Before we talk about our main review, let’s quickly discuss about the game show that featured the many talents of kids. What were the talents, you say? Well, my friend, you have to figure it out. That was the name of the game: literally. On July 7, 1997, Nickelodeon debuted a new game show called Figure it Out.

The show would start out with a kid who would reveal his talent to the audience and the viewers. There were four panelists consisting of huge Nickelodeon stars at the time trying to guess what the talent was. The panelists were consisted of people such as the cast members of All That like Amanda Bynes, Lori Beth Denberg, Josh Server, Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchell, Mark Saul, Kevin Kopelow, and Danny Tamberelli. There was also Mike O’Malley and Moira Quirk from Nickelodeon GUTS, Irene Ng from The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, Phil Moore from Nick Arcade, Marc Weiner from Weinerville, Vanessa Baden from Kenan & Kel, Arjay Smith from The Journey of Allen Strange, and Michelle Trachtenberg from Harriet the Spy.

In different occasions, there would be celebrity guest panelists such as Aaron Carter, Carrot Top, Coolio, Mya, Tara Lipinski, Colin Mochrie, Chris Jericho, and more.

Each game consisted of three rounds. If the panelists wanted to know what the kid’s talent was, they would ask “yes” or “no” questions. If they couldn’t think of a question, they could say “pass”. In each round, a clue would be given to them. The first two would be an object or noise and the third clue would be charaded to them by a group of people called “The Charade Brigade”. If they’re able to say a word that matched the kid’s talent, then it would be revealed on a giant head called Billy the Answer Head.

If the panelists fail to guess the talent for each round, the kid gets a prize. If they fail in all three rounds, then he gets the grand prize! The grand prize would be mostly a trip to Universal Studios or a trip to Mexico or Jamaica. Once again, just like Nick Arcade, I find that winning a trip to Universal Studios, the same place where the show is being filmed, is very lazy! We already learned from Legends of the Hidden Temple that big trips can be adventurous and fun like Mexico, Venezuela, the Bahamas, or even in a ranch in Montana and that game show had stopped airing two years before. Way to take a step backwards, Figure it Out.

In the second round, there would be a section of the show called “The Secret Slime Action”. A random person would be chosen from the audience for a chance to win a prize. If one of the panelists performs the secret slime action, he or she would get slimed and the audience member would win the prize. Some of these  actions were either simple ones like passing a turn, guessing a clue correctly, or sitting next to someone. But the majority of the time, they were beyond impossible to complete. In one episode, the secret slime action was scratching your head. No one was scratching their head so Summer told Danny that there was something on his head. He scratched it and he was slimed. That’s so forced and contrite. Nobody likes something forced on! Also, the amount of slime that would be poured on the panelists were inconsistent. The slime would come down either fully.

Or partially.

Slime was the main substance in Nickelodeon. It would’ve been so great to see them get poured with so much slime. For the people who grew up with Flgure it Out, this was their favorite part of the show. I just wished for a little bit more. Maybe I was spoiled with the amount of slime that they poured on people’s heads in Double Dare, but still. I wanted more slime.

 

The show was hosted by Olympic gold medal swimmer Summer Sanders. She was the very first solo female game show host in Nickelodeon and her persona towards the panelists and the kids was very cute and quirky. She was able to run things smoothly while all the crazy things were going on.

The show was created by Kevin Kay and Magda Liolis. They had loved game shows like What’s My Line? and I’ve Got a Secret, so they decided to make a kids version out of it to showcase kids’ talents, inventions, and abilities. Some of them were quite neat such as being able to waterski barefoot, instantly playing any song he hears, squiring milk from his eye socket, being an accuracy and freestyling frisbee champion, inventing a self soaping washcloth, knowing the day of every date, inventing a no tear onion slicer, and discovering a recipe for edible plastic. However, some of them were a bit weird and lame such as burping a Christmas song, making a ball of toe jam, working in a pet library, sticking a lizard in your tongue, pinning clothes pins to your face, a dog drinking milk from your mouth, collecting large spiders in a jar, and sticking lobster eyes on your tongue.

Then before the round was over, the kids would then show off their talents to the audience, the panelists, and the viewers. Depending on what the talent was, they were really cool to see.

Figure it Out would have two spinoffs from their show: Figure it Out: Family Style and Figure it Out: Wild Style. Family Style involved with the kid and a parent doing a talent together and Wild Style involved with a kid and his animal doing a talent.

