(All images courtesy of Disney and Teletoon)
When it comes to Disney, their TV channels don’t always get the most attention, but one from ABC Family and Disney Channel might be the one to break that mold.
Sure, their shows have been getting loads of love lately with shows like “The Owl House,” “Amphibia,” and “Gravity Falls.” But stuff that aired on their other networks, ABC Family or Fox Kids. That rarely gets remembered.
On June 2, 2001, the first episode of the Jade Animation series “Braceface” aired on ABC Family in America, and later on June 30 of that year, it aired in Canada on Teletoon.
But what exactly is Braceface?
Braceface was a Canadian cartoon that starred the titular ‘bracefaced’ character, Sharon, as she navigates tween life in middle school. That is, in the first season.
In the second and third season (which we will get to), Sharon starts high school. And has to navigate all the awkward, typical teen experiences of the time.
The main gimmick of the show was obviously the braces, but in the show, Sharon’s braces were something of a superpower, giving her electromagnetic and electricity manipulating abilities.
From the premise alone, one might think that a relatable teenage girl story like this would’ve done well on the network.
And so did the positive reviews at the time.
From newspapers.com, an archive site for old newspapers possibly lost to time, an archived article from the Indiana Gazette reads as follows:
“The series has a fairly expected mixture of angst and humor, but it also has a slyly ironic undertone, as well as a genuine sweetness. Sharon’s braces also provide the quirk that sets her apart and makes her into someone with whom viewers can identify. She can be annoying but also endearing.”
Also from newspapers.com, this time on the Lancaster New Era, it had this to say about the show’s premiere:
‘“Braceface” takes a refreshingly light look at the junior high challenges – boys, braces, friends, popularity, parents, school, – without giving in to nastiness, violence, ill-will or dejection. Being a teen-ager might be traumatic but it’s not hopeless. In fact, looking at Sharon and her pals, it’s fun.”
So the show gets off to a good start, the premiere gets some great press, and thus more people are willing to tune in to the show. However, it’s only going to get more risky from there.
Yes, this show was surprising for a lot of people with how many topics it dealt with. Thus, gaining controversy. The show was surprisingly not a stranger to dealing with hard topics of the time.
Right from the first season of the show, on episode 8, Sharon goes on her first date, with everything going swimmingly, until she receives her first period.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of all the topics it dealt with. Raising awareness of periods and normalizing them is good, especially in the 2000’s, when stuff like this was held like sacred information. However, it wasn’t the only episode that dealt with such topics.
Episode 14 “Miami Vices” featured Sharon visiting her dad in Florida, only to get drunk on Rum and Coke.
The second season starts off controversial, as the first episode features Sharon and her friends starting high, and Sharon gets enrolled in a senior mentor program. Only to have an openly gay aspiring fashion designer as her mentor.
Episode five also rolls around with Sharon getting in trouble with her mom for finding Sharon on an X-Rated movie site. And only three episodes later does Sharon develop an eating disorder.
Now, these are very deep and personal topics for one kid’s show to cover. Now, you’re probably thinking, what about season three?
Well, season three never aired in America. And then the show got abruptly canceled on September 1, 2004, with American audiences never knowing the real ending of the show.
But that doesn’t mean Canada is safe from controversial episodes. In fact, the most infamous episode from the show is from season 3. So, what was the episode about this time?
Well, body insecurities. Specifically about breasts.
Sharon gets declined a seat to see a movie because she looks young, even though she’s a teenager. So, in order to look more mature and not treated like she’s younger than she is, she gets a pump bra.
From there, she gets a lot of attention from guys. It starts off minimal, only for it to get creepy real quick when Sharon attends a party later in the episode. While at this party, Sharon’s bra goes haywire.
At the end of the episode, Sharon’s step-brother gives her a pep talk about the importance of having control. Like how he was going through a cigarette addiction.
Yet, even with the show’s normally good intentions, this was the episode that really made Braceface infamous in the eyes of most cartoon viewers.
So, where’s the show now? Mostly forgotten, sadly.
Despite its ups, downs, and weird episodes, the show was made with a good purpose: to make the teenage experience normalized, especially for girls.
However, does that mean the show was perfect? Absolutely not. But it helped decrease the stigma around how awkward being a teenager is.
As of recently, media depicting teenagers in “adult” or risque situations are much more normalized in the world of live action television. Animation, not so much, and shows like “Braceface” would not fly nowadays. Especially since it’s mainly geared towards kids.
Adult animation can get away with so much, all while remaining a satire. But when a kids show does it for the purpose of education, it wouldn’t fly under the guise of it being “too adult.”
Even though the show wasn’t the best piece of animation to grace television in the early 2000’s, it did pave the way for more shows like it. It was a breath of fresh air for kids (especially girls) animation.
If you haven’t seen the series already, I would recommend giving it a look. It’s a nice, laid-back show that looks at teen life from a realistic point of view, with some superpowered braces mixed in.