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Zoey 102 review – Jamie Lynn Spears returns for unwanted nostalgia reboot | Film

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If I were a television executive, particularly one at a large streaming platform that contains a teen network, I would certainly consider a reboot of Zoey 101. The tween series, which ran from 2005 to 2008 and starred Jamie Lynn Spears as a boarding school student in Malibu, is remembered fondly by a certain slice of Nickelodeon-raised late millennials. Its ending felt premature and tinged with sadness, as the series finale aired a few months after Spears, the younger sister of Britney, revealed that she was pregnant at 16. Though the show had already wrapped production before Jamie Lynn became a too-young tabloid fixture, the popular impression was that her off-screen shock pregnancy torpedoed the cutesy, very PG series. (As a 14-year-old at the time, this was a brain-searing event.)

In other words, there’s an on-paper case for Zoey 102, the new Paramount+ movie reboot of the series, in the sense that there was a lingering feeling of unfinished business to the show and that streaming service logic demands anything once popular be tried again. But it’s a fool’s errand. The revisionist happy ending for Zoey 101 feels at best strange and too overdue to work. (The logline bills the reboot as Zoey finding herself in her 20s, though the cast “graduated” high school 15 years ago and are almost entirely in their mid-30s; Spears herself is 32.) At worst, as often is the case with the finished product, it’s so focused on recapturing long past, hazily remembered magic as to be cringe-inducing.

That mostly applies to Spears’s Zoey, a workaholic producer on a Love Island-adjacent reality show whose primary character trait as an adult – the reason she has lost touch with her friends, the reason she has thrown herself into a toxic job, the reason she does anything – is her ongoing fascination with her former best friend turned high school sweetheart Chase Matthews (Sean Flynn). The two have long ago lost touch, we learn, as years earlier, Chase went to Hawaii for Zoey and she ghosted him. Cue a decent-enough attempt at catching us up on the adult alums of Pacific Coast Academy, as Zoey scrolls through their Instagram pages to Charli XCX’s Used To Know Me and Kacey Musgraves’s Camera Roll. (The most adult-feeling moment in this movie is when the alums reveal that PCA closed because of an embezzlement scandal.)

In a desperate attempt to get ahead at work, Zoey double-books babysitting a dunce contestant (Zach Zagoria) for the live finale taping with maid of honor duties for best friend Quinn’s (Erin Sanders) Malibu wedding to PCA sweetheart/endearing rich kid Logan (Matthew Underwood). And in a desperate effort to appear solid to Chase, whom she learns has a serious girlfriend, Zoey hires an actor (Dean Geyer) to play her hot Australian doctor boyfriend for the weekend. Complications ensue, including very forced karaoke, a self-driving car and several references to the “is it cake?” meme.

Zoey 102, directed by Nancy Hower from a screenplay by Monica Sherer and Madeline Whitby, attempts to conjure the charms of the original, which was slapstick silly, aspirational in an extremely 2005 way (boarding school, beach, pear logo laptops, smartphones that didn’t exist yet) and rightly focused on what mattered to the audience at the time: the will they/won’t they pendulum of high school crushes. The reboot reunites most of the original cast, including Christopher Massie as lovable life-of-the-party Michael and Abby Wilde as Stacey, now a true crime podcast host. Chase and Zoey are still klutzes who run into things. There are now holographic smartphones yet to be mass-marketed. There are enough shots of Malibu beaches and Pepperdine University to keep the movie from seeming too obviously filmed in North Carolina.

But those nostalgia hits are mild and cheap. What little does work (the quality of acting was never the point of a teen show, and it’s not now) is undone by the reboot’s preservation of the original’s guiltless tone. Like many a millennial nostalgia reboot, Zoey 102 gets mired in an uncanny valley of adulthood – too sanitized, sexless and immature for the original audience, but not savvy (nor relatable or relevant) to today’s tweens. A scene in which Zoey, fresh off seeing thirtysomething Chase and his girlfriend, takes an angsty Malibu drive to Olivia Rodrigo’s good 4 u, its lyrics about an ex’s moving on seeming very pointed, underscores the eerie ongoing adolescence of the whole endeavor. Are we supposed to root for this?

If anything, the reboot, like the How I Met Your Mother retread before it, succeeded most in making me mourn the rebooted Lizzie McGuire series that wasn’t to be, as Disney deemed it too adult. But maybe that was for the best. Even as a fan, most of these teen show nostalgia reboots are better as a wistful idea than as a product.


