Once again it is that time of the year in P.E.—the yearly ‘Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge’. And like is always the case, most people are, shall we say, ‘a bit slack’ in the ‘ol physical fitness department. Ah heck, we’re Americans—which means we’re out of shape slobs. ;-)
Anyway, unbeknownst to anyone (lest Lizzie herself), Lizzie is a physical fitness monster. All that rhythmic gymnastic training and soccer league play must really have developed her body strength. She sets a new school record for hanging onto the chin up bar.
Not only does she have more upper body strength than Gordo and Miranda, but it turns out that she’s even stronger than Ethan Craft himself. Mr. flag football playing, basketball wielding, water polo participating Ethan Craft.
As if that weren’t enough, Ethan (possibly feeling his manhood threatened) then challenges Lizzie to an *arm wrestling* contest. And it is here that we, the audience, have to suspend our disbelief. For are we to honestly believe that a 14 year old self-professed ‘girlie girl’ is actually *stronger* than an athletic, physically imposing, 14 year old *boy*?
If this were Veruca taking on Ethan, then I could perhaps see it. But Lizzie is *slight* physically. She’s been shown to be adept at gymnastics, soccer, and basketball—but to be able to physically out perform an ‘alpha male’ such as Ethan? In *arm wrestling*?!? Arm-wrestling for goodness sake!
After her implausible victory over the most popular boy in the school, Lizzie is accepted as ‘one of the guys’ (hence the episode’s title). And to Lizzie’s (and our) surprise, she not only enjoys her physical ‘boy’ activities (such as flag football), but she’s exceptionally good at them. Though one has to wonder at the embarrassment level associated with being tackled by a *girl*!
Kate however, being jealous of Lizzie’s newfound status (and closeness with Ethan), derides Lizzie as having become a ‘total dude’. A rather lame attack, but then Kate’s offensives have been progressively less pointed ever since “Lizzie and Kate’s Excellent Adventure”.
Lizzie then undergoes a mini identity crisis as she fears never being able to get a boyfriend if they all just think of her as a fellow ‘dude’. But strangely enough, her ‘girlie girl’ look to combat this doesn’t make her appear any different than her normal look.
It’s then that we are treated to the single longest interlude with Coach Kelly in the series’ history. Usually she’s confined to barking out orders in gym. In fact, this is the first time we’ve seen her since way back in Season 1.
Turns out, underneath her physically intimidating form, there beats a caring heart. She helps council Lizzie that being good at sports doesn’t make a female any less of a woman. We’ve seen Lizzie get advice from everybody from Jo, to Sam, to Gordo, to Miranda, to Mr. Dig, to even Kate. But this is the first time we’ve ever seen Coach Kelly in this light. And as a consequence she goes beyond the one note character she’d been portrayed as before. This turn as councilor adds depth to her character.
Having her head on straight, Lizzie decides to go back to doing what she apparently likes—which is strenuous physical activity with the guys. This time in the form of flag football.
After lowering the boom on Kate (“No one likes you Kate!”), Lizzie goes on to play like Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens! She totally dominates the game with her wicked defensive efforts. She sacks the quarterback. She gets interceptions. She scores a touchdown. She is, as one character says, a ‘monster’.
As for the subplot, Matt isn’t doing very well at math (surprise, surprise). After passing out, everyone’s favorite guest star, Fredo the Chimp, shows up and does Matt’s homework for him. The *chimp* is doing Matt’s homework. And what’s more, he gets a 97% on it! Can we say “Planet of the Apes”? ;-)
After one brief scene with Melina, in which she demands Matt do her homework as well, we are once again treated to Matt’s passing out and Fredo’s coming in to do the work for him.
Eventually the whole thing is found out. While Jo’s disappointed and angry with Matt, Sam wants to know if Fredo could do their taxes for them!
Overall, the episode seemed strained somehow. For instance, in the subplot, it’s never made clear when Matt catches on that it is Fredo doing his homework for him. In one scene we see Matt assuming that he’s doing it in his sleep. Yet in another when he wakes up to see Fredo over his homework he’s not surprised at all, and even seems to acknowledge that he knew he’d been doing it. One gets the feeling that the script underwent some changes from the original draft to what we saw on screen. The result being that certain ‘revelations’ have been cut.
And one also gets the feeling that this script was originally written before “The Greatest Crush of All”. For in that episode Matt and Fredo make up for their ‘misunderstanding’ in “Mom’s Best Friend”. Yet in this episode Matt greets Fredo with derision—as though “The Greatest Crush of All” never happened.
On the acting front, all the performances are ‘keyed up’ for some reason. It seems like the actors were unusually peppy during the shoot. Jake wildly overacts as in this episode (though he has shown a tendency to do that in Season 2, not so much to this extent), and Hilary and Lalaine seem uncommonly ‘chipper’ in their delivery of lines and facial expressions. As though they were having just ‘too good’ a time. It’s a strange vibe that Hilary gives off more and more of during the latter episodes of Season 2. It’s almost a form of overacting.
One gets the feeling that the cast knew the show was winding down, and all that anxiety and nervousness imbued their performances with a manic sort of energy.
At the end of the day, while the episode is solid enough, one has problems seeing Lizzie as the ‘boy beater’ in sports she’s made out to be. Hilary Duff is about as girlish of a girl as one can get. She’s very slight of frame. To see her stand side by side with boys and to believe that she’s actually *stronger* than them just doesn’t jibe.
When Hilary’s shown running, it’s as girlish of a run as can be seen. In short, Hilary (Lizzie) doesn’t possess so much as one single trait that makes it look as though she could be stronger than a 15-year-old male jock.
She’s the least likely of tomboys to come down the pike since, well, *ever*. As was said before, if it were Veruca playing the role, that would be believable. She’s physically as large as most boys, and could conceivably hang with them in feats of strength. But Lizzie? That’s like one of the Dallas Cheerleaders out bench-pressing starting quarterback Quincy Carter!
The viewer can believe that Lizzie’s good at sports—but *contact* sports? Against *males*? That just suspends one’s disbelief too far.
This is ultimately a good episode, but one that feels ragged around the edges. The manic performances. The lack of screen time for the supporting cast. The seeming continuity gaffes. It all adds up for an off kilter feel.