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cary holding a can and looking at a computer screen Image: Paramount Plus

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The new iCarly is weirdly good and goodly weird

There is a certain comfort in revisiting these characters at this point in their lives

Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

iCarly star Carly Shay is back, and this time, she says “bitch.”

iCarly is a Nickelodeon sitcom that ran from 2007 to 2012. It centered on the then-novel premise of three middle-schoolers making a viral web show. As one of the first shows to encroach into internet influencer space, it touched on a lot of aspects of online culture that still feel relevant, from obsessive stans to viral boxing matches.

The show was beloved by late millennials and early Gen-Z-ers in its day, so in an era where every streaming service is courting nostalgic audiences and mining familiar IPs, it’s no surprise that it now has a sequel series on Paramount Plus. But what is a surprise is how iCarly 2021 keeps the tone of the original series, while elevating the content for the audience that grew up with it.

The new show picks up nine years or so after the original left off, with most of the original cast back to take up their old roles. Carly (Miranda Cosgrove) is back in Seattle, now sharing an apartment with her roommate Harper (Laci Mosley, who’s new to the show). They live in the same apartment building as Carly’s older brother Spencer (Jerry Trainor) and her former tech producer Freddie (Nathan Kress). Carly believes her boyfriend is going to pop the question: “Will you create a web channel with me?” He ends up dumping her instead. After waffling about whether she can create something on her own, Carly decides to go ahead and revive her old show.

carly looking at something on her phone Image: Paramount Plus

Paramount Plus launched the show with three episodes, with new installments releasing on Fridays. The focus in the initial episodes is less on the web-show content (probably for the better, considering how of-its-time the original show was) and more on how Carly’s team fits into the new web ecosystem. Carly is not entirely clueless to the ways of the web, but as she tells Freddie in the second episode, it was easier to do iCarly (the in-universe web show) back when it was “the only web show.” The fervent competition for clicks in the new online world presents a whole new set of challenges, ones updated for modern viewers, and ones Carly would naturally face. But it’s refreshing that she isn’t completely fumbling through a new online landscape. Sure, she hasn’t been actively creating content, but she wasn’t sitting out on the sidelines of the internet for her whole adult life.

In the first three episodes alone, Carly deals with trying to make a viral comeback, facing haters, and her brother getting canceled. (In the most low-stakes way possible — he creates an art exhibition making fun of influencers, who decide to come for him.) It could feel heavy-handed, but iCarly was never built for subtlety. Moments like Carly recreating a Miranda Cosgrove meme (in-show, she does this while looking at a meme of herself — meta!) and Freddie joking about how a global pandemic would never ever happen are incredibly gratuitous, but the showrunners and actors alike seem very aware of exactly what they’re doing, which turns these pandering moments from a wink-wink-nudge-nudge to a joke we’re all in on. This style of humor doesn’t always work, but the fact that it only rarely feels cringey in the new iCarly is a feat.

The beauty of the iCarly revival is that unlike other rebooted old shows, like Girl Meets World, Raven’s Home, and Fuller House, which keep the tone squeaky-clean by focusing on the next generation of kids, iCarly is still very much about Carly, Freddie, and Spencer. Except now, they’re in their 20s (well, Spencer is probably nearing 40 at this point), and they swear, they drink, and they curl up in blankets and binge-watch Law and Order after bad breakups.

It’s definitely strange at first, since the last time viewers saw Freddie and Carly, they were teenagers, but as adults, they still perform with the same overexaggerated acting style common in Disney Channel and Nickelodeon sitcoms. Evolving away from that almost-stiff style would mean the new show wouldn’t feel like iCarly, though. So once the jarring shock of seeing Carly Shay talk about hookups settles in, the show feels like a delightful evolution of the over-the-top theatricalities of Nickelodeon sitcoms. Objects still randomly catch fire, but the characters grapple with problems that the demographic who watched the original show will recognize.

freddie, carly, and harper making shocked faces as they listen to a bad slam poet Image: Paramount Plus

As for what’s new, Laci Mosley’s Harper fits in amazingly well with the established Freddie-Carly-Spencer dynamic. Harper isn’t a replacement for Carly’s best friend, tough girl Sam; she’s her own character, a once-wealthy socialite who likes flirting and fashion, and who started working as a barista after her family lost all their money. Freddie’s stepdaughter Millicent (Jaidyn Triplett), however, feels a little clunky, more like an obligatory nod to the fact that most reboots of these sorts of shows have a next-generation focus. Tripplet does a good job of playing a tech-savvy preteen who doesn’t have a huge following (a great contrast with Carly’s instant fame at the same age), but she also hates Carly for no real reason other than forced tension. Hopefully with subsequent episodes, her character will expand beyond the “tagalong kid” trope.

The new iCarly is weirdly good and goodly weird. It tackles more grown-up issues than the original show, but in the same lighthearted, exaggerated manner. The characters are proper adults now, but at the same time, they’re still the same ones viewers watched growing up, making the same sort of mistakes. That’s not a critique; in fact, it might resonate with fans of the original series, who have also grown up and seen their own adult failings in the interim. Unlike a lot of these revisited sitcom characters, the iCarly gang aren’t parental figures handing the mantle over to the next generation. They’re still the main characters, making dumb mistakes and learning from them. For people who watched the original iCarly, that may almost be comforting.

The first three episodes of the iCarly revival are out on Paramount Plus now. New episodes drop weekly on Fridays.

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