The first camera pan!
In yesterday’s installment I introduced Brendan Meyer through his earliest roles in near complete chronological order. Now comes his breakout and what that brought.
Mr. Young (2011-13)
The Movie Rat: How did your role on Mr. Young come about?
Brendan Meyer: I was attached to a Nickelodeon pilot that didn’t go at the last minute, and so I was pulled in to audition for Mr. Young late in the process and I was lucky enough to get it.
Any artistic endeavor ends up relying a bit on luck, but with regard to the decision the producers of Mr. Young had to make, it became abundantly clear over the course of 80 episodes that they made the correct one and were fortunate the other project fell through and that he could audition.
Mr. Young is about a young prodigy, Adam Young (Meyer), who graduates college at 14 and decides both to give back and try to capture his missed high school experience by teaching science at Finnegan High School. Creator Dan Signer started to perfect such wild notions in shifting Disney’s Suite Life franchise onto a boat, then on A.N.T. Farm simultaneous to Mr. Young, but the outlandishness to the point of absurdity necessitates a strong central figure both believable as a science whiz and also at times a goofy, shy, lovestruck teen, blending just well enough into the surrounding insanity to not stand out; in short, the actor playing Mr. Young has to sell the world being created and Brendan does.
Disney has shown a willingness to get a bit more creative and daring on its sister Disney X.D. network, but I was not surprised only the first two seasons aired here after the full three-season run was on YTV. One of the joys of this blogathon for me was not just re-watching those first two seasons, but finding season three on iTunes and watching it for the first time. When this show aired on Disney XD I watched it weekly and usually shared my favorite line on Twitter (there was much competition as the cast and writing was usually firing on all cylinders).
At worst a sitcom becomes rote repetition; at best, especially for a young actor, it’s a laboratory for trying out new techniques an motifs, and the premise of Mr. Young gave the writers and actors the freedom to experiment allowing Meyer much growth.
On Inside the Actors Studio Mike Myers said:
“Silly is a natural state – serious is something you are forced to do till you can be silly again.”
Not only do I find that an apropos insight, but I think silly is a word I reach for to describe a comedy at times, but it is rarely fitting. Mr. Young is serious until it can find a way to be silly again, which it frequently does.
One thing I wanted to create, in part to learn something, was a running list of scientific concepts mentioned on the show. Sometimes they were just mentioned in passing to lend credibility to Adam’s character, at other times it was the springboard to a plot like when they employed an exaggerated interpretation of pheromones in “Mr. Moth.”
The second way in which the show makes itself credible enough to be silly is adhering to the comedic precept whose importance was underscored to be in my working with actress and instructor Angela Pietropinto who said, and I paraphrase, the basis of all comedy is obsession on the character’s part. These characters, Mr. Young especially in his pursuit of Echo (Matreya Fedor), have that to ground them, and it allowed Brendan much freedom.
Here are just some of the things the 80 episodes of Mr. Young allowed Brendan to do and work on.
Work with Dialogue and Dialect:
- Large amounts of dialogue at disparate rates.
- Picking up cues
- Working against CG
- Voice modulation
- Overly-descriptive dialogue
- Wise Guy accent
- Hypnotic regression (“listen to the sound of my voice…”)
- Golly-gee bellhop voice
- Quasi-Bostonian greasemonkey
- Wizard voice
- French accent
- Eureka line
- Obtuse line
- Woozy line
- Corny joke voice, etc.
- Mirror exercise
- Slap fighting
- Pie gags
- Depth Perception Gag, etc.
- Soap Acting lite
- Exaggerated commercial kid acting
- switching characters, playing Dang
Different Characters and Costumes:
- Alan Young
- Alan Small
- Mr. Marvelous
- Bald Cap to look like Principal Tater
- Cross-dressing (several instances: lunch lady, Leia gold bikini, Daisy Dukes)
- Old man
- Billy Bonkers (Willy Wonka parody)
- Dark Demon
- Bulletin board
- Audio Speaker
- Water fountain (these last few will make sense if you see the episodes)
- Romeo (More on that tomorrow)
- Beat poet
- Statue, etc.
If this were a Wikia or an episode guide I’d go further in-depth, but clearly the rapport existed with the cast such that the series was a not just a hit but one I find genuinely hilarious and silly. I’m a loud ,but not usually physically expressive laugher, and some parts of this show had me stomping my feet, and the only two tiers I have above that are my face being in pain and crying and those are rare indeed.
More evidence of the great ensemble work here, which is a skill in and of itself, is an episode wherein everyone switched personas became easy enough to pull off, and when Brendan wrote and directed a short film (more on that tomorrow) he asked Raugi Yu to be involved.
