Saturday, August 25, 2012

Old School Lane's Nickelodeon Tribute: The Secret World of Alex Mack

As we've been reviewing each of the live action teen shows that Nickelodeon released in the 90's, none of them has had a consistent flowing story line. With the exception of the character personalities (or lack there of, as we've been discussing about in the majority of the shows), you could watch any episode of any of these shows and not worry about missing any key plot points. Seriously? Watch any episode of Hey Dude, Welcome Freshmen, Salute Your Shorts, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and The Adventures of Pete and Pete and you will not miss a thing. Clarissa Explains it All is sort of like the exception because as the seasons progress, we actually see her grow up from an 8th grader to a high school senior, so it's has a bit of a coming of age thing going on. As for Fifteen, it is true that we do see the main characters go through their struggles and confrontations throughout the series, but most of the supporting characters had been switched around so many times that it doesn't keep things consistent enough.

On October 8, 1994, a new teen drama series did just that. Or at least an attempt at it. The show was called The Secret World of Alex Mack. 

The story is about an average teenage girl named Alex Mack (played by Larisa Oleynik) who lives in a small town in California called Paradise Valley. She didn't have a good first day of junior high school due to being teased by the most popular girl in school and not getting a chance to talk to a good looking teen. While walking home, a large truck drives out of control where Alex happened to have been and crashed into the side of the road. It hit a fire hydrant and accidentally dropped a barrel filled with an experimental chemical known as GC-161 and it sprays all over Alex.

When coming home, she tells her sister Anne, (played by Meredith Bishop) a scientific genius about the accident. While discussing the problem, Anne tells Alex that she's glowing orange and that something wasn't right. Alex finds out that she had developed superpowers due to the chemicals. The powers consisted of three abilities:

Telekinesis: an ability to make objects float in mid air and controlling where you want them to appear.


Having the ability to shoot bolts of electricity through her fingers.

But the one she uses the most is morph into liquid form and sneak around places without being noticed. She can even have do this to more than just herself. If another person were to hold her hand, then they both can turn into liquid form. Anne wishes to experiment on Alex to develop her powers so that one day they can go to the factory responsible for the chemicals. Alex decides that it's for the best that she keeps her secret from everyone around her, including her parents.

Meanwhile at the Paradise Valley Chemical Plant, the factory responsible for the experimental chemical GC-161, the CEO Danielle Atron (played by Louan Gideon) hears about the accident from the truck driver who caused it. She wishes to use GC-161 as a weight-loss drug, despite not caring about the side affects it would cause the consumers of the product. She tells the security guard of the Plant named Vince Carter (played by John Marzilli) to find the child who was hit with the GC-161 chemical to experiement on her as well as eliminating the chance of her telling anyone about the chemical's effects.


The truck driver Dave Watt (played by John Nielsen) partners up with Vince since he's the only one who knows Alex's identity. However, Dave wishes to keep her safe since he knows that Alex would go through some awful experiments after overhearing Danielle's conversations. George Mack (played by Michael Blakely) happens to work under Danielle and keeps hearing about the accident, but doesn't realize that the girl they're looking for is his own daughter Alex. The only other person that Alex told about her powers to is her next door neighbor Ray Alverado (played by Darris Love). He's Alex's best friend, sticking her side similar to Sam from Clarissa Explains it All. There's really not much to his character than that.

Throughout the story, Alex has to keep her powers secret from the Plant while Danielle is sending out Dave and Vince to find her. There are other characters in the show that interacted with Alex.

Scott Greene (played by Jason Strickland) is the crush that Alex develops throughout the show. He's constantly going out with other girls and having on and off relationships with them.

Jessica (played by Jessica Alba) is Scott's first girlfriend and Alex's rival.

Kelly Phillips (played by Hillary Salvatore) is Scott's second girlfriend and Alex's second rival.

Robyn Russo (played by Natanya Ross) is one of Alex's best friends and has a bit of a cynical sense of humor.

Nicole Wilson (played by Alexis Fields) is one of Alex's best friends and is an optimistic and strong willed person.

The show was created by Thomas W. Lynch and Ken Lipman. Lynch had created other hit TV shows such as Night Tracks and Kids Incorporated. With those shows, he helped started the careers of many celebrities and singers such as Jennifer Love Hewitt and Stacy Ferguson a.k.a. Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas.

