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"Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide": Special Field Trip Edition DVD Review

Buy Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: Special Field Trip Edition DVD from Amazon.com Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: Special Field Trip Edition
Show & DVD Details

Creator: Scott Fellows / Producers: Scott Fellows, Bill O'Dowd, Jörg Westerkamp

Directors: Savage Steve Holland, Joe Menendez / Writers: Scott Fellows, Lazar Saric, Eddie Guzelian

Regular Cast: Devon Werkheiser (Ned Bigby), Lindsey Shaw (Jennifer "Moze" Mozely), Daniel Curtis Lee (Simon "Cookie" Nelson-Cook), Daran Norris (Gordy)

Recurring Characters: Steve Bannos (Mr. Combover), Kendra Berry (Backpack Boy), Alex Black (Seth Powers), John Bliss (Principal Pal), Reccie Canon (Buzz), Carlie Casey (Missy Meany), Tylor Chase (Martin Qwerly), Don Creech (Mr. Sweeney), Dave Florek (Mr. Chopsaw), Michelle Kim (Evelyn Kwong), Matthew "Teo" Olivares (Crony), Rob Pinkston (Coconut Head), Joseph Ruzer (Mike), Kim Sava (Ms. Dirga), Christian Serratos (Suzie Crabgrass), Rachel Sibner (Lisa Zemo), Ernie Sloman (Psycho), Rob Steiner (Handwriting Expert), Fred Stoller (Dr. Lowe), Kyle Swann (Billy "Bully" Loomer), Landon Taylor (Stu)

Notable Guest Stars: Dave "Gruber" Allen (Mr. Kwest), Corbin Bleu (Spencer), Hamilton Mitchell (Vice Principal Crubbs), Willie Gault (Sportscaster #2), Van Earl Wright (Sportscaster #1), Peter Lavin (Boss Thief), Charles Napier (Sergeant Guard), Meshach Taylor (Mr. Wright)

Running Time: 71 Minutes (3 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned
Original Airdates: October 22, 2006 and June 8, 2007
DVD Release Date: August 28, 2007; Black Standard-Width Keepcase Plus Book
Suggested Retail Price: $16.99; Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)

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By Albert Gutierrez

"Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" is not your average tweenage sitcom. With the exception of main character Ned Bigby, everyone from students to teachers are too radical in their personalities to be taken seriously. Each episode exaggerates the everyday, ordinary events of adolescents and caters to those who can find humor in anything. The series indulges widely in juvenile comedy appropriate for young adult programming. And that is why it gets my proverbial stamp of approval. The show relishes in being offbeat and silly and does so without worrying about critics or cynical adults. It's just... fun.

The show began airing on Nickelodeon's TEENick lineup in the fall of 2004, with fellow tween-oriented series "Unfabulous." Whereas "Unfabulous" focused on middle school drama like being popular or having crushes, "Ned's Declassified" was a much broader and more comical series. Like many tween shows,
the spotlight is on a not-so-popular student, Ned Bigby (Devon Werkheiser), and his two friends Jennifer "Moze" Mozely (Lindsey Shaw) and Simon "Cookie" Nelson-Cook (Daniel Curtis Lee). The three of them attend James K. Polk Middle School, a hodgepodge of wacky teachers and pupils such as advice-spouting janitor Gordy (Daran Norris), the aptly-named Coconut Head (Rob Pinkston), and Ned's dream girl Suzie Crabgrass (Christian Serratos). As expected, Ned's got a couple enemies as well, in the school bully Billy Loomer (Kyle Swann) and the vice principal Mr. Crubbs (Hamilton Mitchell).

Throughout each episode, Ned and his friends conjure tips for the titular Declassified School Survival Guide, such as "Daydreaming actually helps you come up with solutions" and "Scare shyness away by facing your fears." These tips usually come in handy for whatever predicament Ned and his friends are in, and help make for an entertaining half-hour. Since the entire thrust of the show lies in researching and creating new tips, viewers are treated to interesting stories that play out in what would otherwise be an ordinary middle school life. Even little things like getting to the bus on time can lead to a girls' raid on the boys' bathroom.

Devon Werkheiser stars as Ned Bigby, a middle school student who enjoys collecting tips for his Declassified School Survival Guide. The staff of James K. Polk Middle School attempt to catch the weasel that's plagued their halls the past three years.

