Season 1, Episode 1
Date of release: January 17, 2020 (Disney+)
With the streaming network from the Mouse House in existence, writers and producers finally have the opportunity to get stories for kids on the air that have too much diversity and inclusivity for the Disney Channel to handle. Characters that are non-white, dialogue scenes that do not necessarily have to be in English, and back stories which are able to be recognized by more than just the white upper class among the audiences. As fun as some of the Disney Channel sitcoms are, it is very much recognizable how they have been cut from the same type of wood and how that could not have continued for much longer without at least the social justice warriors on social media to raise their fists in desperation to watch something more unique coming from the studio. DIARY OF A FUTURE PRESIDENT would have been perfect for the Disney Channel to prove that they can also to something that does not make them look racist, but as it turns out the show is produced by CBS Television Studios and was originally developed for The CW. Who would have expected for a The CW show to land with Disney at one point? Let this be part of every history lesson about Disney as a studio: DIARY OF A FUTURE PRESIDENT is a show Disney bought from a rival studio to air on the internet, because it is not a show that could have ever come out of the minds of the Disney executives themselves. But I guess baby steps, right?
Yes, we can consider us lucky that the show has made it to the streaming service at least, and we can thank the streaming gods that Disney does not want to try to be extra special and obnoxious with their television and movie offerings, now that they have a streaming service to sell to customers. DIARY OF A FUTURE PRESIDENT is as much a TV show as any other on the Disney Channel, only without the same laugh track over and over, and with a budget that gave the producers the finances to get out of the soundstage and shoot on location. It is the kind of show that should have aired on the Disney Channel, so that the TV network can join the twenty-first century of producing content for television. It is the kind of show that may have been necessary a decade ago, just to tell the world that there is nothing wrong with female protagonists, especially when they follow a path usually occupied by male characters (although I ask myself if any boy in middle school thought of himself as a future president or Supreme Court Justice, because within a fictional narrative, it seems to be an arc tailor-made for girls). It shall be the kind of show inspiring a new generation of girls, which is hopefully not too late, considering the current eroding of political norms and the return of Nazis during the second decade of the twenty-first century.
As a recent fan of whatever the Disney Channel has been offering to my eyeballs and my mind (granted, I have not watched a lot yet), DIARY OF A FUTURE PRESIDENT seemed like the perfect show to bring me away from the mostly over-the-top sitcomedy and deliver a show that tries to be true to life, grounded, develop characters who look and talk and feel real, and which could be considered a show that could easily give Disney an opportunity to be as generic as possible with their latest choice of a TV show premise, but also be diverse and inclusive enough to tone down some of the badmouthing against the studio when it comes to hiring Hollywood minorities. The majority of DIARY OF A FUTURE PRESIDENT is non-white, and the Spanish language is spoken more often in this episode than between Alex Russo and her mother Theresa in all four seasons of WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE (I assume, but the math should be close to right, if not correct). And in the meantime, the life of a middle schooler looks more real than it did in GIRL MEETS WORLD, although I do not think that the middle school life can never be as real on a Disney show as it was on LIZZIE MCGUIRE.
The premiere episode did its best to introduce the characters and develop the initial premise, although after the first 23 minutes, it is questionable why the idea of a future president is even needed in the show when the general idea of a 12-year-old girl’s life in middle school who goes through friends, conniving brothers, and potential stepfathers is already grand enough to fill an entire television show. The episode started with Gina Rodriguez’s version of Elena, planning her first address as President of the United States, but then the political aspect of the premise was dropped for the remainder of the episode and Tess Romero’s version of Elena started dealing with the jungle of middle school, including having crushes on boys, dealing with ex-girlfriends, and the definitely upcoming first period, which Elena is most likely handling with grace, considering she is already dealing with periods before she ever deals with them personally. Does this mean her education is already on a high level compared to other middle schoolers? Would Elena beat Riley Matthews from GIRL MEETS WORLD in a debate about a random social topic?
The reason I figured that the premise of Elena being a future president being potentially unnecessary lies in her home story. Her father died three years ago, which means she might still try to get over the loss of her father while searching for a new father figure in her life. Her brother most likely became a conniving little dude because the father figure was missing from the home. And her mother is lovesick and ready to move on to the next stage of her life, which means there will be a lot of dating in the house, if Sam Faber does not happen to work out with Gabi in the long run. T(w)eenage characters with a missing parental figure in their lives are intriguing enough to fill an entire series with character arcs, but DIARY OF A FUTURE PRESIDENT apparently needs Elena’s political future to make an anchor out of, begging the question if the majority of the show will have a political edge to it. Maybe Elena will continue to learn about World War Two and figure out America’s history through school and whichever morale of the story she comes across, but maybe Elena will finish off her middle school career as class president and this season of the show is already planning to seed her dreams of becoming POTUS in thirty to forty years. Or maybe the show will go through the vocabulary of the lives of politicians, and take on one word in each episode, trying to sow it into Elena’s middle school life as she is learning how to live life by making compromises (the lesson of this episode: getting an ally by keeping a secret).
Fact is that DIARY OF A FUTURE PRESIDENT has so many premises to work with, you could drop one or two of them to focus on the others and you won’t even notice it. That could be a good thing for the show or a bad thing for the narrative in the long run. The former would be excellent and give the show life past its middle school era, which the characters will hopefully enter soon (the high school life of a future president might be a little more exciting, and not just because it could lead to the female equivalent of MR. STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT). The latter could be glossed over by a solid cast and well-written “morale lessons of the week.” There is definitely a lot of potential in DIARY OF A FUTURE PRESIDENT, which is why I wonder why it has been developed as a half-hour family comedy, and if the writers knew what they had in possession here. The next few episodes will give an answer to that.