Friday, July 19, 2024

Andi Mack, A Season of Romance, Miscommunications, and Healthy Portrayals of Mental Health

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I thought I had long left behind my days of Disney Channel shows. The last one I had any interest in was Girl Meets World and even that was mainly because it was a successor to Boy Meets World. But that was before I heard the premise of Andi Mack. The titular Andi Mack learns the woman she thought of as her cool older sister is really her mom, her parents are really her grandparents, and everyone in her family had been lying to her, her entire life. The first season was focused on everyone in the Mack family readjusting to their new reality, with some classic teen drama thrown in for good measure. Overall the first season was fun and thoughtful, while also touching on topics that aren’t usually presented on Disney Channel shows.

Then season two happened and took everything season one did good and did it great. It seems like Andi Mack is on a mission to stand among the many ‘family/kid’ oriented shows tackling issues that were shied away from in the past. The season came out of the gate strong with the reveal Cyrus, one of the main characters, was gay. And that was only the beginning. Throughout the season Andi Mack dealt with issues ranging from mental health to learning disabilities to self-expression.

Season two continued to expand on the dynamics of the Mack family. Bowie and Bex’s relationship rekindles now that they’re both in Andi’s life. Andi, overjoyed at the prospect of her parents being together, convinces Bowie to propose. But, in a twist of usual television romance, Bex turns down Bowie’s proposal in spite of their obvious feelings. It’s revealed she said no because of the lasting remnants of one of her previous relationships. It’s not stated outright, but it’s implied that the relationship was an abusive one. Even with Andi’s support it still takes Bex most of the season to get to a place where she’s ready for a relationship again.

Regardless of their romantic issues, Bex and Bowie continue to grow as parents. They each learn different lessons about the sacrifices they need to make as parents. For Bowie, it comes when Andi learns about his birthday. For Bowie, who used to share a birthday with his late father, the day is marred for him now. But he comes to realize Andi put a huge effort into planning a party and for her sake, he put aside his own laments to enjoy the day with her.

Bex takes on more responsibility, earning a cosmetology certificate so she can better support herself and Andi. Celia, wanting to support Bex more, buys a business space for her. Bex’s growing responsibility begins to get in the way of her and Andi and they both come to realize that she won’t always be able to give Andi her undivided attention.

Ham and Celia have their own miscommunications in their relationship this season. Initially, with Bex and Andi living on their own, they plan to sell their house and use the money to travel. But when they realize they haven’t discussed their plans for afterwards they hold off on selling. Their miscommunications continue when Celia doesn’t tell Ham she’s buying a business for Bex and Ham doesn’t say he’s going on a trip until after he’s booked the ticket.

All the Mack’s had relationship miscommunications throughout this season. Andi and Jonah go back and fought on how they want to label their relationship. Jonah’s reluctance to be called her boyfriend tempers Andi’s own certainty. But when another suitor in the form of the artistic Walker turns up Jonah begins to have anxiety attacks. Associating the attacks with the uncertain nature of his relationship with Andi, he’s seemingly ready to commit. This time it’s Andi isn’t sure she wants the girlfriend label. Jonah’s anxiety only gets worse. He turns to music and Bowie for help, learning an instrument to help keep calm. Music also helps him woo Andi by writing a song for her. After having been so uncertain about themselves and each other for so long, they are finally together by the end of the season.

Buffy and Cyrus, Andi’s best friends had their own arcs this season. Buffy joins the basketball team. The boys’ basketball team. Naturally, this is met by opposition by most of the team, namely the team’s captain, TJ. The situation is complicated when she’s asked to tutor him and discovers he may have a learning disability. But Buffy can’t worry about the basketball team for long. Her mother returns home from a tour of duty, but she’s received a new station stateside. It means Buffy will have to move. After many bittersweet episodes of Andi, Cyrus and Buffy preparing to say goodbye, the day comes for Buffy to leave. And then she’s back an episode later. Doubly good news, she got permission to start a girls’ basketball team.

