TV Preview

Customarily Zany: 'iCarly' Goes to Japan

Tokyo-bound: Carly (Miranda Cosgrove), left, and Sam (Jennette McCurdy) of
Tokyo-bound: Carly (Miranda Cosgrove), left, and Sam (Jennette McCurdy) of "iCarly." (By Lisa Rose -- Nickelodeon)
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By Emily Yahr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 8, 2008

Three Seattle eighth-graders are so tech-savvy, their Web show is winning acclaim as far away as the Far East. Yet before their flight to Japan to accept an award, their chaperone's super-size "flashlight hat" bursts into flames.

Therein lies the beautiful balance of "iCarly," Nickelodeon's hit series that airs its first made-for-TV movie tonight. The show heavily employs both reality and surreality: On the one hand, there's the dead-on portrayal of tween behavior -- such as how scarily fast the 21st-century set can master technology. On the other hand, objects burst into flames -- with alarming regularity.

Thankfully, tonight's 90-minute "iGo to Japan" does not upset that balance. For every right-on moment involving tween behavior, there's a rusty plane filled with caged possums. When a real emotional moment threatens, cut to a woman trying to chew her way out of a spa's seaweed wrap.

The new movie's madness begins when Carly (Miranda Cosgrove) and her two trusty sidekicks have their popular webcast nominated for best comedy series at the iWeb Awards -- an invitation that includes an all-expenses-paid trip to Tokyo for the ceremony. When only three first-class airline tickets arrive, however, and adults insist on tagging along, Carly's quick-thinking brother Spencer (Jerry Trainor) finds an unusual method of transportation (See: "rusty plane" and "caged possums").

No time is wasted in pretending the characters are actually in Japan. Spencer buys a "Japanese learning wizard" that comes with a shock collar to quickly correct mistakes while learning the language. ("The pain helps you learn!" it chirps, while Spencer writhes in agony.) Instead, the plot dives right into the action -- literally, as a misunderstanding requires the gang to sky-dive out of a misdirected plane, and sets up the main "will they get to the awards on time?" story line.

Having a season and a half of episodes under their belt, the three teen stars easily play off one another. Carly's co-star Sam (Jennette McCurdy) and webcast producer Freddie (Nathan Kress) bicker so much that you would think it's just hidden feelings of L-O-V-E. Not on "iCarly"; when Sam doesn't pelt an apple at his face, it's pudding in his eye.

The foursome is joined on the trip by Freddie's nutty mother, who's referred to only as Mrs. Benson (Mary Scheer). She and Spencer, being the token grown-ups, take pratfalls aplenty; because everyone who watches Nickelodeon knows that adults are interesting only when they're falling off the top of a car, or taking an airborne backpack to the head.

One could argue that the would-be suspense -- Will they get lost? Will they oversleep? Will a pair of devious fellow nominees ruin everything? -- drags on too long. But the run time of this normally half-hour show is tripled in the TV-movie format, leaving tons of room to up the absurdity ante with stunts and guest stars. Plus, they had to fit in a special -- if not somewhat random -- musical performance by the rock band Good Charlotte.

But randomness is the name of the game for "iCarly." Or to borrow a phrase from Carly's bro Spencer in the 2007 series pilot, "delightfully random." And with the modern-day teens talking fast, texting faster and growing up quicker than ever, it's somewhat soothing to include a healthy dose of absurdity with that serving of reality.

"iCarly's" iGo to Japan (90 minutes) airs tonight at 8 on Nickelodeon.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company