As expected, Sam & Cat is the perfect continuation of both the iCarly and Victorious universes, which is the most unusual move Dan Schneider could have made after the end of both shows.
The big clash in crossing over two characters from different shows is specific to how those two shows ended. iCarly, a long-running generation-defining sitcom of the late ’00s, was given a satisfying conclusion full of emotional catharsis and releasing the characters from their various internal conflicts at long last. Victorious, on the other hand, is incomplete, lacking a conclusion for Tori Vega and thus for all of her friends. As a result, while one universe is over, another continues, which makes a crossover of the two inherently disjointed.
Fortunately, “#Pilot” is very conscious of this dissonance, and uses it to a certain advantage. For completing the trials of iCarly and becoming a recognized celebrity, Sam & Cat rewards Sam Puckett (played as always by the ever-confident Jennette McCurdy) with a motorcycle, gifted to her by Carly’s brother Spencer in “iGoodbye,” and a sense of agency that plays well with her free-wheeling spirit, represented once again by her tough-as-nails attitude (her prison record gets a nod or two) and love of all things food-related. Unsurprisingly, she’s the one who chooses how to spend her time in the episode; meanwhile, the high-voiced, optimistic, and rather naive Cat Valentine (played again by rising pop/R&B star Ariana Grande) is the one who winds up in unfortunate situations again and again, with Sam bailing her out nearly every time. (In one of the episode’s best early scenes, Sam almost looks like a superhero as she strives to save Cat from being crushed by a garbage dumpster. Give this girl a franchise!)
Despite this, Sam quite literally falls into Cat’s life, and it’s here that Sam & Cat allows for some opportunities in a post-Victorious world. Because of that show’s lack of closure, Cat is still defined in part by the characters of that world. However, one of Victorious‘s primary weaknesses was how skewed the show’s perspective was due in part to being presented primarily from Tori’s point of view. While Tori was occasionally dragged into the madness that is Cat Valentine, the latter character was largely just a cog in the machine of Hollywood Arts, at times committed and immensely talented, at other times more than a little “crazy” for her friends to start wondering if she’s okay. (To say nothing of the running joke involving her brother’s mishaps; the brother is sadly missing from the pilot episode, but who knows what will happen on this show.) Here, though, she has a life that, as always happens in pilot episodes, falls apart almost immediately after Sam’s arrival. With her Nona now moving into an elderly home, and with her parent show now gone forever, Cat will have to sink or swim on her own merits. The character could live on archetype in an ensemble, but an “odd-couple dynamic” (as she calls it out at the end of the pilot) requires a bit more flesh on the bones.
While “#Pilot” leaves little doubt as to its sitcom merits (this is a Dan Schneider production, after all), I am mostly interested in watching to see if Cat, with Sam’s help, will grow beyond the characteristics that defined her in Tori’s world in order to make her more relatable as a human being. A babysitting business is not exactly the plot vehicle I would have chosen for these two characters, yet it may be exactly what both of them needs. It’s hard to judge a whole show based on a pilot, but my curiosity is certainly piqued.
(I don’t intend to write about this show every week, but as long as it’s on the air, I’ll drop a post on it every now and again, if something strikes me that I think might be worth mentioning.)