In the lead role of Ned, Devon Werkheiser is very true to part, offering a likable and clever "straight man" to his crazy classmates. He doesn't suffer from the constraints of other child actors, proving comfortable in both his character and his environment. Like his "Saved By The Bell" predecessor Zack Morris, Ned's charm carries over to his regular direct addresses to the audience. At Werkheiser's side are two equally capable actors: Lindsey Shaw and Daniel Curtis Lee. Lee may not be as suave and sophisticated as his predecessor, Steve Urkel of "Family Matters", but he easily fulfills his role as Ned's best bud Cookie. Initially conceived as a part cyborg in the first season (he had a printer in his pants and computer screen in his glasses), Cookie has since grown into the clumsy best friend whose lack of coordination sometimes works to his benefit. Shaw is not the average teenybopper; she knows her role as Moze requires at the very least a sense of humor. Thus, unlike fellow TEENick stars Emma Roberts and Jamie-Lynn Spears, Shaw is willing to let her hair down and actually have fun in the role such as purposely trying to get sick to avoid public speaking.

As if Ned, Cookie, and Moze weren't enough to populate the series, there's also a venerable amount of recurring characters that supply the pre-teen archetypes like "popular girl" and "school bully", but also offer oddballs like "Backpack Boy" and "The Huge Crew." While most of these characters are very one-dimensional (Billy Loomer's henchmen, for example: Crony and Buzzz), they help provide a nice mix of personalities beyond the "popular versus unpopular" breakdown. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the adult characters. The only way to describe them is campy. Gordy the janitor fills the role as Ned's go-to guy for advice, with initial confusion giving way to the real meaning of the words of wisdom. And perhaps the only normal adult is science teacher Mr. Sweeney (Don Creech), who even helps Ned out in a scheme or two.

If I had a friend like Ned in middle school, it would have been a lot more fun! At the very least, I can be entertained by his adventures with Cookie and Moze. The show harks back to the fun, quirky shows in Nickelodeon's past like "Clarissa Explains It All", "The Adventures of Pete & Pete", and "All That", taking the standard middle-school sitcom premise and successfully blending it with the unique concept of a "School Survival Guide." The Guide is also pertinent to everyday life, thus making the premise and stories timeless. They offer a nostalgic and humorous look at middle school for older viewers, while providing wholesome and helpful entertainment for the young target audience.

Retired NFL wide receiver Willie Gault and well-known sportscaster Van Earl Wright appear sporadically throughout the series offering tongue-in-cheek recaps and play-by-plays of Ned's life. Moze and a group of girls lead the Bathroom Revolution of 2006!

After three seasons of middle school antics, "Ned's Declassified" closed with a quadruple-length hour-long episode that makes up this Special Field Trip Edition DVD along with two bonus episodes from the show's third season. I personally would have preferred season sets, but like many pre-teen shows, "Ned's" is only getting the random episode compilation treatment, at least for now.

"Guide to: Field Trips, Permission Slips, Signs, and Weasels" (47:15) (Originally aired June 8, 2007)
It's not every day that advice for field trip preparation includes bringing a spare set of clothes in case a friend ends up naked. Appropriately enough for the Declassified School Guide, the tip comes in handy for Ned during his class's trip to Huffington Gardens and Gallery. His attempts to hang out with on-and-off girlfriend Suzie are continually thwarted by Vice Principal Crubbs and Ned ends up naked and trapped in an electrical closet. Cookie hopes to impress Lisa Zemo by donning a superhero persona called Steel Eagle, only to end up chased by samurai warriors and stumbling upon a plot to kidnap the "Wild Boy" painting.
And Moze, poor Moze, flip-flops between her feelings for best friend Ned while being courted again by a now-sophisticated Billy "Bully" Loomer. As if it weren't crazy enough in this series finale, Gordy and the staff nearly demolish the school in search for the school's wayward weasel.
Guide Tip: Leave reminders to bring in the permission slip. No slip, no trip.
Guide Tip: Bring stuff to keep from being bored on field trips, play road games, and bring a cell phone.
Guide Tip: Naked? Call a friend for clothes.

"Guide to: Dismissal" (12:54) (Originally aired October 22, 2006)
This unique "real-time" episode stands out as my favorite on the disc. In it, Ned gives advice on how to properly prepare for the dismissal bell. Unfortunately, his handy-dandy Dismissal List gets lost among now-girlfriend Suzie's stuffed animals when she moves into his locker. Cookie originally wanted to spend his pre-dismissal time in quiet recollection of the day, but when Coconut Head leaks news of a pop quiz in Science, everyone rushes back in to retrieve their books. Meanwhile, Moze languishes in the line for the girls' bathroom.
Guide Tip: Make a pit stop before the big ride.
Guide Tip: Get to the bus early, relax, unwind, and think happy thoughts.
Guide Tip: Have a special checklist to make sure you don't forget your homework, jacket, dirty gym clothes, and house keys.
Guide Tip: Never drink orange soda before math.

