer, what she sees. She goes into this long spiel about seeing two worlds colliding and good versus evil or some shit like thatI don't know, whenever Robin speaks, my ears snap shut. I've never liked Robin.

I dunno, I think Alex just looks constipated.

Meanwhile, Dave, the driver at the Chemical Plant, is excitedly opening this box containing some kit called "So You Want to Be a Spy." He is wearing this hideous button-down shirt that looks like something you'd wear as an annoying tourist in a tropical climate. He listens to the cassette tape contained in this kit (oh, cassette tapesso mid-90s), which enthusiastically tells him to write down in his "journal" why he wants to become a spy. He loudly writes, "I want to find the kid that I doused with the secret chemical GC-161." Ruh-oh, Dave is on the prowl!

Because if it's on a cassette tape, it's gotta be true.

Meanwhile, it is the first day of school and Alex's parents are in the kitchen with their coffee. Mrs. Mack is reading some course descriptions to her husband, the chemist. I didn't catch the full name, but it sounded like something very overly-intellectual and pretentious. Mr. Mack makes a rude comment that if she takes one course he "won't be able to help her with her homework, which Mrs. Mack takes offense to. She shoots back with a haughty "I do not need any help with my homework, George!" She even does a head shake as she says it, like she's all confident and sure of herself. She rambles about how Mr. Mack and Annie are not the only smart ones in the family; she and Alex aren't dumbasses, so shut the fuck up. Which is made even funnier by the fact that she can't figure out if it is grammatically correct to say "smarty pants" or "smarty pants-es." Oy vey, she is in for one hell of a semester.

"Maybe you should just start with Freshman Comp, honey."

They finally notice that Alex has yet to come downstairs, because "her breakfast is getting soggy." WTF, the kid has her cereal poured for her? I never got that kind of treatment at my house! My parents would have pointed to the pantry and said, "Your hands are not broken, go pour your own cereal." I'm jealous. Very, very, jealous.

Meanwhile, Alex is in her bedroom, trying on outfit after outfit, whining about how nothing looks good on her. Frustrated, Alex melodramatically slams herself onto her messy bed and wonders aloud when this awkward phase is going to be over- she's 15, for crying out loud! Shouldn't she be a buxom blonde bombshell and majestically fill out every outfit she puts on?

Oh, AlexI regret to inform you that it will continue a lot longer than you would like it to. Mine continued into my early twenties. But rest assured, you will miss every bit of your current youth when it is gone. Trust me, in ten years, you're post-college "I got fat from one too many late-night pizza and beer sessions" self will miss being that skinny.

Cheer up, Alexin 20 years twentysomethings who miss the 1990s will love that outfit.

She finally stomps down the stairs because her mother calls for her. Back in the kitchen, Mrs. Mack is demanding that Annie and Mr. Mack are kind to Alex, because she is nervous about her first day of school. As Alex sulks into the room, Annie attempts to cheer her up by saying she looks "completely fine." That's almost a compliment. Mrs. Mack attempts to be funny by tossing Alex a Troll lunch box (a reference to the very first episode), but then hands her "pizza money" instead. Annie decides to let some of her bitch out to breath by stating that Alex's lunch money could get stolen by bullies; Mrs. Mack immediately tells her to shut up and leave the room. Mack parents have a heart-to-heart with Alex. Mr. Mack says that "nobody is expecting you to perform like Annie" (OMG, thanks Dad, you are just full of confidence boosts today!), but that she needs to pull her grades up. They grill Alex about how serious high school is for a few moments, even calling it "the start of your adult life." But then they emphasized that they "don't want to put any pressure on [her]."

And the Parents of the Year Award goes to

"We know you're never going to be as smart as your sister, but try not to be as much of a moron this year."

That's about the same look I have right now.

Just then, Louis and Ray came barreling into the kitchen. Alex questions why they don't have any school supplies, and they pretty much state that they don't care. Yup, that was usually my attitude about a first day of school, too. Everyone knows that the first day of school is just a "syllabus" day, right?

