My cultural exposure during my awkward years was pretty limited: a Fall Out Boy CD, the pictures of guys on the sides of Abercrombie bags, and every weekday night at 8, “Lizzie McGuire.” Among Disney Channel tween sitcoms, Lizzie McGuire was something of an anachronism: with the occasional exception of Lizzie’s cartoon psyche, it lacked a gimmick. In place of teen-girl ESP, teen-girl wizardry or teen-girl musical superstardom, it laid claim to the average teen-girl experience. In a monologue in the show’s first episode, Lizzie spells it out for us: Lizzie McGuire. Not nerd, not jerk, not brain, not rebel, not diva. I’d guess you say I was D, as in “none of the above.”
Before broaching its role as collective bildungsroman for the early ‘00s awkward-tween-girl masses, it’s important to stop and ask what the fuck Lizzie McGuire was wearing. Voluminous peasant blouses, choker necklaces, flared pants, hairstyles involving multiple tiny ponytails, psychedelic color schemes, indiscriminate application of tie-dye. Like the show’s greater arc, the clothes went from “relatable and slightly awkward” to “aspirational by way of campy,” with an extra element of “inspired by really good drugs.”
Because yes: the show soon abandoned much of its realism. Overpowered by teen-idol guest stars and Hillary Duff’s unstoppable hotness, it began its ascent toward 2003’s artistic apogee “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” which still featured some of the painful but necessary experiences every teenage girl must endure, like the awkwardness of falling for the Italian pop star ex-boyfriend of the other Italian pop star you’ve been persuaded to imitate under false pretenses (don’t worry, you can always redeem yourself with your hitherto-unsuspected singing talent later). But enough petty adolescent angst: “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” also featured the climax of the show’s great romance, a three-second kiss between Lizzie and her best friend Gordo. Lizzie’s increasingly hallucinatory wardrobe aside, the great draw of Lizzie McGuire’s second and final season is the growing romantic tension between Lizzie and Gordo.
The decision to make him the love interest is essential, because Gordo is the show’s most reliably transcendent element. Dorky, neurotic, and thoroughly self-aware, he also provides the moral heart of the show without ever becoming preachy (“Who you are is way more important than who you sit with at lunch”). More importantly, in an environment of often crushing obviousness, (“He just said ‘We need to talk’….Nothing good ever follows ‘We need to talk’!”), Gordo imparts something resembling wisdom.
When my fifth-grade friends and I talked about Lizzie McGuire, none of us had crushes on Gordo. But ugh, we should have. Like Lizzie herself, we looked right past him, distracted by Hillary Duff’s nascent singing career (we made fun of it, but we also knew all the words to her songs) and her red-and-orange-patterned capri pants. But he was there all along, with a witticism and a Jew-fro, prototype to Seth Cohen, who we would all fall in love with two years later. Gordo, the soundtrack to “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” and a sense of the awkward-average-girl experience as somehow noteworthy are, finally, the distillable relics of Lizzie McGuire.
Also, those pants.