The Members of My Nation, Awaken!

On the iCarly reboot, and watching F9: The Fast Saga in theatres.

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There’s only one anthem I’ll stand up for, and that’s Leave It All To Me by Miranda Cosgrove (featuring Drake Campana neé Bell). Do you think Karl Marx was looking over Carly’s shoulder when she said she’d wake up the members of her nation? Carly Marx? I remember Victoria Justice playing a boxer on iCarly called Shelby Marx. Is that something?

As I write this, I’ve put on Season 6 of iCarly in the background. It’s the final season which aired in 2012, and includes the iconic iGo One Direction episode where Harry Styles got Jungleworms from Carly’s infected water bottle and hindered the band’s performance on their web show.

In 2007, when the show first aired, the advent of the internet on television was relatively new and sort of a big deal. No one really knew the ins and outs of it just yet, and parents were concerned that children would be exposed to pornography or graphic violence of their own accord. I think around that time, my friends and I were putting in fake birth years to create Facebook accounts after successfully doing the same thing on Friendster. iCarly was one of the first shows we saw about the internet, and kids on the internet, no matter how clueless it was about how any of that worked.

iCarly (2007) follows two best friends, Carly and Sam, who start a web series (then webcast) after their tech-nerd schoolmate Freddie posted a video of their school talent show audition online. Freddie joins the two of them as the show’s savvy producer and cameraman. The gang grapple with their meteoric rise to internet stardom as well as their everyday lives, including Carly’s home life with her older brother Spencer, an eccentric artist that creates odd sculptures out of their Seattle apartment.

Now, in 2021, where the internet’s relationship to television is virtually inseparable, iCarly makes its triumphant return to TV via streaming. It’s very fitting. I, like many other barely-grown-up fans of the original show, binged the reboot’s first three episodes last Thursday when they dropped on Paramount+.

The new iCarly follows Carly Shay (Miranda Cosgrove) in her mid-20s, navigating life, love, and living across the hall from a now mega-rich Spencer (Jerry Trainor). Carly lives with her best friend Harper (Laci Mosley), a former socialite currently working as a barista at Skybucks. Sam (Jennette McCurdy), as explained in the pilot, has joined a biker gang far from their native Seattle. After two divorces and failed start-up enterprises, Freddie (Nathan Kress) moved back in with his mother and is a father to social media-obsessed 11-year-old Millicent (Jaidyn Triplett). After accidentally live-streaming her break-up and trying to get back at her ex, Carly and co. come to the decision to revive the old iCarly web show, but with a mature, grown-up twist.

I wasn’t sure what I was going into when I hit play on Episode 1. It starts out with Carly entering her dark old apartment with snacks and drinks, excited for her then-boyfriend to propose…starting a channel with her. Spencer is in the house cleaning with nothing but an apron on. Already out the gate: nudity, alcohol, and the word ‘damn’. When Harper tries to convince Carly to go to Spencer’s party, Carly says: “Of course you’d want to go to a party; parties are just a never-ending buffet of people that want to sleep with you! Cute guys, hot girls, and ridiculously gorgeous non-binary lawyers who get your name tattooed on their thigh.” This new iCarly is sex-positive, inclusive; what girlboss dreams are made of. Sure, the old iCarly had an inappropriate, horrible euphemism thrown in here and there much to the dismay of everybody, but this new iCarly takes what Jerry Trainor promises in this awkwardly phrased PageSix headline.

Already, and perhaps in a more obvious way than anyone was expecting, this isn’t Dan Schneider’s iCarly anymore. And thank goodness for that. The show is quickly setting up and following through on its premise: a show for the adults that watched this show when they were kids, and are navigating their adulthood just like Carly is. I don’t think I actually knew a lot about the characters in the original show, aside from Carly being nice, Sam loving to eat, hating her feelings, and good with a butter sock; and Freddie being nerdy but hopelessly in love with Carly. But now, I feel like I can relate to Carly and her friends a lot more.