Wrong! Annie bursts everyone's bubble by pointing out that they will be taking a day-long placement test. Wait, what? A placement test that nobody knows about? These kids weren't ever informed of this placement test? That seems very strange. Any time I have had to take a placement test, we were well-informed of this test in advance. I don't recall ever showing up to high school and they were all, "Oh, by the way, as if your first day of high school isn't traumatic enough, here's a test! Have fun!"

Annie is just too cool for these freshmen losers.

In the next scene, the new freshman approach their new school for the next four years. They awkwardly walk up to the front of the school, running into a couple making out and several "cool" kids sitting on a ledge, among other things. As they stare up at the sign, Robin zips in out of left field and immediately starts preaching "Doom! Total doom!" Oh, shove it, Robin. Then their other friend, Nicole, comes up and starts blathering about how she "could just kiss every brick on this beautiful building!" because she is so excited to start learning Latin, trigonometry, and calculus. Good Lord, it's not even 10am and this chick is already hammered.

Apparently, Nicole and Louis missed the "stripes" memo.

Meanwhile, Dave is creeping in a cactus plant outside Paradise Valley High, listening to his cassette tape on a Walkman. It instructs him to practice spying by picking a random person and stalking them. (Oh, I wish I were making this up.) After peeping through his binoculars, he spots Alex uncomfortably walking to her classroom. Then he goes berserk because a cactus gets caught on his ass. Ha! That's what you get for creeping on high school students, you weirdo.

In no way could this be interpreted as "sketchy."

In the classroom, some math teacher grills the students about how math is not "important" but rather "vital" to living. Then he informs the class that "those who do not score well will be placed in other classes." Oh, you gotta love teachers and their attempts to avoid saying "the dumb class." After he instructs the class to begin their test, Alex starts stressing out and fantasizes about being in this "other class." Cue a fantasy about her sitting in a classroom surrounded by some rather colorful characters.

I'm sure Annie told her all about these "other classes."

As the test stretches on and Alex is increasingly stressed, she looks at Nicole, who is sitting in front of her. Nicole, who is apparently very smart, has already finished her test. This reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons when Bart's class is taking an intelligence test and Martin finishes in five minutes and asks if he can go outside to read. Only in that episode, Bart snatched Martin's test and put his own name on it. Oh, our Alex would never do such a thingright?!?!


Alex, in one of her many stints of using her superpowers in public, uses her telekinesis to tilt Nicole's test toward Alex so she can copy her answers. All of this time, Nicole is too wrapped up in whatever book she is reading to notice that a piece of paper on her desk is totally standing up on its own. God, the people in this town must be very dense. How could you not notice this? Seriously, I call bullshit.

At any rate, Dave is creeping on Alex by looking through a window at the top of the classroom door. So, not only does this town never notice a girl who is openly using superhuman abilities RIGHT IN THEIR FACES, but they also apparently never notice a grown-ass man creeping through a high school and stalking a random freshman girl. Seriously, again, I call bullshit.

Because my high school always had creepy middle-aged men hanging off the doors. Yup, totally normal!

The lunch bell rings, and a guilty-looking Alex collects her belongings and leaves the classroom. Cut to the outdoor eating area. I don't know if in California kids really do eat outside (they also ate outdoors on South of Nowhere, another one of Tommy Lynch's creations), but I am jealous. I was born and raised in Ohio (and still live there), and we weren't allowed to leave the cafeteria for lunch at my high school. Also, for the latter half of high school life, I rarely even saw the sunlight because my high school was rebuilt and many of the new building's rooms had no windows. Looking back, I am a little depressed thinking about that.

Anyway, the group (minus Nicole) whines about how awful the school's pizza is, how mean the teachers are, and how terrible that test was. Alex, trying to be the voice of reasoning, suggests that they all "stick together." Just then, Nicole comes waltzing up with some random white girl, and she's all, "Oh, by the way guys, this is my new friend. I'm going to ditch you now and go sit with her. Bye!" She grabs this new girls' hand and they skip away together. Alex is all butthurt, and Ray checks Nicole's new friend out as they walk away.

