Kids Incorporated was a children’s show that aired first in syndication, and then on the Disney Channel, between 1984 and 1993 (in reruns until 1996). Its premise was quite simple: a group of kids form a band and play a regular gig at the local soda shop, the P*lace. While there, they experience the various trials and tribulations of being a kid, and learn how to work their problems out with minimal adult intervention. It’s a show “for kids, about kids, and starring kids,” as the promo for its pilot put it.
The show was pretty obviously influenced by the wildly popular TV series Fame, which ran from 1982-1987. Like Fame, Kids Incorporated was set in New York City (albeit a fantastic version of the same) and focused on a group of musically talented kids, with loads of in-character musical performances and choreographed dance numbers. Where the two shows differed was the elements of plot: Fame was set in high school, with all its resultant pressures, drama, and romantic conflict. Kids Incorporated, by comparison, with its younger cast (3/5ths of whom were in elementary school during the first season) tackled more age-appropriate problems, like dealing with being in the hospital, having to wear glasses, or peer pressure to join cliques or smoke cigarettes. There were quite a few retellings of classic fairytales over the years, as well as other elaborate fantasy sequences in which the characters work through whatever dilemma they face.
There is a distinct lack of overt romance in the show – no surprise, considering the target age group, but it did begin to have unintended consequences as the cast members grew up. To acknowledge (and/or combat) this, the production team threw its audience a bone – to represent the experience of going through puberty and experiencing hormones for the first time, each character has a ‘crush’ episode, where he or she falls in love with a non-cast member and deals with those feelings. (Of course, after the crush episodes, these guest-starring objects of affection are never seen or heard from again, LOL.) These episodes are basically a rite of passage – until it happens, the characters can safely be assumed to still think the opposite sex has cooties.
The first two seasons of Kids Incorporated ran in syndication, and thus contain 26 episodes each. The then-premium Disney Channel bought the rights in 1986, and began to produce 13-episode seasons, which were filmed during the summer. One of the best things about the show is that we could actually see the characters grow up and evolve. Though they aimed for the 12-and-younger set, quite a few of us fans kept watching until we were well into our teens – such was the attachment we had to the show, the characters, and the incredibly talented performers.
Make no mistake – the show revolves around music. 5 performances are crammed into each 22 minute episode, leaving little in the way of raw canon. The songs, a mix of present-day pop covers, oldies, and original music composed for the series, play an incredibly important role in the show – all of the songs are carefully chosen to link thematically to the storyline of the episode. All of the cast members also sang their own vocal tracks, although they didn’t perform any of them live on the show. It’s not quite at the level of a “characters randomly break into song” musical, though there was a definite element of the fantastic/surreal. What’s important to know is that, in general, there are three onstage performances, one solo or duet by the cast member(s) who are the focus of the episode, and one fantasy sequence, which showcased the dance troupe, who doubled as the group’s backing band on stage.
Obviously, on a show with such a strong emphasis on performance, you have to have a great cast. The first three seasons of Kids Incorporated contained just exactly that, before changes slowly start to creep in. Characters aged out of the show in rapid succession – by season six, there was only one original cast member; by season seven, she was gone as well. Production was put on hiatus in 1990 (what would’ve been the show’s seventh season, and its first with a *complete* cast turnover), and the show was re-tooled and updated to tap into the emerging tween market, but without those characters we’d all grown up with, the draw and attachment was gone, and the show was never the same. It only lasted two and half more seasons before the plug was pulled for good.
Luckily, my OTP for this series starred in the strong first half of the original series run =)
Let’s meet them, shall we?
• Cast member: 1985 – 1988
• Male lead: 1985 – 1988
• Instruments played: guitar, bass guitar, percussion, piano (traditional, electric keyboard, keytar), alto sax, and the occasional tambourine :P
• Best known as: lead guitarist
Ryan is probably one of the more unique characters on television – he is, on the face of it, a bundle of contradictions. To look at him is to think “punk,” but to listen to him is to hear “nerd.” He rolls into town with a big attitude (and equally big spikes in his hair), brimming with the sort of confidence that can only come from within, and he doesn’t seem to care what people think of him. He’s equally open about his love for music as he is his love of learning. He’s into just about everything – computers, science, great literature, hard-boiled detective novels, old-noir classic age Hollywood. He reads medical journals for fun, and writes rock songs as a hobby.
He’s a natural and charismatic leader, someone his friends and bandmates look up to and can turn to in their time of need. He can sometimes come off as a know-it-all, as he has a tendency to let his fount of (useless?) knowledge pour open at any given moment, but he always has his friends’ best interests at heart.
He’s fiercely loyal to those he loves, willing to step in without a moment’s hesitation if he thinks it necessary – but he’s also wise, mature beyond his years, and knows when to step in and when to stay back and let others work out conflicts for themselves. He’s friendly, open-minded, encouraging, caring, sensitive, and has a wonderfully dry sense of humor. He’s incredibly smart, but has the ability to display his intellect without making others feel stupid. As he grows older and becomes more aware of his attractiveness, he turns into something of a flirt – but when he falls in love, it’s fast, intense, and deep.
Ryan was the only true heartthrob character to cycle through the cast, and for very good reason – he had something that none of the others had, a quality about him that drew people like bees to honey. He transcended social labels and typecasting, making use of his ability to be friends with anyone, from the baddest badass to the lowliest geek.
Basically, he’s the Ideal Boyfriend, even before he’s anybody’s boyfriend, LOL.
• Cast member: 1984 – 1989
• Female lead: 1988 – 1989
• Instruments played: piano (electric keyboard, keytar), steel drums, guitar, tambourine
• Best known as: vocalist
Of all the characters, Stacy experiences the most growth and development in her character arc (not surprising, considering she was the longest-running character on the show). She starts out as the cute kid with the big voice, the baby of the group who seems content with her role. She has a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor, and enjoys getting into trouble with her best friend, the Kid. Outside of that relationship, however, she’s fairly reserved, innocent to the ways of the world and very sheltered by her protective older sister, Renee. She’s unfailingly polite, sensitive to others’ conflicts, and has a stubborn streak a mile wide.
Over the years, we watch Stacy grow up and come out of her shell. She’s always been something of a dreamer, thinking ahead to bigger and better things instead of focusing on stuff in the present – like schoolwork. She likes rabbits and fairytales, and wants to be a model or a singer like Madonna when she grows up. For her first couple of years, she’s typecast as the dumb blonde, even admitting at one point to her own ignorance of the Beatles ~ pretty amazing for a kid who’s in a cover band at the age of 8, LOL!!
But once she’s allowed to shed that persona, we see more of the ‘real’ her. She’s sweet, and kind, and grows up to be gorgeous. As a child, she was quite forward with strangers, walking right up to them and interacting, but as she grows into her teenage years, she becomes far more shy and self-conscious. She has a hard time dealing with her emotions, and finds herself thrust into roles that she’s not yet confident in playing. She continues to struggle with her schoolwork, and has a hard time adjusting to the rigid teenage social strata and her place in it. Still, she retains her sense of humor, fights her impulse to be judgmental and snobby, and continues to just basically grow up. By her fifth season, she’s a strong enough vocalist to step into the role of female lead with aplomb, and her insecurity around boys evaporates as she gravitates towards Ryan.