The moment I learned that my favorite childhood show was on Netflix (or at least the first few seasons) I dropped everything I was doing to binge-watch the problematic masterpiece that is iCarly.
I must admit, a lot of the jokes on iCarly made me genuinely laugh – it’s a pretty funny show, especially compared to other kids shows from that time. Sure there’s a lot of “kid humor,” but there are definitely some one-liners that took me by surprise, and other moments that were nothing short of comedic gold. Despite the laughs, however, there are some very questionable moments and themes in iCarly that really don’t hold up when viewed through a modern lens.
For instance, let’s talk about how Freddie was constantly belittled and insulted for not being “manly” enough. Freddie was constantly made the butt of jokes because he wasn’t stereotypically manly or macho. Not only does this send the message to little boys that there’s something wrong with them if they’re not tough and cool, but it also manages to devalue stereotypically feminine traits. All around it’s just not a good behavioral example for kids. I actually noticed quite a bit of this kind of behavior; all too often “feminine” traits and activities were ridiculed and devalued in favor of “masculine” traits and activities. There’s a lot of misogyny and toxic masculinity that kids will never really question.
Despite being subject to ridicule all too often, Freddie himself is not exempt from criticism. His obsession with Carly was super creepy. I never remembered it as that weird when I was a child, but rewatching the show as an adult and seeing how often Freddie asked Carly to kiss him when she clearly wouldn’t want to, or him asking where he could “get one of those” in regards to Gibby’s attractive girlfriend really did not sit well with me. Not cool, Fredward.
Speaking of Gibby’s girlfriend, can we talk about how she was played by Emily Ratajkowski? THE EmRata? That cameo took me by surprise for sure. Too bad she was only used to be the stereotypical dumb hottie. All too often secondary female-characters were one-dimensional and used solely as comedic relief, categorized as either “dumb” or “crazy.”
Adding onto the problems of iCarly, we get to the all-too-familiar problem of the sexual assault and harrassment of male characters played for laughs. This is such a common problem that even children’s movies and shows normalize sexual harassment of men and ridicule male survivors. While the instances on iCarly seem less frequent and intense than most other examples, there are certainly instances where characters like Spencer and Freddie have been harassed or touched/kissed without their consent and used as punchlines. Call me a buzzkill, but I’m never gonna find someone being sexually violated humorous. These kinds of jokes send the message to male survivors that they won’t be taken seriously and that their possibly traumatic experiences aren’t actually a big deal. It’s a no from me.
Moving on, once I got to the episode “iDated a Bad Boy,” I was so excited because this was one of my favorite episodes when I was younger. Unfortunately, however, my memory of that episode is now tainted because I happened to look up the age of the actor who played Carly’s boyfriend in that episode. This was an episode where Carly and her boyfriend made out multiple times. Miranda Cosgrove, who played Carly, was about 15 or 16 when the episode was released. The actor who played her boyfriend? Twenty-three years old when the episode was released. They had a seven year age difference. That’s like a college graduate making out with a high school sophomore. I just want to know who greenlit this. You couldn’t have found a younger actor?! Or at least have skipped the making-out-with-the-minor? I guess I shouldn’t expect much from Dan “get in the van” Schneider. Gross.
There were plenty of other creepy things that happened in this show. All the feet stuff? I remember all the rumors that Schneider had a foot fetish and I would be surprised if he didn’t. It does make me sick knowing that if he did he was taking advantage of the young actors in his shows to fulfill some sort of foot-fantasy. I also wonder whether Noah Munck, the actor who played Gibby, really wanted to take his shirt off all the time. I mean, his body was played as a joke in itself in a way, which is really messed up and damaging to children with a similar body type to him. I feel like the show’s obsession with having Gibby take his shirt off is a little creepy. Adding onto the creepiness, there was so much unnecessary sexualization of young girls in that show. In one episode Spencer comments on Carly’s attire as if she’s wearing something super scandalous, when in reality she’s just wearing a normal dress. Did we really need to imply that our young, teenage star was sexy? It’s definitely not suitable for the target demographic of iCarly, and I’m so tired of sexualizing young girls for just existing. Let little girls have a normal childhood please and thank you. Oh, and Nevel was a predator, and that’s all I’m gonna say on that.
It’s time to talk about Spencer. I feel as though Spencer is probably the most universally-beloved character, and I’d say for good reason. His character is funny and chaotic, and his art was absolutely fantastic. Did someone say camp? But while I can appreciate the good qualities of Spencer as a character, I can’t ignore the red flags of his character either. The main red flag for me is that he blatantly objectifies women and really only seems to care about looks. And this was always framed in a way that made his behavior seem normal and reasonable. He’s a grown man but acts like a 12-year-old boy when it comes to women. I guess it works for the target audience, but some aspects of Spencer’s character really aged like milk in the sun.
Perhaps the most obvious flaw of iCarly is the lack of diversity in the show. The main cast is entirely white, and T-Bo is the only recurring character of color (unless you want to count Principal Franklin). The lack of people of color in the cast seems really glaring in hindsight. Additionally, I noticed that when iCarly did include people of color in their episodes, they were often based on stereotypes, one-dimensional or just villains (see: Kyoko and Yuki). Other times, whether it was the Japanese security guards in “iGo to Japan” or Sam’s personal chef Sonya in “iPromote Techfoots,” people of color were just played for laughs in the show, made to be “othered” by the fact that they weren’t white or American. There are no excuses for having such poor representation in television today, and this is not something that can be ignored.
On-screen action aside, there was so much alleged creepiness and predatory behavior of Schneider behind-the-scenes that I whole-heartedly believe. Jennette McCurdy went through hell on that show, and Dan Schneider really seems like the worst. My heart goes out to any of the children who were hurt by him. It definitely makes watching his shows a less innocent experience than it was when I was younger.
All of this said, iCarly is still one of my favorite children’s shows, possibly my favorite non-animated children’s show, and there are many great aspects of the show that I don’t want to forget about. For example, the actor who plays Lewbert gave that role his EVERYTHING. That man deserves a medal. He went above and beyond to play that crazy doorman. He was throwing full-fledged tantrums, crying and crawling on the floor, and he sold that performance. Props to you, Lewb. Most of the main cast are generally pretty likeable, and they’re all well-developed and complex characters for a kid’s show which is a plus. Also, as aforementioned, I believe iCarly is one of the funniest children’s shows that I’ve ever watched. For every questionable moment in iCarly (like calling homeless people “hobos”), there were some really great moments. I still recommend people to watch iCarly with the mindset that this show is nowhere near perfect, but can still be enjoyable. Rewatching the show was bittersweet for me, but I don’t regret it. The nostalgia factor was amazing with this show. It really brought me back to childhood. I think I love Sam as a character now even more than I did when I was little. Speaking of little, should I have been watching iCarly back in 2007 when it came out? Probably not. But I’m honestly glad I did.