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Disney Sends 'JONAS' Brothers Back to School -- but No One's Saved by the Bell

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 1, 2009

So, three Jonas Brothers walk into a prep school.

Only they're not the Jonas Brothers -- they're the Lucas Brothers! Who perform in the brother band JONAS! And the brothers crack corny jokes and break into song right there on campus! Hilarity ensues!

That's more or less the premise of "JONAS," a scripted Disney Channel series in which teen idols Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas play teen idols Nick, Joe and Kevin Lucas, who inexplicably call their band JONAS.

But at the school, whose mascot seems to be plaid clothing and accessories, the brothers just want to blend in -- and, okay, also go to Kevin's locker, where (what wackiness!) he's stashed a blender that makes delicious fruit smoothies.

In the premiere episode, which airs tomorrow night at 8, Nick, the sensitive, serious and talented one, becomes smitten with Penny, a classmate who happens to be an aspiring singer. Much to the chagrin of his meddling brothers, Nick writes a plaintive puppy-love song for Penny. Only there's a misunderstanding about what "for her" actually means. And stuff happens, including a series of sight gags during the centerpiece performance of the strummy song "Give Love a Try." There's also a "joke" about an otter that plays the trumpet. LOLOL.

If this sounds like your idea of must-see TV, then congratulations and happy belated 11th birthday, young lady.

If this sounds like a half-baked teeny-bopper take on "Flight of the Conchords" -- if not 22-or-so minutes of televised torture -- you won't find much disagreement here.

It's as if the JoBros are launching a TV series simply for the sake of launching a TV series. Which is to say: For the sake of Disney-style multi-platform pop culture domination, having already logged a best-selling album, a made-for-TV movie in "Camp Rock," etc.

Does the world need a Jonas Brothers TV series? Do the Jonas Brothers?

Originally, "JONAS" was supposed to have been called "J.O.N.A.S.," an acronym for "Junior Operatives Networking As Spies." The brothers were going to be engaged in espionage, living double lives. JoBros: International boys of mystery! Sure, maybe.

But somebody, somewhere along the way, decided otherwise. Did they find the idea too ambitious, given the handsome, wholesome siblings' jampacked touring and recording schedules and, also, their limited acting abilities? Or did the Disney overlords just decide it would make more sense to do a show that stays true to the Jonas brand by being about the brothers Jonas, only not really?

And so now, we have a show that opens with the Jonas Brothers as the Lucas Brothers as JONAS performing one of those catchy and completely inoffensive Jonas Brothers songs, with plenty of additional Jonas Brothers references sprinkled throughout. In Episode No. 1, for instance, there's a riff on some of the band's best-known song titles, from "Burnin' Up" to "S.O.S."

On the other hand: Their father isn't actually Kevin Jonas Sr., but rather Tom Lucas, played by John Ducey, who introduces himself to the audience in a shower cap because, you know, adults are required by kiddie-TV-show law to be kind of goofy, right?

Also, whereas bedlam follows the Jonas Brothers through the real world, and high-pitched squeals have become the soundtrack to their lives, there's a decided shortage of hyperventilating, shrieking and even gawking on "JONAS" -- as if the majority of their classmates really don't care that they go to school with a trio of teen idols.

As. If.

Then again, fame is especially fleeting in the fickle world of kiddie pop. And the wheels already seem to be wobbling on the Jonas Brothers bandwagon, as "Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience" was something of a flop, grossing less than $20 million at the box office. (Comparatively, "Hannah Montana: The Movie" pulled in more than $60 million. See, Nick, your ex Miley really does have the best of both worlds!)

Could be, then, that "JONAS" is just art imitating the half-life of fame.

JONAS (30 minutes) premieres tomorrow tonight at 8 on the Disney Channel.

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