In the ten years that have passed since her webseries ended, these characters went from sitcom caricatures to a close approximation of real people. At least, real people in a sitcom. Carly is insecure (don’t know what for), but wants to step into her own being again and pursue her passions. Freddie is dealing with fatherhood and his overbearing mother. Harper isn’t replacing Sam, but is a grounding presence and a loyal friend to Carly. She’s also hilarious, confident yet self-depricating, and one of the more exciting performers to watch on the show. Millicent isn’t just Freddie’s daughter or a lumpsum of incredibly online Gen Z kids, she’s fiesty and entrepreneurial. She’ll tell it like it is when the adults are getting out of hand instead of, you know, beating them with a sock full of butter.

Spencer hasn’t changed much aside from his accumulated wealth. His apartment’s nicer and the target on his back will be bigger in the class war, but he’s still zany, and still accidentally sets his artwork on fire. Though the absence of spaghetti tacos has been replaced with warm beers, champagne, and Swarovski crystal underwear, Spencer is still a good big brother. In the third episode, he re-jigs his entire exhibition to critique influencer culture (as much as a show like this can, anyway) after a meme of Carly goes viral to his dismay, owns up to his mistakes whilst helping his sister realise her own, even if it was at her own expense. It’s more How I Met Your Mother, than it is New Girl, but hey, it works. I later found out that the reboot’s pilot was directed by none other than Mr. Moseby himself, Phill Lewis. Isn’t that fun!!!!!

The show doesn’t talk about the internet like it’s impossible to demystify, but it doesn’t make up its own rules about it either. The internet is so different now than it was in 2007. Carly’s new livestream is less Twitch and more IG live, and definitely not whatever was streaming on the now-defunct iCarly.com. She shows people her skincare routine by slapping it across Baby Spencer’s face. Instead of random dancing, she platforms a guy whose slam poetry/interpretive dancing gives her the ick. She deals with trolls on burner accounts, stalks crushes' Instagram photos, and navigates the perils of the viral meme to merchandise pipeline; all facets of the internet—social media specifically—that we encounter today. Now, if Carly would promote Harry Styles’ upcoming films, compete in Louis Tomlinson’s fantasy football league, or buy a Liam Payne NFT, we might be able to get One Direction back together again. I think only iCarly has the power to do that.

Writing-wise, the jokes were cute. They were funny but not so risque that they would throw off the tone of the show or the tone of its predecessor. Carly recreates the infamous Megan meme when she’s looking up a meme of her own, Harper diverts an angry mob to direct its hate towards strangers slamming a TV show they loved as a kid, and Millicent even references the pandemic we live in. It’s all tongue-in-cheek, but doesn’t exactly bite its tongue. If anything, it’ll bite its tongue by accident eating a spaghetti taco.

I’m still awaiting the return of Carly’s arch nemesis, Nevel Papperman1. I want to know where Gibby is now that we know Sam is okay. I wonder if Emily Ratajkowski (yes, of Inamorata Woman, a brand name I struggle to type let alone pronounce) would consider reprising her role as Gibby’s girlfriend, Tasha. As much as I miss Jennette McCurdy, I’m glad she wants to distance herself from a traumatic and difficult time in her life and is working on healing from those experiences. She’s doing a super sick podcast. It’s made me cry a bunch already.

The future is iCarly’s for the taking, and I’m excited to see what it has in store for us, the members of her nation, next.

Grand Theft Toretto? Grand Toretto Auto?

I think this is from a scene where Dom and Ramsey climb into a truck they just flipped over from its underside. Yeah, that’s the kind of thing we’re doing now.

In case you missed my deranged tweeting, I got to see F9: The Fast Saga in cinemas the other week. I was having a really shit day and was falling behind on my deadlines, so naturally, I braved the local mall with my mask and hand sanitizer spray to turn my brain off for an hour and forty minutes.

And boy howdy, did my brain turn off! Some might say it was smooth, even!

After the trainwreck—more accurately, submarine wreck—that was Fate of the Furious, F9 was actually kind of fun.

