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Published: Friday, 11/7/2008

Keke Palmer makes teen series a good bet

BY MIKE KELLY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

If it's true that most teenagers suspect they're smarter than their parents - and nearly any other adults they know - those suspicions are likely to be confirmed by a comedy series that premieres tomorrow on Nickelodeon.

In True Jackson, VP, which launches at 9:30 p.m., the smartest people around are the teenagers. Any adults that happen to pop up in a scene tend to be simple-minded, shallow, juvenile, or some combination of the three.

The half-hour series, which centers on a 15-year-old girl who is suddenly and improbably made into a teen fashion executive, is a lighthearted showcase for an up-and-coming singer, actor, and Disney protege by the name of Keke Palmer.

The talented, 15-year-old Palmer previously starred in a family-friendly underdog story in 2006 called Akeelah and the Bee, in which her A-list co-stars included Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. Palmer also released her debut singing album last year, a pop and R&B collection called "So Uncool."

In True Jackson, VP, Palmer plays the title character, an earnest young girl who meets the head of a major fashion label while she's selling sandwiches outside his headquarters building. Intrigued by True's funky fashion sense, the guy offers her a summer job right on the spot - as vice president in charge of his company's youth-apparel line.

She accepts his offer and soon learns that navigating the grown-up corporate world is a lot like high school, complete with cliques, not-so-nice people, and even homework. But there are perks, too, not the least of which are cute guy models as well as an ultra-cool office of her own with a sliding wall that conceals a flat-screen TV and a fully stocked refrigerator.

To help her settle in, True enlists the aid of her two best buddies from high school, played by a pair of newcomers, Ashley Argota and Matt Shively. It turns out she needs all the help she can get, because most of the adults around the offices are openly resentful of the young newcomer in their midst.

Some snigger behind True's back, calling her names and making cruel jokes, including one that's particularly insensitive on more than one level: "Children shouldn't be making clothes," the woman sniffs, "unless it's in a factory somewhere."

It's not really possible, or fair, to judge shows aimed at teens by the same standards as those used for adult-themed programs. Like many youth-oriented shows, this one bludgeons its audience with treacly life lessons - always tell the truth, follow your dreams, brush after every meal, whatever - and it's not particularly subtle about it.

Most of the adult characters are little more than caricatures. There's the eccentric company owner, Max (Greg Proops, from Whose Line Is It, Anyway?); the icy executive, Amanda (Danielle Bisutti, The O.C.), and a host of snotty co-workers. The only one over the age of 16 who shows any signs of real humanity is Oscar, the office receptionist, played by Ron Butler, whose previous claim to fame was being a Barack Obama impersonator.

The show is painted in broad strokes, but when you think about it, they're no broader than those of many "adult" sitcoms these days - shows such as According to Jim, Two and a Half Men, and Kath & Kim, to name a few. True Jackson, VP has the benefit of actually being funny. Credit that primarily to its creator, award-winning TV veteran Andy Gordon, whose resume includes such quality comedy series as NewsRadio and Just Shoot Me.

What ultimately makes the series watchable, though, is the immense likeability of its young star. Palmer, who looks a little bit like a young Robin Givens, is a natural in front of the camera. True Jackson, VP may or may not have a great future ahead of it, but there's little doubt that its young star does.

Prior to the new series, at 8 p.m., Nickelodeon will air a 90-minute movie version of its popular comedy series iCarly. Like the series on which it's based, iGo to Japan stars Miranda Cosgrove, Jennette McCurdy, and Nathan Kress. The movie includes guest musical performances by the rock band Good Charlotte.



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