The foundation of the world of Mr. Young is so well-established that the show even gets very meta in season three and is perhaps funnier for it, in part because it shows a design to the three season run as opposed to a show just trying to run out the clock. The teased romance between Adam and Echo is not as much of an obstruction to the show as it is on other sitcoms. Recurring characters reach their final moment and there is a closure for all. Everyone grows character- and performance-wise.
Even before Mr. Young ended though, Brendan was getting other opportunities and he took them. Being the lead on a YTV/Disney show lead to cross-promotional appearances, which were taken advantage of by Meyer. The first of these being…
Girl vs. Monster (2012)
Here’s some of what I wrote about this film just after its initial release:
The story does seem like it’ll take the typical routes through Disney tropes but it does throw a wrench in enough to keep it interesting and less predictable than most. The casting is also better than most recent films. Granted Disney Channel will spin-off a star from a show into most of, if not all, these films, but the choice to not only choose Olivia Holt (Kickin’ It) who is of lower-profile than most of the current Disney stable helps this film and the viewers because she’s more quickly her character in this film, and it’s less like a star vehicle. Especially when you consider she’s flanked by a great supporting cast, only some of which are frequently seen on the networks, featuring Brendan Meyer and Kurt Ostland (Mr. Young); Katherine McNamara, Adam Chambers, Jennifer Aspen and Brian Palermo.
In this film Brendan plays the male friend whom is not the love interest for the female protagonist, which is an under-written niche. I’m glad to see in this film and evidence of Disney consciously attempting to stray from its stories with Anglo-Saxon patriarchal roots. He’s the kind of guy there to help his friend (gives her a literal boost when the wants to jump, and awkwardly claps in support though thinking she’s a bit wacky) but he is frozen by fear and cowardice. His arc is well established and intersects with the overarching plot nicely.
In a found footage film he’d be nothing but the guy with the helmet cam, thankfully this has loftier designs than that. Once he snaps out of literal paralysis he makes decisions, gets more involved and less secondary, stares down the manifestation of his fear, and the star-moment of his performance is not dialogue but a look of determination in his eyes – a testament to growth as a screen actor that visuals frequently become his most memorable moments.
The arc concludes with a moment fitting his characters journey but also allows for a comedic moment with an awkward comeback that he delivers on (fittingly with Mr. Young co-star Kurt Ostlund), Meyer here brings a lot to a rather straightforward affair.
That’s as a significant supporting player, he contributes to the betterment of a project even in a very minor role such as…
Spooky Buddies (2011)
This is an example of level of dedication. Brendan is in this film to deliver one line, step on a few jack-o-lanterns, and then get shocked by a runaway specter; in short, a one day shoot, but it still required having to apply make up as such and doing this to his hair.
Life with Boys: Girl-Entines Day with Boys (2013)
Life with Boys was another YTV show that came south, this time to Nickelodeon. It didn’t thrive down here, so this episode was one I saw on Amazon and not on the airwaves.
The plot offers only a slight variation on the two-dates-simultaneously premise but in a handful of scenes Meyer injects quite a bit of life to it with a cry-yell, a well-told story, an awesome delivery on what ended up being the best line on the show (though the laugh track didn’t know it), the ability to convincingly be unable to get a word in edgewise, and a reaction best described as a “What the-?” face.
And he’s still gone back to Disney despite Mr. Young being over…
Best Friends Whenever: A Time to Rob and Slam (2015)
I saw this episode when it aired on Disney and I was glad revisit it on Netflix. It’s one thing to ask (or allow) an actor to go over-the-top or to see them just “have fun with” a part, but what they do with it is another. Brendan plays a guy who refers to himself as “The Rob” and is the lab partner from Hell. The margin for error on this character is miniscule, slight slips can take The Rob from impossibly hilarious to just impossible.
It’s a treacherous enough part excluding the fact that Rob was a seemingly normal, unassuming guy in middle school. So the ability to change persona is needed but also to make this insane amounts of narcissism and ridiculous mannerisms work.
At different points he seemingly channels W.C. Fields and Mark McKinney’s Mississippi Gary, puts a new spin on nom-nom-nom, and adds “Rob” at the front of nearly every word and makes it work.
But here are some clips so you get a better sense of it.
The Movie Rat: You have quite an extensive resume at a young age, do you feel that diversifying the media you work in (TV, Film, Shorts, Web series, theatre, etc.) is the key to working more consistently?
Brendan Meyer: I think being open to projects that can challenge you and give you the chance to work with great people helps.
Three of Brendan’s recent projects were first released on new media platforms (YouTube, Go90 and Netflix respectively). The one on YouTube (below) is his latest Disney project, a Free Period short-form film released in the summer of 2016.
Parker and the Crew (2016)
While playing one of many overgrown scouts in the above film, Brendan’s comedy stylings have been allowed to mature some since, but while that’s a jump it’s nothing compared to the quantum leap he’s earned in terms of showcasing his dramatic chops.
To Be Continued…
Tomorrow’s Post: In Search of Other Dimensions