PHOTO: DISNEY CHANNEL
WARNING: Spoilers for Disney Channel's Andi Mack ahead.
The other night, I came home to find my 35-year-old boyfriend sitting on the couch, watching Disney Channel's new show Andi Mack.
Perhaps reacting to the confused look on my face, he explained his friend from college, Lilan Bowden, is on the show and he wanted to support her.
"But," he said, "you're going to want to watch it. It's not your average Disney show."
So I took his advice and sat down and watched it.
Andi Mack is not your average Disney Channel show. The eponymous Andi Mack (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) is a spunky, creative 13-year-old living with her very strict mother (Lauren Tom) and less-strict father (Stoney Westmoreland).
She idolizes her older sister, the free spirited, very cool, but never there, Bex (Lilan Bowden).
Andi makes bracelets out of found objects, has a little house in backyard, called the "Andi Shack," that she and her two best friends, Buffy (Sofia Wylie) and Cyrus (Joshua Rush), all hang out in, and is doing her best to survive middle school and her mother's rules.
Sounds pretty standard right?
And then, in the first episode, Bex moves back home and reveals that she is not Andi's sister. She's her mother.
You read that right: Disney Channel has created a family comedy-drama aimed at kids, ages 6-14, that features parents dealing with teenage pregnancy.
According to The New York Times, the idea for the show came after its creator Terri Minsky—the Sex and the City writer who created the Disney Channel's biggest hit of the early 2000s, Lizzie McGuire—read an article about Jack Nicholson's life. Minsky was fascinated by the idea that for most of Nicholson's life, he didn't know the woman he thought was his sister was actually his mother. She thought it a self-discovery story that would appeal to all ages.
Consultants from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the National Center on Adoption and Permanency were hired to help Minsky accurately and compassionately write the big reveal as well as the family's reaction to their new dynamic. The advisers emphasized “taking responsibility for choices” and “the enormous responsibilities of a parent or guardian,” Patti McTeague, a Disney Channel spokeswoman, wrote in an email to The Times.
But Andi Mack's progressiveness extends beyond its storyline.
Though not originally written that way, the Mack Family is of mixed race, Asian and white, with Lee cast as Andi first, then the rest of the family built around her.
“It’s rare that a character and family is cast as biracial,” Bowden told the Center For Asian American Media (CAAM). “So I should really thank Peyton [Elizabeth Lee] for my job!”
Even Lee's look—with her short hair and endearingly crooked smile—is different from child stars who have come before her. "Disney was, like, 'Should we grow her hair out?’" Minsky recalled to The Times. "And I was, like, 'No!'"
And that's what Andi Mack does so well: It makes huge leaps forward in a way that seems perfectly normal for a children's show.
The show can tackle huge issues, like a young girl coming to terms with the abandonment she suddenly feels knowing the cool, rebel of an older sister who was never around is actually her mother because equally important is her crush Jonah (Asher Angel) inviting her to join his frisbee team.
The show is about a 13-year-old girl with a complicated life—and we see it the way she does. And that, above all else, is what makes Andi Mack so special.
Andi Mack premieres on The Disney Channel on April 7, but you can stream the first episode for free on below.