Amazon’s ‘Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street’ a charmer
Developed from an "over-the-transom" pilot script by David Anaxagoras, "Gortimer Gibbon's Life on Normal Street" is a new series from Amazon Studios, the still-wet-behind-the-ears content-production wing of the online retailer.
The second original live-action kids show from the infant content producer, after "Annedroids" (genius girl makes robot pals), it's a suburban friendship story with fairy tale, paranormal and sci-fi overtones - though tonally more in the tradition of "The Adventures of Pete & Pete" than of "Goosebumps" or "So Weird."
As is often the case when grown-ups make something for kids by Making Something for Kids - Anaxagoras holds degrees in screenwriting and child development - it chokes a bit on its own whimsicality. But it stays on its feet.
At its core is a classic troika of awkward hero (Sloane Morgan Siegel as Gortimer), smart-girl best friend (Ashley Boettcher as Mel) and rambunctious other best friend (Drew Justice as Ranger). You will recognize the dynamic from the "Harry Potter" books and movies but also from "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" and in a rough way from "Pete & Pete," whose mock-epic tone "Gortimer" borrows and from which a line like "It's said that the peculiar sounds that the machine makes when birthing an Arctic Sludgy are the laws of physics screaming in protest" might have been lifted nearly whole. (Substituting "Orange Lazarus Slushy" for "Arctic Sludgy," of course.)
Although each of the four episodes I've seen bends ineluctably toward its moral ("Be careful what you wish for, and friends are great," broadly speaking), the attendant mythology can feel arbitrary and rootless. A Frog of Ultimate Doom (to be dealt with by a Fork of Destiny ), a Mobile of Misfortune, a Mystical Mind Eraser (which midwifes an "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" scenario) have the air of being devised just for the occasion.
But as much might be said of the latest season of "Doctor Who," and much of "Harry Potter" for that matter; it is not uncommon or, clearly, an impediment to success.
Given its sweet disposition, attractive cast and polished execution - Luke Matheny, who directed three of the episodes I've seen and acted in the fourth, also works on IFC's "Maron" and won an Oscar for his 2010 short film "God of Love" - "Gortimer" is certainly worth a look. There are nice details, like the way the kids substitute food items for curse words ("son of a blueberry," "what the bean dip"), and moments of sidelong poetry. (Mel is doing a science-fair project on "types of tears.") It is lively in a sleepy way.
Each episode contains a brief animated segment to illustrate a story within the story, and these have a handmade charm. Guest shots from Fionnula Flanagan and Paula Marshall, stars of pre-streaming television, add historical weight.