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‘iCarly’ Grows Up: How the Team Behind the Revival Series Balanced Maturity With Nostalgia

·6 min read

On June 17, Miranda Cosgrove broke the internet with one line: “You gotta switch it up on a bitch.”

Even though she’s currently 28-years-old, Cosgrove is — to many fans — eternally a child. First rising to fame as Summer in “School of Rock” and Megan in “Drake & Josh,” Cosgrove is nearly inseparable from Carly Shay, the titular “iCarly” character she played from 2007 to 2012, and now again in 2021.

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It is perhaps for this reason that when Cosgrove cursed in the “iCarly” revival series’ third episode, fans stormed social media in delightful surprise, writing such tweets as “Hearing Miranda Cosgrove say ‘bitch’ in this iCarly revival is giving me life” and “CARLY SHAY JUST SAID BITCH! I REPEAT, CARLY SHAY JUST SAID BITCH.”

But what might shock “iCarly” fans more is that the line was originally written as, “You gotta keep up with these hoes,” before it was struck down by Standards & Practices. It is this balance — straddling the line between childhood nostalgia and newfound maturity — that is the heart of the “iCarly” revival series.

“It was really exciting and surprising to see the audience respond so viscerally to Carly saying ‘bitch,’” writer and co-producer Franchesca Ramsey tells Variety. “What was fun about it was that we kept it true to her because as soon as she said it, she knew it didn’t feel natural. She was like, ‘I’m never saying that again.’”

According to Ramsey, Cosgrove was nervous about the line, but she leaned into it and embraced it as part of the character. And while the writers’ room was “heartbroken” that they needed to scrap “hoes,” Ramsey notes that the joke “still killed.”

“It was a great way for us to stay true to the show but also still age it up,” Ramsey says. “She’s not a child — curse words are not off limits — but we’re not going to change the tone of who Carly is just so that we can say to our audience, ‘Look, we’re adult now.’”

While the original “iCarly” became a No. 1 show for kids aged nine to 14, showrunner Ali Schouten says the revival, set 10 years later, is targeted toward people in their 20s who grew up alongside the characters. The Paramount Plus series still has Nickelodeon as its studio, but being on a streaming service allows “iCarly” to cross lines it wasn’t previously able to. While developing the show, Cosgrove and co-stars Jerry Trainor and Nathan Kress wanted to do something in the tone of “New Girl” or “Friends.”

In 2021, Carly is dating; Spencer (Trainor) is rich; Freddie (Kress) has a step-daughter; and there are two new characters, Harper (Laci Mosley) and Millicent (Jaidyn Triplett). Despite a swear word every now and then, Schouten and Ramsey note that the show’s aim isn’t to be “risqué,” but rather to portray the lives of its adult characters accurately.

“When you’re in your late 20s, as Carly is, you start to think about the next phases of your career and your life,” Ramsey says. “Those are things that you don’t get to explore in a kids’ show, and I think we do it in a clever way. It’s not overbearing — it is still a sitcom, it’s not a drama — but we do get to touch on some of those themes, which is really fun.”

Ramsey, who got her start making socially conscious comedy sketches on YouTube, knows the importance of discussing important issues in a welcoming way. In the context of this new “iCarly,” they are able to spotlight gender fluidity, sex work and the “wedding industrial complex.” (Mosley, who identifies as bisexual, plays the openly pansexual Harper on screen.) With two new Black women featured in the ensemble, “iCarly” has made a concerted effort to increase representation, as well.

“In Episode 2, Harper’s walking a woman out of her bedroom in the bunny suit,” Ramsey says. “We don’t have to say like, ‘Hey, here’s our pansexual character. Look, she’s dating a woman!’ We just see her talking to a woman that is coming out of her bedroom. I think that’s really revolutionary, and it was really important to us that it felt natural.”

But adult-ifying “iCarly” isn’t just about the characters.

According to production designer Wendell Johnson, the key to the sets for the revival was in “keeping the iconic pieces of the old set so that the audience connected and knew that it was still the loft.”

Johnson says recreating and revamping the loft was a challenge because the team had very limited information about the original set. Using photos from the internet, Johnson was tasked with rebuilding the elevator, entryway and kitchen from scratch. Reviving fan-favorite set pieces from the original, like the Bottle Bot and Spencer’s “Supertastic Sculpture of Stuff,” the “iCarly” art department also modernized the loft with new items — including the vintage car bar — to complement Spencer’s newfound wealth. However, while the revival has a higher production value than the original, Johnson and assistant art director Amy Skjonsby-Winslow say some ideas — such as a floating fireplace, sunken living room floor and hanging motorcycle sculpture — were scrapped due to budgetary constraints.

“You don’t want the set to be distracting,” Johnson says. “But you want a place that people want to spend a half hour in and forget about their worries. It can’t be so real that it becomes boring. It’s gotta be a little aspirational.”

Costume designer Bramli Knauf adopted a similar philosophy when creating looks for Carly, Spencer, Freddie, Harper and Millicent.

“For me, a big thing is not overtly stylizing things, especially when it comes to sitcoms. I like it to feel really natural,” Knauf says. “When Miranda was younger, Carly wore a lot of colors and put-together looks. We kept that, but we also tied it in with what that looks like today, more stripped-down and realistic.”

While in the original Nickelodeon show, the gang often wore playful prints with plenty of sequins and accessories, the revival takes a more grown-up approach to costumes, taking into consideration the characters’ personalities as well as the Seattle seasons. Carly still embraces bright colors but isn’t afraid to mix in darker tones; Spencer is still youthful but has a more expensive taste; and Freddie’s fondness for plaid is now “elevated.”

“Miranda wears a lot of sweaters and pastels, but what’s popular right now is that ‘90s look,” Knauf says. “I was told very early by the youth that skinny jeans are out. How do we stay relevant to that? Let’s make sure we’re in our straight legs.”

Echoed by everyone working on “iCarly” is that viewers don’t need to have watched the original to appreciate the revival. However, from the return of Baby Spencer to the blue dress Carly wore in the original finale, there are plenty of Easter eggs for those who have stuck around since the very first webcast.

As Ramsey puts it, “In many ways, ‘iCarly’ is a love letter to the original fans.”

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