On Feb. 19, Disney Channel renewed the network’s hit television series, “Andi Mack,” for a third season. Over the course of the past two seasons, “Andi Mack” has broken barriers in children’s television, transforming the way it is perceived and will be produced in the future.
In April of 2017, a Disney Channel Original Series debuted on the network that would transform not only the Disney Channel, but children’s television altogether. The premiere came at a time when it seemed all hope was lost for the network.
Ratings had steadily been decreasing over the years and with cheesy series such as “Best Friends Whenever” and “Girl Meets World,” the future looked pretty bleak. However, the release of “Andi Mack” put Disney Channel back on the map in terms of children’s programming.
“Andi Mack” succeeds in great part due to its ability to be transparent and realistic. The show doesn’t shy away from opening up conversations on topics usually deemed taboo. Disney Channel puts a halt to the excuse that children’s programming shouldn’t expose children to certain topics.
Instead, they have chosen to finally embrace the reality of society in the 21st century and accurately portray the coming of age process. This means covering topics such as mental health and sexuality.
“Andi Mack” follows the story of a girl on the cusp of adolescence. Andi Mack herself is a Chinese American with a short pixie cut. Already, she challenges the societal norms for a girl her age and the Disney norm; this is Disney’s first series that showcases a Chinese American as the title character.
Also, Andi herself sports a pixie cut – short hair amongst young girls, especially in the past, has been seen as wrong or different. By showing a confident girl with short hair on a Disney television show, the network has taken the opportunity to inspire other young girls to be self-confident and unique. Though, this is only the beginning of the show.
Soon after the show’s debut, Andi Mack, who is played by actress Peyton Elizabeth Lee, discovers that her sister is actually her mother and that the woman she has come to know and love as her mother is actually her grandmother. This setup insinuates Andi was the result of a teenage pregnancy and already comes from a complex family dynamic.
It’s later discovered that her sister-turned-mother is not with her father either. Teenage pregnancy is one of the taboo topics that children’s programming usually steers clear of. However, even insinuating a teenage pregnancy is a huge step for Disney Channel in addressing the truth and reality of the world.
The area in which “Andi Mack” is most impactful, however, is within its discussion and focus on sexuality. Cyrus, played by actor Joshua Rush, is Andi’s best friend and throughout the first season of the series, there were several clues that left fans puzzled over the sexuality of Cyrus.
Not only this, but viewers were confused that the show was even going to touch on this topic. Eventually, Cyrus reveals to his and Andi’s shared best friend, Buffy, that he is interested in one of the boys at school in more than “just a friend” kind of way.
Prior to this, the Disney Channel featured a lesbian couple as minor characters on the hit show “Good Luck Charlie.” Never, though, in the network’s history, has a major character on a show been presented as openly gay — this is huge for the network.
Showcasing a young, gay character on a popular television station will transform the lives of so many young people across the nation. For years, individuals who have felt different and neglected now have someone to look up to: Cyrus.
They have someone that they can see themselves in, someone that might actually help them to understand why they feel the way that they do.
Most networks still view homosexuality as a taboo topic for children, but Disney is paving the way for this to be normalized. They want to open up a dialogue for children with others and their parents. It is a huge step towards not only a more inclusive network but a more inclusive society as a whole.
Joshua Rush says, “A big part of ‘Andi Mack’ is showing everybody who watches it can see a little piece of themselves in every single character. Being able to show people that little part of themselves is so important. It’s showing them their story is valid.”
But “Andi Mack” does not stop there. More recently, another title character, Jonah Beck, played by actor Asher Angel, had an intense experience with anxiety while attending Cyrus’ bar mitzvah (another area of success for the network, representing the Jewish religion and culture).
Producers did a terrific job of accurately portraying what an anxiety attack looks like for viewers. Mental health has hardly been talked about on the network and most definitely not in such great detail and specificity. It leaves young people who deal with mental health issues feeling less ostracized and crazy. If they see their favorite television character dealing with similar issues, they have someone to look up to during those mentally intense and difficult times.
“Andi Mack” has brought originality and representation to a network that was otherwise looking pretty bleak. The show’s ability to represent adolescence in such an accurate and realistic way has broken down barriers in children’s television.
Most children’s programming avoids the “real stuff,” preferring to create fantasy worlds where nothing ever seems to go wrong and the characters have perfect, one-dimensional lives. “Andi Mack” offers a stark contrast to that norm as the characters are three-dimensional and the plot lines aren’t fantasies.
It displays life and growing up in complete truth. Through ethnic representation, discussions of teenage pregnancy, sexual identity and mental health, “Andi Mack” has set the precedent for all of children’s programming to come.