If I were a television executive, particularly one at a large streaming platform that contains a teen network, I would certainly consider a reboot of Zoey 101. The tween series, which ran from 2005 to 2008 and starred Jamie Lynn Spears as a boarding school student in Malibu, is remembered fondly by a certain slice of Nickelodeon-raised late millennials. Its ending felt premature and tinged with sadness, as the series finale aired a few months after Spears, the younger sister of Britney, revealed that she was pregnant at 16. Though the show had already wrapped production before Jamie Lynn became a too-young tabloid fixture, the popular impression was that her off-screen shock pregnancy torpedoed the cutesy, very PG series. (As a 14-year-old at the time, this was a brain-searing event.)

In other words, there’s an on-paper case for Zoey 102, the new Paramount+ movie reboot of the series, in the sense that there was a lingering feeling of unfinished business to the show and that streaming service logic demands anything once popular be tried again. But it’s a fool’s errand. The revisionist happy ending for Zoey 101 feels at best strange and too overdue to work. (The logline bills the reboot as Zoey finding herself in her 20s, though the cast “graduated” high school 15 years ago and are almost entirely in their mid-30s; Spears herself is 32.) At worst, as often is the case with the finished product, it’s so focused on recapturing long past, hazily remembered magic as to be cringe-inducing.

That mostly applies to Spears’s Zoey, a workaholic producer on a Love Island-adjacent reality show whose primary character trait as an adult – the reason she has lost touch with her friends, the reason she has thrown herself into a toxic job, the reason she does anything – is her ongoing fascination with her former best friend turned high school sweetheart Chase Matthews (Sean Flynn). The two have long ago lost touch, we learn, as years earlier, Chase went to Hawaii for Zoey and she ghosted him. Cue a decent-enough attempt at catching us up on the adult alums of Pacific Coast Academy, as Zoey scrolls through their Instagram pages to Charli XCX’s Used To Know Me and Kacey Musgraves’s Camera Roll. (The most adult-feeling moment in this movie is when the alums reveal that PCA closed because of an embezzlement scandal.)

In a desperate attempt to get ahead at work, Zoey double-books babysitting a dunce contestant (Zach Zagoria) for the live finale taping with maid of honor duties for best friend Quinn’s (Erin Sanders) Malibu wedding to PCA sweetheart/endearing rich kid Logan (Matthew Underwood). And in a desperate effort to appear solid to Chase, whom she learns has a serious girlfriend, Zoey hires an actor (Dean Geyer) to play her hot Australian doctor boyfriend for the weekend. Complications ensue, including very forced karaoke, a self-driving car and several references to the “is it cake?” meme.

Zoey 102, directed by Nancy Hower from a screenplay by Monica Sherer and Madeline Whitby, attempts to conjure the charms of the original, which was slapstick silly, aspirational in an extremely 2005 way (boarding school, beach, pear logo laptops, smartphones that didn’t exist yet) and rightly focused on what mattered to the audience at the time: the will they/won’t they pendulum of high school crushes. The reboot reunites most of the original cast, including Christopher Massie as lovable life-of-the-party Michael and Abby Wilde as Stacey, now a true crime podcast host. Chase and Zoey are still klutzes who run into things. There are now holographic smartphones yet to be mass-marketed. There are enough shots of Malibu beaches and Pepperdine University to keep the movie from seeming too obviously filmed in North Carolina.

But those nostalgia hits are mild and cheap. What little does work (the quality of acting was never the point of a teen show, and it’s not now) is undone by the reboot’s preservation of the original’s guiltless tone. Like many a millennial nostalgia reboot, Zoey 102 gets mired in an uncanny valley of adulthood – too sanitized, sexless and immature for the original audience, but not savvy (nor relatable or relevant) to today’s tweens. A scene in which Zoey, fresh off seeing thirtysomething Chase and his girlfriend, takes an angsty Malibu drive to Olivia Rodrigo’s good 4 u, its lyrics about an ex’s moving on seeming very pointed, underscores the eerie ongoing adolescence of the whole endeavor. Are we supposed to root for this?

If anything, the reboot, like the How I Met Your Mother retread before it, succeeded most in making me mourn the rebooted Lizzie McGuire series that wasn’t to be, as Disney deemed it too adult. But maybe that was for the best. Even as a fan, most of these teen show nostalgia reboots are better as a wistful idea than as a product.

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