Cyrus had some of the biggest character developments this season. As mentioned before the season kicks off with him coming out to Buffy, revealing he has a crush on Jonah. He later comes out to Andi at his bar mitzvah. He spends most of the first half of the season preparing for said bar mitzvah. His short-lived relationship with Iris also comes to an end early on the season. While Buffy found herself butting heads with TJ, Cyrus found a strange kinship with him. He helps TJ come to terms with his learning disability. He also helps TJ apologise to Buffy. TJ helps Cyrus with his confidence. Their unlikely friendship may be developing the sparks for something more. Cyrus also helps Amber, Jonah’s ex-girlfriend by extending a hand in friendship to her. After he accidentally learns she’s in therapy (Cyrus’ parents are therapists) he keeps that information secret and offers to listen if she ever needs someone to talk to.

To Label or Not to Label

One thing I was not expecting from Andi Mack was compelling romantic relationships, so I was happily surprised when I got compelling, well-paced and believable. Teen romances in media are too often plagued by the same tropes. Love triangles. The girl trying to change herself to get the guy to notice her. All leading to something that doesn’t feel deserved. Andi Mack left those (mostly) in season one.

Andi and Jonah’s will they won’t they this season was believably portrayed. Jonah’s relationship in season one with Amber was plagued with her guilt-tripping to stay in the relationship so it’s understandable he’d be hesitant to jump into another one. At the same time, I loved that Andi wasn’t content to wait around until he was ready. I was initially worried that Jonah only seemed ready to commit when he started having panic attacks he associated with Andi. But as the season continued he opened up to others about it and started seeking help. He found ways to manage it on his own terms and he was still interested in being with Andi.

Like daughter, like mother. Bex and Bowie’s relationship was even more of a slow burn than Andi and Jonah’s. Personally, I wish we could have delved more into Bex’s past and the relationship mentioned. But I can’t be too disappointed. It’s still the Disney Channel and the show’s title is still Andi Mack.

Let’s Talk About the Cy-Guy

One of the major criticisms I’ve seen about the season was the handling of Cyrus’ sexuality. That it wasn’t dealt with enough and a fan favourite ship Jyrus (Jonah and Cyrus) was shot down in favour of a straight ship, Andi and Jonah. While the arguments that Cyrus’ sexuality was pushed to the background have validity to them, I’d have to disagree with the idea of Jyrus being unfairly pushed aside.

While Cyrus’ affections for Jonah have been present since season one, so to have the signs that Andi and Jonah’s relationship will be the main ship of the series. Personally, Cyrus getting over his crush was a wonderfully refreshing story beat to see for a gay character. Coming out stories will always have a place in media, but far too many follow the same story pattern of someone meeting a person who caused them to question their sexuality and then ending up in a relationship with said person. While there is nothing wrong with this storyline, queer narratives don’t have to be confined to it. Also, it’s not like Cyrus’ romantic prospects begin and end with Jonah Beck. Nothing is confirmed yet, Cyrus and TJ’s friendship does show the potential for more.

As mentioned before, Cyrus’ sexuality wasn’t brought up much, especially in the latter half of the season after he’d come out to both Buffy and Andi. Admittedly I wish there could have been some more time devoted to it, but ultimately it didn’t pose much of a problem for me. If Cyrus’ presence was there only for the moments that dealt with his sexuality that would have posed more or a problem. He was still a part of every episode. Often he’s the driving factor for the subplot of the episode. Thus far the series hasn’t done anything to make me believe Cyrus’ sexuality won’t be explored further in season three.

‘I’m Ready For Tomorrow’

The season as a whole was delightful and full of surprises. I could have never guessed there would be an overarching theme of the importance of mental health this season. It’s no Steven Universe, but it’s always wonderful to see more shows targeted at a younger audience tackling these issues.

It was also wonderful seeing elements of Chinese culture represented, in their celebration of Chinese New Year and the depictions of the I Ching. It was similarly wonderful to see Cyrus’ preparations for his bar mitzvah extend outside of the bar mitzvah episode such as Cyrus practising his Hebrew. Although, I’m neither Chinese nor Jewish so I can’t speak to the accuracy of either depiction.

Andi Mack is the kind of show I wouldn’t have expected to see on the Disney Channel for another five years. Yet, here it is, two seasons in and a third season on the way. Most Disney channel shows only get three seasons, with the most popular getting four. Here’s hoping Andi Mack becomes one of those rare shows that lives beyond its third season because it’s exactly what the Disney Channel needs right now.

Images courtesy of Disney.

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