Corbin Bleu hams it up as Spencer in "The School Play" Ned and Cookie...Romeo and Juliet?

Guide to: The School Play (10:48) (Originally aired October 22, 2006)
Ned gets uneasy when his girlfriend Suzie gets the part of Juliet in the school play across from the confident and melodramatic Spencer's (Corbin Bleu, High School Musical) Romeo.
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Ned attempts to ruin the pair's onstage kiss by getting rid of Spencer and allowing Cookie to take his place, but stage manager Moze wants her play to run as smoothly possible and continually foils their plans. From overly bright spotlights and falling scenery to flying logs and a stolen horse costume, it's a battle between the best friends.
Guide Tip: Like acting? The play's the place to start.
Guide Tip: Don't act? Work behind the scenes.


Episodes are offered in the standard 1.33:1 fullscreen broadcast ratio. As a single-camera comedy, the show feels more open and less restricted in visual decisions. For once, I can finally heap praise to video quality of a pre-teen sitcom. Unlike the cheap-looking Disney Channel shows, "Ned's" offers a natural look which is conveyed in a high quality transfer. The majority of the series finale was filmed outdoors and it appears slightly more saturated and softer than the standard, school-centered episodes.

Each episode offers an English 2.0 Dolby Surround track, with no other options available. It's not that big a deal, I wouldn't really want to bestow a 5.1 track to such a simple show. The music is constant throughout, and does get a little stale, but at least it's not a fake track of a laughing studio audience.

Outtakes play throughout the closing credits of each episode. It would have been cooler if this menu was animated with the declassified guide.


On the DVD-side of bonus features, nothing is offered beyond the two bonus episodes. Well, not really. Rather than play the closing credits with each episode, they are available as a separate and short featurette (1:50).
It makes sense somewhat, as the closing credits act as an outtakes reel for the episodes. Still, I would have liked seeing behind-the-scenes material like audition tapes or even cast member video diaries.

Making up for the lack of on-disc material is an enjoyable if juvenile tie-in book, "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide": Book of Top Ten Lists. Bundled with the DVD, the 96-page book is written in the style of Ned's notebook, and offers profiles on many of the show's characters as well as various "Top Ten" lists. Lists range from the helpful "No-Fail Homework Excuses" to the humorous "Other Uses for This Book" and my personal favorite "Rejected Themes for the School Dance." There are some funny facts in the character profiles (such as Backpack Boy's desire to build a backpack called "The Behemoth") as well ones that complement actual episodes. For example, Ned's profile includes his campaign slogan, "Vote Ned or You're Dead", from the first season episode "Election".

I don't consider the obligatory start-up trailers as "bonus features", but for anyone interested, we get previews for: "Naked Brothers Band": The Movie, "Zoey 101": Season One (replace "Zoey 101" with "Ned's Declassified..." and I'll be a happy camper), "Spongebob Squarepants" compilation DVDs, "Avatar, the Last Airbender": Book 2, Volumes 1-4, and a "Nick Picks" DVD. All the trailers are skippable, and available only when the disc loads, so don't bother looking for them on the menus. Sadly, even the menus get little attention, as they're a static 4x3 photoshop job with no music whatsoever.

Ned stares at his viewing audience as both are thinking the same thing, "Why are there stuffed animals where the Declassified tips used to be?" If only every tweencom offered samurai, security guards, superheroes, and wild boys.


"Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" is a rare show. It was designed and written to appeal only to preteens, but ultimately succeeds at providing a likable cast of characters and fun stories that can also capture older viewers' attention. I urge readers to give the show a chance while reruns are still aplenty on Nickelodeon. The DVD only offers a small sample of the hilarity in Ned Bigby's life, but it still makes for a fun viewing. I can't recommend it as a buy unless you're a really big fan of the series, and even then, I'm sure you'd prefer season sets instead. Come on, Nickelodeon and Paramount, the entire series is only 54 episodes!

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Reviewed August 27, 2007.

Text copyright 2007 DVDizzy.com/UltimateDisney.com. Images copyright 2006-07 Nickelodeon and Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.