The film starts out giving its best Ford vs. Ferrari impression. It’s grainy and colour-graded like an Instagram filter pretending to be film stock, a big title card lets us know that it’s 1989, and a Toretto is behind the wheel on a racetrack. It’s Dom’s father, Jack, pulling into the pits with his sons, Jakob (Finn Cole) and Dom (Vinnie Bennett), and pit crew leader Buddy (Michael Rooker) at the ready. Jack asks Dom for some counsel whilst he silently signals Jakob to do what he needs to do under the hood of the car. Once Jack is good to go, he heads back out onto the track, spots an issue with his car, only for a rival racer to corner him and send him spiraling. As the car flies through the air, it spontaneously combusts and Jack Toretto is forever lost to the flames. Dom can only scream from the sidelines as Jakob tries to keep it together. We’ll come back to this. The flashbacks provide a lot of the “emotional” context throughout the film, especially how they explain the arrival of a surprise Toretto sibling.

Meanwhile in the present, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are happily “retired” on a farm somewhere with Dom’s son, Brian. When Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) show up at their gates with an emergency from Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), Dom refuses to spring into action, much to Letty’s dismay. Of course, he eventually joins the rest of the gang on a mission to recover Mr. Nobody’s downed plane where Cipher (Charlize Theron) was meant to be on board. They find half of a mysterious sphere instead. There’s this insane action sequence (that I thought was kinda cool) where the gang brave a sea of landmines as they were chased by the military and a mysterious group come up from behind them to intercept what they’d found on the plane. Leading that charge is Dom’s estranged brother, Jakob (John Cena).

Apparently casting John Cena (not pictured because you can’t see him) was a decision that came to Diesel via the spirit of Paul Walker. Those were his words, not mine.

Jakob Toretto is apparently an international super-spy hellbent on obtaining all the necessary components to activate the Aries project—a convenient super-hacker thingy split into two spheres that lets whoever controls it the power to manipulate every computer in the world, including every weapons system in the world. It’s not a (reboot) Fast and Furious movie without some fickle cyberterrorist threat! Speaking of fickle cyberterrorism, Charlize Theron sans dreadlocks returns as Cipher, the previous film’s antagonist. She has bangs now. She teams up with Jakob and his multimillionaire friend whose name I don’t recall not just to get this weird tech bomb but also to exact revenge on Dom y su familia.

I forgot to mention that Jakob gets out of that situation with the help of a magnet plane. Yes, a plane with magnets that lifted an entire car while it jumped off a cliff. We’ll come back to those later as well.

Franchise favourite Justin Lin is back in the driver’s seat this time, both as director and co-writer. The difference between this film and the last three instalments are clear; F9 has a stark lack of Chris Morgan-isms that I find irritating. Lin trimmed some of the usual sludge in favour of honouring the original trilogy of films, including his first F&F baby Tokyo Drift, and tying the franchises convoluted timeline together. He even took them to space. I got to witness history: Tyrese became the first Baby Boy (2001) cast member in space, just as Ludacris became the first former Justin Bieber collaborator to exit the Earth’s atmosphere. I know they didn’t shoot in space at all, but neither I nor the other moviegoers could hide our delight seeing those two take on one of the franchises most dangerous antics yet.

This film is a little more self-aware than the other installments. It’s self-aware in the way iCarly is self-aware: a few tongue-in-cheek self-referential jokes to the kind of criticism (or praise) they would get as a piece of media. There’s this entire subplot where the film is trying to kill Roman. Roman himself is unwittingly testing a theory regarding his team’s and his own invincibility. Roman realises they’ve done some crazy shit and pretty much walked away unscathed. Before that minefield sequence, he gets shot at with nothing to show for it aside from some bullet holes in his jacket. None in him, though. After that sequence, he nearly gets crushed by his own car! But Roman lives to fight another day. Even when he went to space wearing a duct taped scuba suit, he was fine! He landed back on Earth complaining about space food! But that’s Roman for you. Always the open mic comedian.

What I also appreciated from Lin being back in the saddle is how much the ladies got to do this time around. Once again, we’re getting crumbs and nobody’s actually looking for adequate representation in the franchise notorious for boobs, butts, and big muscle cars, but for a brief moment, the women in the film got more to do than I had seen them throughout the entire franchise. But again, just barely. Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) is back and she and Letty go off on a side mission to Tokyo after discovering that my personal favourite familia member Han (Sung Kang) has been alive this entire time. I appreciated that the two of them had a conversation about how they felt. About what they wanted out of life and out of “The Life”. Though I don’t think their scene necessarily passed the Bechdel test, it was nice to see Mia and Letty get a moment to themselves.