The show had lasted for 5 seasons ending its run on December 12, 1999. Overall, I found the show to be okay. While the panelists can be fun at times, especially Danny with his goofball antics and Lori Beth getting most of the answers right, there are a few things about it that just makes Figure it Out flawed. Besides the forced actions to make a panelist get slimed, some of the lame talents, and the inconsistent slime, another thing that I didn’t like were the prizes. While they’re not the worst prizes giving on a Nickelodeon show, that would be Nick Arcade, some of them were just lazy. For example, some of the prizes were props from Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Nick Arcade, Legends of the Hidden Temple, or Double Dare. But I felt that they gave them away because they knew that the shows weren’t coming back so they had to think of a way to get rid of them. It feels manipulating on their part to give something away like that. Unless you’re a huge Nickelodeon fan and grew up with these shows, you would feel like you were gypped if you were given a helmet from Hidden Temple or a piece of the wall from Double Dare. Some of these kids probably didn’t even know where they came from or what they are. They were probably expecting something like a bike or a video game or a new movie or something. Maybe I’m just nitpicking, but I felt that the prizes could’ve been better.

Overall, I find the show to be okay. Not one of my favorite game shows on Nickelodeon and not up to par with Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple, but I recommend checking it out sometime.

Now we get to the main review. On November 7, 1997, a new teen series debuted on Nickelodeon asking the question: What would you do if an alien lands on Earth stranded away from home? Do you report to the police or do you take it in and help it get home? Well, in this show, they do the latter. This is The Journey of Allen Strange.

It follows the story of a young Xelan alien who is stranded on Earth. While exploring his surroundings, he meets up with a young girl named Robbie Stevenson (played by Erin Jean), her brother Josh (played by Shane Sweet) and their father Ken (played by Jack Tate). They decide to take the alien into their home to live until he can find a way to get home. They name him “Allen Strange” and he eventually shapeshifts into an African American human (played by Arjay Smith) being to blend in with society.

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Each episode, Allen tries to blend in on Earth and learn about their ways while figuring out how to get home. We learn more about each of the characters and their hobbies and problems. Allen is a very intelligent alien: he can read books quickly, learn languages in an instant, and has unique powers such as hovering in his alien form and being able to turn a mannequin to life to portray as his “father”. He sleeps in the attic in a strange looking cocoon and has a love for canned cheese. Allen misses his mother in his home planet and wishes to find a way to go home. Robbie has new sets of responsibilities to uphold ever since their mother left. She feels lonely and overwhelmed having to be the new woman of the house. That’s actually refreshing! In almost every sitcom or teen series at that time, everytime there would be a family consisting of a dad with kids, the mother would always be prounonced dead. It’s nice to see a change in this show that doesn’t need to use the  “mother’s-not-in-the-show-because-she’s-dead” cliche. I’m looking at you, Full House. Allen misses his mother and Robbie misses hers, but they start to form a bond with each other. Josh likes sports, comic books, video games, and the Internet. Whenever an episode involves with anything technical, Josh always shines through. He’s beyond excited about having Allen in their house since he loves UFOs and aliens.

The father is my least favorite character. He’s goofy, cracks stupid jokes, and is unaware about what’s going on around him. He’s always the last to know about what crazy situations Allen, Robbie, and Josh get into and sometimes doesn’t put two and two together. We already had these kind of TV dads billions of times already and it’s a shame that in a show that already has likable characters, they had to throw this guy in. He’s just there for laughs and goofy moments.

The show was created by Thomas Lynch, the creator of The Secret World of Alex Mack. While the 4th Season of Alex Mack was going, he wanted to release another show that had more realistic situations that a teen would be going through. They were based on things he went through when he was a kid.

“I think The Journey of Allen Strange illustrates my feelings of alienation as a child,” Lynch says. “He is separated from his family and the comforts of his usual lifestyle and just wants to fit in. I was 13 and I left my home and lived in a garage. Nobody really ever missed me.” When pressed for details, Lynch said with a laugh, “I’m from a single-parent family; there’s eight siblings in my family.”

The show mostly contains these funny, goofy moments that would involve with things like babysitting an alien baby or trying to fit in among the humans. The more serious episodes like Robbie trying to hide her grades from her father because she was upset about her parents’ separation or Allen and Robbie comforting each other when it came to missing their mothers are really touching and well written. These were my favorite episodes and I wished that there were more of them. But unfortunately, the show never pushed itself to make the show too serious, since it also had the comedic goofy moments to lighten it up.

“There are fun romps, such as the episode that features (alien space pests) who eat all of the furniture in the house. The Christmas episode really rocks. Allen brings to life two elf statues, which add a lot of whimsy, but at the core the episode teaches Allen that Christmas is about giving of yourself and not the material things.”

Just like Alex Mack and Shelby Woo, Allen Strange also had a book series that contained stories not shown in the series. However, unlike Shelby Woo or Alex Mack, the Allen Strange books only had eight books.