"We just met, like, five minutes ago, and those five minutes were so wonderful that I don't need you guys anymore!"

I think Ray likes what he sees.

Cut to a new day. The group (this time including Nicole) is sitting outside under a tree, discussing their placement test scores. Ray and Louis happily announce that they are in "the dumb class," Robin is in the "middle" class, and both Alex and Nicole have made it into "the smart class." Everyone is in disbelief that Alex is in the smart class. Louis even asks whose answers she copied to get such a good score. Good GOD, what is this? Continuously devalue Alex's intelligence week? Alex muses that they are all "split up," which Nicole dismisses and says that starting high school is a chance to branch out and meet new people. Then she ditches them again when she sees another one of her newfound friends. Nicole, you're a jerk.

During this conversation, Dave is hiding in the tree above their heads and listening in on their conversation. Apparently, this is all too emotional for him, and he cries. Then he falls out of the tree. Again, nobody seems to notice that he is there. I'm beginning to wonder if Dave is really a ghost.

The next day at school, there is a montage of the five friends in their different classes. Ray and Louis are in a classroom that is surprisingly similar to the "other class" in Alex's paranoid fantasy. Way to promote stereotypes, Nickelodeon. Robin is all depressed because she is in her average math class alone. She's not even making an effort to talk to other students. I am sensing some serious attachment issues in Robin. Seriously, it's one stupid math class. You seriously can't be without your friends for one hour a day? How do you go home at night without them? Alex is in the smart class, conveniently sitting behind Nicole again, and miserable because she knows she's in way over her head. Well, Alex, that's what you get for cheating, you big dummy.

Once again, Dave creeps on Alex in her smart class. This school's security system is absolute crap if strangers can just come and go as they please. He catches Alex using telekinesis again to make her textbook move from the floor to her side, and she copies answers. Dave makes note of this.

Once again, nobody notices a math book that is apparently defying all laws of physics right before their eyes. And these are supposed to be the smart kids.

In the next scene, we are suddenly at the chemical plant for the first time in this episode, in Danielle Atron's dark and creepy office. She is slamming stuff into her briefcase to go home for the day, when a knock comes at the door. She huffs for the person knocking to enter, and it is Dave. Looking for an excuse to come in her office, he grovels until she agrees to let him clean her office. When she leaves, he immediately sets to work planting a bug in her office. Destroying everything in the process, mind you. Dave is an idiot.

Because stalking a high school student for two days makes me qualified to do this.

Later, Alex arrives at her house to parents gushing about how she's made it into the smart class. Mrs. Mack refers to her as a "late starter" in regards to her intelligence. Again, why does everyone keep acting like Alex is such a dumbass? This episode should be retitled "Twenty-Four Minutes of Calling Alex Stupid."

The next morning, Mrs. Mack is mad because Alex keeps skipping breakfast, so she sends Annie up to their shared bedroom to see what is going on. Alex is writing formulas in the palm of her hand. She tries to say it is her locker combination, but Annie doesn't buy it. There is a cutesy little chase scene, when Alex morphs into a puddle and tries to escape Annie's Big Sister Smackdown. This part is actually kind of pointless and seems to be just another excuse for Alex to use a superpower in this episode besides telekinesis.

When Alex finally stops trying to escape Annie, she comes clean about cheating on her math work. Annie has a oh-so-touching talk with Alex, saying that she is already smart and doesn't need the smart kid classes to prove it. It is actually a borderline Full House moment.

Is it just me or is Annie the prettier sister, too?

Back at Dave's house, he is listening in on Danielle's cell phone conversation via the bug he planted in her office. She is talking to some guy named Lars about the GC-161 kid. She mentions something about the kid having strange powers, which gets Dave thinking. He starts remembering Alex making Nicole's test and her textbook move with her mind. Then he has a flashback to the day of the accident, and pictures Alex's face just before he hit her with the chemical. Then, in perhaps the smartest thing he has ever said, Dave proclaims with a gasp, "The kid is Alex Mack!"

Apparently, hindsight really is 20/20, because he suddenly remembers exactly what Alex looked like two years ago.
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