When Raven-Symoné announced on “The View” on October 27 that she was working with Disney on a “That’s So Raven” spin-off—and going to star in it!—I couldn’t help but hum to the original show’s theme song and smile for the rest of the day.
“That’s So Raven,” a show about a teen psychic named Raven Baxter whose visions always led her friends, her family, and herself into laugh-out-loud situations, was my after-school TV favorite growing up. My face was the epitome of the crying-laughing emoji every time Raven dressed in a disguise to stop a vision from coming true, or delivered either of her trademark phrases. More than that, “Raven” tackled complex issues such as race and body image with grace and discretion. And of course, the children’s show introduced me to my favorite faux-boy band, Boyz N Motion.
Really, it could go without saying that I had high hopes for the new series, “Raven’s Home,” when it premiered on July 21. And from the moment Raven uttered her first quip, I knew the spin-off held a lot of promise.
The Disney Channel sitcom picks up ten years after its predecessor, with Raven now a single mom raising eleven-year-old twins, Nia (Navia Robinson) and Booker (Isaac Ryan Brown). Feeling slightly overwhelmed in her new parental position, Raven invites her best friend, Chelsea Daniels (Anneliese van der Pol), and Chelsea’s nine-year-old son, Levi (Jason Maybaum), to move into her apartment with the kids; and while family and friendship drama is likely to cook up with five people living together in a tight space, the show really takes a tailspin when Booker discovers he can see into the future just like his mom. Because that means there are two psychics living under one roof, and that can only lead to a whole lot of trouble.
However, the pilot episode chooses to keep the shenanigans pretty tame: Booker just wants to prove to his sister that his psychic powers aren’t a hoax, while Raven is convinced that she doesn’t pay enough attention to Nia after a troubling vision. Granted, neither Booker’s nor Raven’s problems require crazy measures of intervention. But in “That’s So Raven,” resolving a problem usually involved a scheme and an over-the-top disguise, and in the spin-off, the extent of Raven’s efforts to shower Nia with love ended with her and Chelsea wearing shirts plastered with Nia’s face.
Despite the non-comedic turn of events, the cast knew how to score laughs with ease, still making the half hour a joy to watch. van der Pol’s Chelsea is as goofy and naïve as she was ten years ago, accidentally setting appliances on fire and praising the fabric quality of the Nia shirts. Interestingly enough, her son is a lot more responsible, but no less silly; Maybaum’s Levi takes comments a little too literally sometimes, which can no doubt get a person chuckling and shaking their head. The sibling squabble between Robinson’s Nia and Ryan’s Booker also has its moments, including when neighbor Tess (Sky Katz) jumps in to interrupt or make things awkward. And Raven-Symoné steals the show with Raven’s physical humor and snark, bouncing tennis balls off her butt and setting Booker straight about the origin of his dance moves.
Between the cast performances and well-scripted humor, “Raven’s Home” manages to do something a lot of Disney shows have struggled to do in the past decade: stay grounded. In the last few years, Disney Channel has seemed to get by thanks to the premises of its shows alone, such as that of “K.C. Undercover” (a teen learns her parents are spies and gets recruited as one herself), “Best Friends Whenever” (two best friends receive time-traveling powers after being accidentally shot with their scientist friend’s laser gun), and “Bizaardvark” (two girls join an online-video production studio when their online presence grows). Yet the premise of “Raven’s Home” is simple and understated, setting the stage for its characters and their development to do the heavy lifting; and considering most people remember TV shows solely for the characters in them, Nia, Booker, Levi, and Tess may be well on their way of joining the ranks of returning characters, Raven and Chelsea.
And although I’ve missed seeing Raven and Chelsea on my TV screen together, it’s refreshing to see them joined by a large group of newcomers in the show’s universe, allowing the spin-off to really tailor itself toward a newer generation—similarly to another Disney Channel original, “Girl Meets World.” But unlike “Girl Meets World,” “Raven’s Home” is just as much about the new onscreen parents as it is about the tween characters; Raven and Chelsea proved to be prominent fixtures in the happenings of the pilot, working together to make Nia feel more appreciated. There’s no way the two ladies would fade into the show’s background, only spouting dialogue when their kids need life advice. That’s so not Raven (or Chelsea).
While it’s still too soon to tell, “Raven’s Home” may be paving the path to a new golden age of Disney Channel, mirroring the success of its predecessor and all the other shows of the early and mid-2000’s. From the undeniable charm of its ensemble cast—both old and new—to its down-to-earth premise, the spin-off has the padding to be a multi-season series. All that’s missing is a bit more hijinks. And maybe a few guest appearances. (Ahem, Boyz N Motion.)