Ramsey also got more to do in this film. Aside from her usual tech jargon, Ramsey finally gets to drive. To which we all discovered that she can’t actually drive. She ferries a lorry across Edinburgh with Tej and Roman inside. This specific lorry is fitted with the powerful electromagnets like the one on the magnet plane. They use it to capture Jakob and wreck half of the city along with him. In grand Fast & Furious tradition, the magnets will be used by the gang to help them defeat the big bad.

Now, onto my favourite part of the whole film: Han. Han is back! Justice for Han! He’s alive! “Naur he’s my bestie, it’s true!”, as the kids are saying. I was so excited to see how Han survived his accident in Tokyo Drift and Fast 6/Furious 7 (it’s the same crash it just shows up in all these movies), because that accident acts at the catalyst for the events in Furious 7. So if Han’s been alive this whole time, doesn’t that mean Furious 7 was just a lot of mindless destruction? Aren’t all the films that way? We find out though that Han has been working with Mr. Nobody. That his death was simply “smoke and mirrors”. Still doesn’t explain how he got out of that car wreck!

Han reveals that Mr. Nobody recruited him after an agent of his went rogue. That agent was Jakob Toretto. Han was the one to first secure the Aries project from its creators and takes in their daughter once they were murdered by other interested parties. You could say that all roads lead back to Han. I had missed his constant snacking and unwavering coolness. I had missed his compassion for Lucas Black’s clueless white boy character from Tokyo Drift. I did not, however, miss Bow Wow.

This film also marked the fastest a villain has ever sided with our protagonists; before the end of the final act, Jakob has already realigned himself with his older brother. It turns out Jakob sabotaged their father’s car under his instructions to throw the race, he didn’t know the car would burst into flames. Shown in flashbacks and explained by Walking Dead alum and titular Henry in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Michael Rooker, Dom went to prison because he beat up his father’s rival with a wrench. Once he got out, he realised Jakob had a hand in sabotaging the car, defeats him in a quarter-mile race, and exiles him from Los Angeles. But as the film draws to a close, Dominic gives Jakob a second chance: giving him the keys to his Dodge Charger for him to escape the people coming after him. The Torettos are almost whole again, and I’m sure Jakob will return for the tenth (and maybe final?) installment in the franchise.

I thought it was really nice how they honoured Paul Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner. Though Brian is never seen on screen, the script emphasised that he’s taking care of the kids at home whilst Mia and Dom are out saving the world. His car arrives in the driveway at the final, traditional Fast Family barbecue scene.

The soundtrack is alright. It’s very of the time, as in now, in the sense that it aligns with current TikTok pop/post-mumble rap trends. However, I can’t name anyone on the soundtrack that isn’t Ty Dolla $ign or the late Pop Smoke. I think there’s a Rico Nasty feature in there somewhere, but I could’ve been hallucinating. It was alright. Passable.

Some highlights: Helen Mirren returning as Magdalene “Queenie” Shaw and driving Dom around London, a blink-and-you-miss it Cardi B cameo (who is thankfully coming back in Fur10us), Letty popping wheelies on a motorcycle to the point where I need a spin-off of just Letty popping wheelies on a motorcycle, and my mum pointing and saying “That’s Merle!” every time Michael Rooker came on screen.

Other than what I’ve written down, I don’t remember much else. I think the smooth brainedness took over when I left the screening. I can’t wait to see it again when it comes to streaming services. Apparently I missed a whole post-credits scene featuring Jason Statham. I need to see that.

F9 is fun, it sets up the next film well, and it gets the whole gang back together again. As a whole, it was a passable project. It’ll get us from point A to point B with some action sequences in between, but it keeps the attention directed towards the future of the franchise instead of remaining present in the moment. I think we should let some films be passable. Just a couple. It won’t hurt.

Salud, mi familia.

That’s all for this week! Take care!

1

The actor that plays Nevel, Reed Alexander, is currently a financial correspondent at Insider, Inc. Isn’t that wild?