The Hannah Montana Series (December 29/12)
Like most Disney Channel shows, Hannah Montana has been unapologetically geared towards small children and young teenagers. The show has been jam-packed with almost egregiously simplistic storylines and an ongoing emphasis on eye-rollingly broad instances of humor, with, in terms of the latter, the uncomfortably over-the-top performances perpetuating the series' less-than-subtle intentions.
Star Miley Cyrus is, without question, the show's weakest link, as the actress, though she does possess a fair amount of charisma, proves herself to be an absolutely awful actress time and time again - with Cyrus' efforts at compensating for her lack of talent resulting in a whole lot of screaming and mugging for the camera. She's generally matched by a uniformly unimpressive roster of supporting players, with Cyrus' consistently go-for-broke turn as the title figure mirrored in the equally ill-conceived work of her many costars.
It's a shame, really, given that Hannah Montana admittedly does contain a compelling premise that would seem to hold plenty of promise. Miley Stewart (Cyrus) is an ordinary teenager who makes her living as a world-famous singing sensation known as Hannah Montana, with the twist being that she's managed to keep the Montana connection a secret from the majority of her friends and classmates. (A blonde wig is evidently enough to disguise Miley's true identity.)
As the series starts, Miley's father (Billy Ray Cyrus' Robby Ray) and brother (Jason Earles' Jackson) are the only ones aware of her double life - although it takes just a few episodes for Miley to divulge her secret to her best friend, Lilly (Emily Osment). The circle of trust is eventually extended to another friend, Mitchel Musso's Oliver, and the series, for the most part, details Miley's continuing efforts at making the best of both worlds.
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has released a number of Hannah Montana-related collections over the year, but the best place to start for newcomers is, obviously, Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season. The four-disc set collects all 26 episodes from the show's inaugural season, and it's worth noting that the series does improve slightly as the episodes progress. (It probably takes at least half a season just to get used to the playing-to-the-rafters atmosphere.)
There aren't really any highlights within the series' first season, as the show, generally speaking, walks a very fine line between barely tolerable to nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying. Many episodes have been saddled with egregiously silly subplots, and it's worth noting, too, that the series is rarely able (or interested in) capturing an authentic look at high-school existence. Instead, the viewer is treated to high-concept storylines revolving around, say, Miley's efforts at promoting a perfume that makes her vomit and Jackson being tricked into working as a magic assistant (in a dress, natch) for his nemesis.
Prior to releasing that full-season collection, however, Disney stuck to their tried-and-true system of offering up compilations of random episodes - including Livin' the Rock Star Life. This set contains four episodes from the series' first season: Money for Nothing, Guilt for Free (Miley uses Hannah's star power to win a fund-raising event), Lilly, Do You Want to Know a Secret? (Lilly learns the truth about her best friend), Miley Get Your Gum (Oliver discovers Miley's secret), and I Can't Make You Love Hannah If You Don't (Miley has a crush on someone who hates Hannah).
Up next is Life's What You Make It, which contains the following episodes: Achy Jakey Heart 1 & 2 (Miley's love interest, Jake, attempts to smooth over his abrupt journey to Rome), I Am Hannah, Hear Me Croak (Miley worries about the effects of a possible throat surgery), and I Want You To Want Me... To Go To Florida (Miley attempts to trick her overprotective body guard into letting her go to Florida).
Next is Pop Star Profile, which collects another four episodes: New Kid in School (Miley, jealous over a new kid's celebrity, reveals her secret to a journalist and immediately regrets her decision), More Than a Zombie to Me (Miley realizes that she has feelings for the aforementioned new kid), Good Golly Miss Dolly (Miley accidentally records herself admitting that she's in love with that student), and People Who Use People (Miley and the kid date other people to make one another jealous).
One in a Million boasts four more episodes, including: Lilly's Mom Has Got It Goin' On (Lilly's mom and Miley's dad begin seeing each other), Me and Mr. Jonas and Mr. Jonas and Mr. Jonas (Miley becomes jealous of how much time her father is spending with the Jonas brothers), I Will Always Loathe You (Miley's tempestuous relatives ruin her acceptance speech during an awards ceremony), and That's What Friends are For (Miley attempts to get someone fired from a movie out of jealousy).
Keeping It Real, as one might've predicted, assembles the following four episodes: The Test of My Love (Miley attempts to make a good impression among the parents of a boy she likes), Don't Stop 'Till You Get the Phone (Miley's dad is reluctant to buy her a new phone), Yet Another Side of Me (Miley realizes that Hannah needs an upgrade after meeting a popular singing sensation), and We're All on this Date Together (Miley-as-Hannah agrees to go on a date with two bidders as part of a charity event).
Who Is Hannah Montana actually offers more content than the other collections, as it boasts six episodes culled from all four seasons of the show: Lilly, Do You Want to Know a Secret? (Lilly learns the truth about her best friend), Miley Get Your Gum (Oliver discovers Miley's secret), Achy Jakey Heart 1 & 2 (Miley's love interest, Jake, attempts to smooth over his abrupt journey to Rome), Ready, Set, Don't Drive (Miley uses her Hannah Montana alter ego to pass her driver's test), De-Do, Do-Do, Da-Don't-Don't-Don't Tell My Secret! (Miley's secret is almost revealed after Jackson's girlfriend spots her), and I'll Always Remember You 1 & 2 (various difficulties in Miley's life prompt her to seriously consider revealing her secret to the world).
Likewise, Miley Says Goodbye? collects six episodes from the series' third season, including: You Never Give Me My Money (Miley receives $5000 of Hannah's earnings and attempts to be responsible with it), Papa's Got a Brand New Friend (Hannah must contend with a new choreographer), Promma Mia (Hannah is forced to choose between her nerdy prom date and an opportunity to record with a hot young talent), He Could Be the One (Miley finds herself caught in a love triangle between two appealing suitors), and Miley Says Goodbye? 1 & 2 (Miley must make difficult choices after her childhood horse is moved to California).
The Hannah Montana saga comes to a close with Hannah Montana Forever, which collects all thirteen episodes from the series' final season. The most obvious change here is the switch from a 4x3 to a 16x9 aspect ratio, and it's worth noting, too, that the show improves substantially in its climactic run of episodes. Miley's decision to abandon her duel identity triggers a surprisingly watchable stretch, with the relative absence of painfully over-the-top interludes perpetuating the series' newfound far-from-terrible atmosphere. Hannah Montana Forever, which ends on a rather underwhelming note, is sure to satisfy fans of this kid-friendly program, while Disney deserves some credit for finally releasing a full-season package of the show.