As for the series finale, oh man, where do I start? It’s so weird, insulting, boring, and anticlimatic at the same time. Allen finds out that there’s an archelogical dig in the Middle East going on and that they had discovered a relic that contains the Xelan language. Allen thinks that it might be a secret for him to get home. So they go to an airport, split up to find the plane leaving for the Middle East, and finding out it’s boarding and have no tickets. Robbie disguises herself as an airport employee and sneaks them into the plane leaving for the Middle East. Remember people, this is before 9/11, in which there were no heavy security and you wanted to go to the Middle East. While never explaining how Robbie was able to find Josh and Allen or where she got the uniform, they finally arrive. With a long way the dig, they conveniently find Arab gear, escape the gun-weiding guards, and hop on a bus heading to their destination.

Apparently, when they arrive at the last stop, they meet up with a nomatic tribe, a prince, and the diggers who happen to speak English. They continue their journey surprisingly with no food, water, or a map knowing where to go. Along the way, they have to come across an radio personality who hosts a program about UFOs and government conspiracy and uses him to get to the tomb site where the relic is. Finally, they find it, Allen has a chance to go home, and…he doesn’t. After all this time of wanting to go home, Allen loves his friends and his life on Earth so much that he chooses to stay. When they get home, the father never questions of where they were or why they were wearing the Arabian clothes. He’s clueless as usual. Then the series ends with Allen looking up in the stars saying that maybe he was left on Earth because he was meant to be on Earth.

The show lasted for 3 seasons ending its run on April 23, 2000. Some of the actors did other projects while some faded into obscurity.

Arjay Smith has been in a few movies and TV shows such as Step by Step, Boston Public, The West Wing, 24, That’s So Raven, Malcolm in the Middle, The Day After Tomorrow, Vacancy 2: The First Cut, ER, Figure it Out, and Perception.

Erin Dean has appeared in other TV shows and movies such as Figure it Out, Boy Meets World, Monty Against the Grain, Lovers Lane, and Lolita. She had quit acting in 2000 and does not plan act again.

Shane Sweet has been in other TV shows such as Star Trek: Enterprise, Figure it Out, Static Shock, and Caprica. He’s currently on a band called The Celestial Matinee.

Overall, the entire show is a combination of blandness, touching moments, realistic characters, cheesy, goofy moments, a concept that wasn’t fully executed, and a crappy series finale. It’s a disjointed mess that doesn’t know whether to be serious or funny or relatable or goofy. The moments that are good are really good. I like the characters of Robbie and Josh. Robbie is going through a problem that a lot of people are going through: her parents are separated and she has a new batch of responsibilities. She misses her mom and wishes that they could be a family again. That is so refreshing and new! I like that conflict.  Also Josh may be a technical geek, but he’s not really a geek. He’s a relatable person who always knows how to help in any technical situation. He’s reflecting on whay a typical kid was at the time: a boy who has a love of comic books, video games, and the Internet. Trust me, he could have been worse.

But those aspects are not the main focus of the show: the show is about Allen Strange. It’s in the title, for goodness sakes. But Allen is not that interesting: he’s just your typical alien. An everyman who lands on a strange planet, adapting to his surroundings, and trying to get home. He’s like E.T. without the charm. The show has some huge flaws and some things that are never explained like why Allen has disguised himself as an African American human, but lives in a home with white people? Why didn’t he disguise himself as a White kid to blend in with the family? Did anyone question why a Black kid is living with a White family all of a sudden? If it’s because they’re “Putting diversity in the show” or “It’s sort of like Diff’rent Strokes in which a Black kid is adopted into a White family”, then with Allen Strange, it seems sort of vague and…strange. Speaking of, why did they decide to call him Allen Strange? Don’t you think the name’s a bit odd and people might question it? It’s not a name you hear of every day.

It’s like they were trying to put two completely different shows into one. The one about the alien trying to get home and the family going through a tough time with their mom leaving them and the struggles they go through to be whole again. I can see this becoming a flowing story, but it’s not done well. They talk about serious conflicts in one scene and have something goofy in the other. It doesn’t work. You have to choose between being either serious or funny. You can’t do both unless you can put it in a cohesive matter. In The Journey of Allen Strange‘s case, it doesn’t.

If you want to see this concept done in a cohesive matter that’s funny and goofy, see either Alf, Mork and Mindy, or 3rd Rock from the Sun.

If you want to see this done in a serious matter, Roswell is your show.

If you want both, then see E.T. The Extraterrestrial or Lilo and Stitch. These are done so much better than Allen Strange.

Just like The Secret World of Alex Mack, Thomas Lynch had created a really good concept of a TV show, but did not executed it well at all. When the show first came out, it was not seeing by many viewers. Today, it’s one of the Nickelodeon shows that has been forgotten. There’s a reason why that no one remembers it. It’s clumsy, it’s flawed, it doesn’t focus on the main plot, and there are too many goofy moments overlapping the good, serious moments. It’s a show with an identity crisis. I don’t recommend checking it out.

That’s all for now. Tune in next time as we conclude 1997 with Nickelodeon’s next feature film Good Burger.

Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Thanks for reading.

-Patricia

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