Sunday, June 23, 2024

A Farewell to Andi Mack

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Andi Mack was a charming surprise when it first started airing: the story of Andi learning that Bex, the woman she thought was her sister, was really her mother. It was the kind of tale that hadn’t been seen before on the Disney Channel. It dealt with situations and characters never seen before on the channel. As much as that first season was about Andi coming to terms with that revelation, the show also took the time to give her family their own arcs as they adjusted to their new normal.

It’s rare for shows targeted at a younger audience to give the adults significant screen time, let alone their own fleshed-out arcs. The show continued to push new boundaries by introducing the channel’s first major gay character, Cyrus. Andi’s journey has taken her, her family and friends through self-discovery, heartbreak and growth while always packaging its messages in a way that never talked down to its target audience. In its third and final season, Andi Mack continued to be a paradigm of representation and depictions of healthy relationships.

The heart of Andi Mack’s story has been how grounded it is. The characters were always allowed to believably react to the events unfolding around them. Especially the kids, who all grow and develop at pace believable for young teenagers. The show never overplayed the drama for laughs or to create artificial tension.

One of the greatest surprises of Andi Mack was the arc behind Andi and her main love interest, Jonah. The biggest barrier to Andi’s and Jonah’s relationship was their immaturity. Even from season one, their relationship always zigged when you thought it was going to zag. From Andi realizing she didn’t like the person she became chasing after Jonah to Jonah realizing he didn’t want the label of being someone’s boyfriend. The third season opened with one of the most surprising twists in their story, Andi and Jonah, after finally getting together both decided they worked better as friends. They remained friends throughout the rest of the season and even avoided the overdone cliché of getting together again in the finale. It was refreshing to see such a real and healthy relationship play out, especially in a show with such a young target audience.

Speaking of healthy relationships, the one between Bex and Bowie, Andi’s parents, is one of the best depictions of an adult relationship in children’s media. Bex and Bowie were the real ‘will they, won’t they’ of the series. At every step, this relationship was treated with a great depth of respect. One of the main story arcs for the third season was their wedding, or lack there off. During the second season, when Bowie proposed, Bex pointed out that being a couple and having a daughter by itself wasn’t a good enough reason to get married. She wasn’t ready at that point and the narrative never demonized her for this. Bowie never pushed for more after her explanation and the next time there was a proposal it was Bex asking.  Even when, during this season, Bex has doubts about a wedding and the marriage, that never changed their relationship status. There was never any doubts about their want to be together, only about them wanting it to be defined by a ceremony or not.

Andi Mack also brought more representation to the table in its third season. We spend more time with Cyrus and his family, seeing more of his Jewish heritage. Libby, a deaf character, was also introduced this season as Jonah’s new girlfriend. She only appears in a few episodes, but she wasn’t just Jonah’s girlfriend. She and Andi quickly became friends, enough that the two confide in each other about their respective relationships with Jonah. Also, the show never makes a big deal about having a character who uses ASL to communicate. Moreover, the third season continued to expand on the already established threads such as TJ’s learning disability and Buffy creating a girls’ basketball team for her school.

This season marked the first time a character said, ‘I’m gay’ on the Disney Channel. Cyrus had come out to several people at this point, but he’d never said the words before. It was a small moment, but a huge milestone for a channel with a wide reach as the Disney channel. Cyrus also got his happy ending with TJ. While there’s little doubt the series was limited with how far it could go, it has taken the first steps, helping to pave the way for more representation of LGBT+ characters and other minorities in the future.

Andi Mack was truly a rare and groundbreaking series in children’s media. But going forward, the hope is it has helped open the door for more shows and movies like it. Ones with multi-ethnic casts and characters on and behind the screens. Ones with more LGBT+ characters. Better representations of mental health and disabilities. A fond farewell to Andi Mack and a thank you for the sharing the stories it did.

Images courtesy of Disney

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