The show was filmed in both Valencia, California and the Santa Clarita Valley. The junior high school scenes were shot at Thomas Helmers and James Foster Elementary Schools while the high school scenes were shot at Castiac Middle School. The Mack home and the Plant were filmed in a converted warehouse used as a soundstage while the exterior home was shot at a suburbian neighborhood at Santa Clarita.

Throughout the first two seasons, Alex goes through her normal teenage routines such as school, family problems, homework, earning money through odd jobs, and getting her driver's license while keeping her secret from her parents and her friends while the Plant is trying to find Alex's location. Seasons 3 and 4 is where the show starts getting interesting. A new boy named Hunter Reeves (played by Will Estes) moves into Paradise Valley to find out more information about the disappearance of his father. He eventually finds out that the Plant and the GC-161 have to do with the disappearance. Alex finds out about Hunter's problems and helps him along the way. They eventually start going out.

George is beginning to learn more about the GC-161 effects, Alex accidentally triggered an evil doppelganger after being in contact with the new GC-161 compound, Danielle hires an even more dangerous chief subordinate named Lars Frederickson  after firing Vince for not capturing Alex, and the Plant is one step closer into releasing the GC-161 diet pills to the public.

But the final two-part episode "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained" are the best episodes of the entire series. It's gripping, suspenseful, and ends in a ambiguous ending for Alex that made me happy to see it end in a good note. It was the most satisfying ending in any 90's Nickelodeon teen series I've ever seen.

There was even a book series of The Secret World of Alex Mack that was released from 1995 to 1998. With the exception of the first and last book, the other books contained original stories not found in any episode of the shows. The books are no longer in print, but you can still find them in Amazon or eBay for around $3.00 to $6.00 if interested. 

The show lasted for 4 seasons ending its run on January 15, 1998. Some of the actors and creators went on to other projects after The Secret World of Alex Mack while others faded into obscurity. 

Larisa Oleynik went on to do other movies and TV shows like Boy Meets World, 3rd Rock from the Sun, 10 Things I Hate About You, Bringing Rain, Pope Dreams, Psych, Mad Men, Hawaii Five-O, and Pretty Little Liars. 

Darris Love has appeared in other movies and TV shows such as Angel, ER, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Sucker Free City, Gang Tapes, and Janky Promoters. 

Meredith Bishop has appeared in other TV shows such as Mad About You, Sliders, Nikki, Felicity, Klepto, and Scrubs. She's currently doing theater work doing plays such as Atonement, Breaking and Entering, and Aftermath.

Jessica Alba has appeared in other movies and TV shows such as Camp Nowhere, Never Been Kissed, Chicago Hope, Dark Angel, Entourage, Trippin', The Office, Sin City, Fantastic Four, Little Fockers, and Machete. She's currently married to Cash Warren, son of actor Michael Warren, and has two daughters.


Hilary Salvatore has appeared in other TV shows and movies such as The West Wing, Without a Trace, American Pie, Bring it On, Promised Land, Dharma and Greg, NCIS, Cold Case, Local Boys, and Frenemies. She's married to director and screenwriter John Angelo.

Hilary Salvatore Actress Hilary Salvatore arrives at the 'Swarovski Runway Rocks' catwalk jewelry show held at ACE Gallery on February 20, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. During Oscar week, a 'World of Swarovski' exhibit, featuring Daniel Swarovski accessories, will be open to celebrities and stylists.

Nantanya Ross has been in other movies and TV shows such as The Babysitter's Club, Boy Meets World, ER, Baywatch, Bellyfruit, and Boston Public. She hasn't been in any other TV shows or movies since 2000.

Louan Gideon has appeared in other movie and TV shows such as Jailbreakers, L.A. Firefighters, Diagnosis: Murder, Dark Skies, Seinfeld, P.U.N.K.S., Treehouse Hostage, 3rd Rock From The Sun, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Six Feet Under, and Malcolm in the Middle. She quit acting in 2004 and is currently a real estate agent in Asheville, North Carolina.

Will Estes has appeared in other TV shows and movies such as 7th Heaven, The Fugitive, U-571, New Port South, Law and Order: SVU, Eleventh Hour, Blue Bloods, Shadow of Fear, and The Dark Knight Rises.

