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THE SECRET WORLD OF ALEX MACK SEASON ONE
DVD. Fabulous Films

The Secret World of Alex Mack Season OneAlex Mack (Larisa Oleynik) is a thirteen year old girl living in the Californian town of Paradise Valley, who has had a really bad first day at Junior High, and things get a lot worse when a truck transporting experimental chemicals from the local chemical plant crashes and tips the toxic fluid all over her. Before you can say ‘Stan Lee Superhero Origin Cliché’, she finds herself with incredible, if somewhat random superpowers – she can turn into a puddle of water, control electricity and make objects move with her mind. Her best friend Raymond (Darris Love) and genius older sister Annie (Meredith Bishop) convince her that she needs to keep this a secret from everyone else – probably a good idea, as it turns out that the sinister heads of the chemical plant, who have been carrying out illegal experiments, are determined to capture and experiment on the unknown kid they know was dosed with the chemical.

That’s the set-up for this entertaining kids show from 1994, and the ensuing thirteen episodes deal with Alex trying to keep her powers secret – while finding plenty of excuses to use them – as she deals with regular thirteen year old problems – school, friends and family.

I don’t remember this show from the first time around, but it’s very much along the lines of Sabrina the Teenage Witch from the same period. It’s kid-friendly – obviously aimed at a 10–13 age group – without being condescendingly dumb – modern British kids TV could learn a thing or two from watching these shows. Generally light-hearted, it nonetheless has a decent level of drama to the stories, and while the tales often contain a moral lesson (no one benefits from being a bad person for long) it’s rarely hammered home. And while aimed at kids, I have to say that having seen these shows for the first time as a world-weary, cynical adult, I found them to be an entirely unpainful viewing experience – this is a show that you really could sit down and watch as a family.

The kids (including a young Jessica Alba as Alex’s school nemesis for a few early episodes) all give remarkably polished performances – they seem entirely natural and believable, even if the situations they find themselves in stretch credibility. The adults in the show are more prone to one-dimensionality, but given that they are generally parents (seen through the eyes of a teen) or cartoonishly sinister villains, that’s probably fair enough.

The SEcret World of Alex Mack Season OneIf you enjoyed this as a youngster, you might find that this new release fills you with a glow of nostalgia – and if you have kids – especially girls - of the target age, this is great viewing – a few Nineties fashions aside, it really hasn’t dated (what kid wouldn't like to have superpowers or an exciting secret?), and is a lot more fun than you would expect it to be.

Postscript: As you may be aware, the BBFC have shown that even in their centenary year, they are capable of howlingly laughable decisions by rating this release 15 for UK release. Their reasons:

"One episode in this TV series contains a scene in which a child character hides inside a tumble drier, The presentation of this behaviour is comic and no negative consequences are shown which would warn young viewers of the potential dangers of hiding in such appliances. While fatal incidents of children trapped in washing machines or fridges are rare, there remains sufficient cause for serious concern. The distributor indicated that they would be happy to accept a higher certificate rather than cutting the episode. The TV series is rather dated and would not have much appeal to a young audience when compared to current children's TV programmes. In addition, as the work was being targeted at an adult 'nostalgia' market, children would not be the 'natural' audience. The BBFC decided - given the work's history, the company's willingness to accept a higher certificate and that the work was not being aimed at children - to pass it '15' without cuts."

This is a nonsense. Aside from the fact that these shows have been broadcast around the world (including the UK) by Nikelodeon and other channels for almost twenty years resulting in literally zeroes of drier accidents attributed to the show; ignoring the insulting idea that kids are so dumb that they will automatically imitate one brief scene from a whole series of shows; and despite the fact that kid’s films and TV shows frequently show characters behaving in ways that could be dangerous if imitated – the suggestion that this incident is without consequence is a lie. In the episode (Annie Bails), Alex hides in the drier while in liquid form (something beyond the capability of most viewers I suspect), is shown to be in danger and subsequently loses control of her powers as a result of contact with fabric freshener. Given that everything that happens later is a result of this action, the episode would be uncuttable, and so to gain a lower certificate, would need to be dropped entirely. Applause to Fabulous for taking the higher rating. But seriously – if you have under fifteens who would enjoy this show, treat the BBFC rating with the contempt it deserves, even if you feel you have to sit your kids down afterwards to have a chat about tumble drier safety.

DAVID FLINT

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