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Scott D. Pierce: Jack Nicholson inspired Disney’s ‘Andi Mack’

First Published      Last Updated Apr 14 2017 09:30 am

The Disney Channel's new comedy "Andi Mack" — which was filmed in Utah — is about a 13-year-old girl who makes a surprising discovery about herself.

SPOILER ALERT if you haven't seen the first episode. A few minutes in, Andi learns that her older sister is really her birth mother — and the woman she thought was her mother is really her grandmother.

It's a somewhat surprising, quite charming story of a girl (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) on the road to growing up. There are echoes of "Gilmore Girls," although that's not what inspired the show's creator/executive producer/writer Terri Minsky.




"This is based on Jack Nicholson's life story," she said. "I read a profile of him years ago, and I thought that would be kind of an interesting setup for a show."

Yes, the aging Hollywood playboy inspired this likable show. (In real life, the three-time Oscar winner found out — from Time magazine! — that his sister was his mother when he was 37, after both his mother and grandmother had died.)

The premise of "Andi Mack" is a departure for Disney. It's supposed to be.

"I got a call from [Disney execs] saying, 'We want to try something edgier. We want another show about a girl, but we want it to be as if it could be on Freeform,' " said Minsky. (Freeform is the home of shows like "Pretty Little Liars" and "The Fosters.")

Minsky, who created the Disney Channel hit "Lizzie McGuire," pitched the "Andi Mack" concept "not thinking they would actually go for it. And they went for it!"

It's not as if "Andi Mack" is risqué. Andi is a bright, funny, lovable girl, and her friends (Joshua Rush and Sofia Wylie) are good kids. One of the two main storylines that kicked off the series was about Andi's crush on a cute boy at school (Asher Angel) — a very Disney Channel-ish story.

But the other main storyline concerns the return of Andi's adventurous "older sister," Bex (Lilan Bowden); the revelation that Bex gave birth to Andi out of wedlock; and the conflict between Bex and her mother/Andi's grandmother, Celia (Lauren Tom).

That's not something we've seen in Disney Channel comedies like "Hannah Montana," "That's So Raven" and "Lizzie McGuire."

But "Andi Mack" is a show that parents can watch with their kids — and they might just enjoy it.

"I really wanted to write a show that mothers and daughters would watch together," Minsky said. "My daughter and I had a lot of communication that began with watching television shows. Talking about difficult things — eating disorders and bullying and homophobia. We'd watch it and then we could talk about it. So I really believe that television is this incredible gateway to conversation with your kid.

"I just really wanted to write that kind of show."

New episodes of "Andi Mack" premiere Fridays at 6:30 p.m. on DirecTV and Dish and 9:30 p.m. on Comcast on Disney Channel.

Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.

 

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