When I was growing up, the “Filmed in front of a live studio audience” children’s network was Nickelodeon, not Disney Channel. Nickelodeon was the home of sitcoms and sketch comedy series that were proudly filmed in front of a live audience, usually at “Nickelodeon Studios in Universal Studios in Orlando, FL.” Between The All-New Mickey Mouse Club which ended in 1995 and That’s So Raven which premiered in 2003, there wasn’t a single live show on the network. But it’s now commonplace for Disney Channel, although the shows rarely make it obvious. That all changes with their newest series, Just Roll With It.
This new series breaks the fourth wall at the top of the first episode, with the show’s actors coming out to greet the audience and to explain that at various points in the show, their participation will be required via voting for an outcome through a remote in their seat. I can only imagine that this is what happened to all the chairs from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Play It! In the midst of scripted dialogue, a Disney Cruise Line-esque horn stops the show and the actors have to leave the set while the audience votes on one of three outcomes. When they actors return, they will be surprised by the outcome and have to use improv to stay in character. In other words, they have to… just… roll with it?
The series is centered around the Bennett-Blatt family. Owen and Blaire are step siblings with comically opposite personalities. Their father is a radio personality and their mother is a producer at the radio network. These scripted parts of the series are where the show really shines and the series is well cast, with all of the actors providing hilarious performances. I laughed more during the scripted parts of the premiere episode than any other recent live action Disney Channel output.
I’m sure kids will delight in the random surprise aspects of the show. However, these moments stop the narrative the writers created and serve as a constant reminder that these are actors in a role, taking you completely out of the show. More often than not, the responses to the surprise action are less funny than the scripted moments. And I even call into question how much is improvised, as sequences after feel like they are reshot without a live audience after they leave for the day. If the intentionally organic moments in the show end up being scripted, then what’s the point?
As it stands right now, I think Just Roll With It will be a moderate success, but one that kids and parents will tire of in short order. Some TV audience participation might fix it if they can get off the standard Disney Channel filming schedule, which usually shoots well in advance of airdates. Giving kids the ability to vote on at least one surprise in each episode would help keep them coming back and tuning in live to see what happens, which has been the challenge of every children’s network in the streaming era. If you like to watch TV with constant interruptions, then Just Roll With It is your show. If that sounds annoying to you, stay far away.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.