File:Will Estes 2011 Shankbone.JPG

When the show first came out, it was very popular and Larisa Oleynik became the new "it" girl replacing Melissa Joan Hart as the main female protagonist of Nick shows. However, looking back at this show, the show is a bit underwhelming and outdated. While not as outdated as Clarissa Explains it All when it comes to the fashion, but its storytelling. Yes, I did say that out of all the Nickelodeon teen shows in the 90's, this is the only one that has a cohesive plot, but it's wasn't executed the way it should have been. First of all, the secret. Why did Anne insist on testing Alex to gain control of her powers just to simply confront the Plant? Why not just call the police and report on the Plant of spilling the chemicals on Alex and not taking any responsibility of their actions? They could have sued the Plant, shown the judge and jury the powers she gained from it, and had Dave as a witness. The Plant would have been shut down and no one would have been in danger of the goal of releasing the GC-161 to the public. Easy, right?

If they weren't going to confess to the police, that's fine. But here comes the second thing that they should have executed better: more development on Danielle, Vince, Dave, Lars, and the Plant. The show mostly focuses on Alex's regular life of school, dealing with bullies, hanging out with her friends, getting a job, developing control of her powers, and not being discovered by any spies working on the Plant. Take those last two focuses away and you have a formula for pretty much every other teen sitcom show they were showing at the time. Clarissa Explains it All already gave us an insight of what a typical teenage girl goes through. Why have another one? Also, it would be nice if we could have gotten some back story about the Plant's origins, who created the GC-161, what made Danielle become a cold, heartless person, what Dave is going through psycologically after spilling the GC-161 on Alex. I mean, the Plant pretty much controls the entire town. It would have been nice if it would have shown a little bit of a controlled totarillian environment similar to Animal Farm or V For Vendetta and Alex was the rebellious hero who doesn't follow their ways, but we didn't get that.

But the biggest complaint that I have to give is this: Alex has these cool powers given to her, but she really doesn't do much with it. Especially anything productive. While she does help people with her powers from time to time, she mostly uses it to either do simple tasks or she doesn't use them at all. Why? You could have done so much to highlight the story, Thomas W. Lynch and Ken Lippman. You had a really awesome idea going. I'm going to tell you two stories that had a concept similar to Alex Mack, but was executed way better.

First is Daredevil. Matt Murdoch is a lawyer who lives in a section of New York called Hells Kitchen. He's was blind as a child and was accidently struck with radioactive waste that increased his senses beyond the capacity of a normal human being. He uses his powers for good at night as the Daredevil.

The second is the 1995 Sega Genesis cult classic The Ooze. In this game, a scientist named Dr. David Caine finds out that his CEO of the power plant he works in is going to release chemical waste into the drinking supply of the city and get everyone sick. Only he has the cure and will only give it away if they pay him millions of dollars for it. When he's caught by the CEO, they inject him with the chemical ooze and flush him down the toilet, leaving him for dead. When David wakes up, he has now turned into The Ooze. He has two goals: prevent the CEO from completing his evil plan and getting revenge on the CEO for turning him into The Ooze.

It's actually a really awesome game that you should check out sometime if you have the chance.

The story should have had Alex use her powers either for good or for revenge. Better yet, why not both? It would have put some more intensity and suspense in one of the coolest concepts for a teen sitcom show ever. It only started to get really good around the 3rd and 4th Season, which, unfortunately, was a bit too late. More and more better teen sitcom shows starring female protagontists were starting to gain popularity among viewers. Before the 3rd Season started, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch debuted. During the show's 4th Season, Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted. A few months after the show ended, Felicity debuted. All three left a benchmark in TV history as some of the best shows of its time that still hold up well today.

Sabrina the Teenage WitchBuffy the Vampire Slayer PosterFelicitylogo.jpg

This show had the potential to not only be one of the best Nickelodeon shows, but probably one of the best shows of all time. While back in 1994, it was, but it has not held up well at all for today's teenage audience. Even the BBFC claims this while the first season was released on DVD on April 2, 2012 while giving a claimer to the viewing audience about a particular scene in one of the episodes.

"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 programs. 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."

Overall, it's sort of hard to recommend The Secret World of Alex Mack. If you want to check the show out, see only Seasons 3 and 4. If this doesn't sound like something that would interest you, then it really deserves a pass. It's a really cool concept and plot that wasn't flesh out to its full potential.

That's all for now. Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Thanks for reading.


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