[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers about “Andi Mack” Season 2, including its finale.]
Amidst a month filled with culturally relevant movies and TV shows starring actors of Asian descent, add Disney Channel’s “Andi Mack,” which wrapped up its second season Monday night. While the series never leaned too heavily on its characters’ Asian roots, it didn’t ignore them either. This season sprinkled in a Chinese New Year celebration, a dumpling-making bonding session, and a significant use of the yin-yang symbol.
But at heart, “Andi Mack” is the coming-of-age story of bubbly teenager Andi (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) who just wants to make art, hang with her friends, and see her single parents marry each other. Season 1 was concerned with her adjusting to big revelations — the people she thought were her parents are really her grandparents, and her cool older sister Bex (Lilan Bowden) is actually her mom — while this season deepened that mother-daughter bond to a “Gilmore Girls” level.
In fact, in the finale, the duo teams up to host an elaborate dinner in which Bex would propose to Andi’s father Bowie with a ring embedded in a layer cake. But before that could happen, Bowie gets an offer to rejoin his band on tour in Europe. While this sort of cliffhanger is introduced to create drama for the end of the season, it also accomplishes more than that. For one, it highlights just how much Andi is craving that picture of a perfect family she never had, but also, these circumstances mirror her own love life. Just when she finally gets on the same page with Jonah (Asher Angel) and becomes his girlfriend, she learns they’ll be parted as he goes off for eight weeks of Ultimate Summer Camp.
In some ways, Andi’s story is the most typical of all the kids on the show. She deals with her family’s various squabbles and is feeling out dating for the first time. But in the end, most of her story is something we’ve seen on TV before (once they get past that whole “my sister is actually my mother” aspect). If the show were just that, it would be plenty fun and charming, but “Andi Mack” makes an attempt to actually connect with viewers through stories of inclusion that aren’t typically seen on TV for the tween crowd, and that includes some adult issues as well.
Andi’s friend Cyrus (Joshua Rush) was the focus of attention earlier this season when it was revealed that he would have the first coming out storyline on a Disney Channel series. And while it’s true that he revealed to Andi and Buffy (Sofia Wylie) that he had a crush on Jonah, the word “gay” was never used. Furthermore, in a recent episode, he admits that his crush on Jonah is over. Poof! As if it never happened.
While some would fear that this smacks of erasure or backtracking on Cyrus being gay, this is in keeping with the show’s style of taking its time to unspool storylines in an organic way. This makes it possible to avoid the dreaded Very Special Episode, which more often than not comes off as preachy and too neatly resolved in one go. It’s possible that Cyrus will have a crush on another boy next season or he may have a crush on a girl (and thus might be bisexual). Therefore, rather than putting an end to Cyrus’ coming-out story, it’s left it as an ellipsis. What is important is how the series shows how matter-of-fact that these discussions about crushes between him and Buffy have become. While he may have felt conflicted at first, her acceptance has made it possible for this to be a continued conversation.
In that same vein, Buffy herself seems to have awoken to her sexuality. (Seriously though, can Andi’s friends stop crushing on her guys? Let them widen their circle a bit). Her story about identity, however, has to do with gender roles and parity. While she made history at her school as the first girl to join the boys’ basketball team, in the end, she decides to leave that behind and start a girls’ team instead.
The exploration of identity doesn’t remain just with the children though. Andi’s grandmother Celia (Lauren Tom) feels unmoored after her husband decides to take a trip abroad without her. Yes, she’s lonely, but also so much of what she does and who she is is wrapped up in being one half a couple. Coming so closely on the heels of Andi moving out to live with Bex, she’s feeling the effects of an empty nest in a different way and will have to reestablish who she is and what she wants.
As Bex notes, the first blush of romance and dating can be fun and exciting, and the series captures Andi’s initial attempts through rose-colored lenses. But this year also included a glimpse into adult dating, specifically through Bowie and his disastrous attempt to date a single mom whose child turns out to be a liar and a bit of a kleptomaniac. The abrupt ending to that relationship highlights how difficult it can be to date when taking into account different parenting styles and values.
A key relationship tested is a rite of passage that happens to many kids: having one of your friends move away. In the case of Buffy, she left town with her mother who was stationed in Phoenix. The show drew out the farewell to Buffy in various ways — having the kids try to re-create a perfect day and also putting together a time capsule for her — which were fun, optimistic ways to say goodbye, but never really dealt with her absence. Fortunately, she didn’t stay away for long when a fluke landed her right back in town or at least an hour away. This was perhaps the one time this season that the show seemed to have lost its nerve. Even if Buffy moving away was always going to be temporary, her absence would’ve had a greater impact if it lasted over several episodes, giving the illusion of it being permanent. Thus far, the series hasn’t really dealt with loss in a big way, but it seems like it may be laying the groundwork to do so in the future.
One of the most gratifying storylines this season involves Cyrus becoming an unexpected ally to two bullies who learn to confide in him. This might be because even as he’s trying to establish his own identity, he doesn’t come off as judgmental with them even if they’ve had a history of mean behavior. Cyrus is also the son of a therapist and may have picked up some skills there. But this also brings us to…
“Andi Mack” stands out among children’s programming in how it turns a compassionate eye on how some of the younger characters need and seek out help. Jonah revealed a chink in his armor when he had an anxiety attack at Cyrus’ bar mitzvah. While the series hasn’t delved into exactly what’s underlying these episodes, they tend to happen when he feels out of control. In the second half of the season, Cyrus commiserates with Jonah about how real physical manifestations of panic can be, and later Jonah turns to music to help him cope with his feelings.
Cyrus also befriends mean girl Amber (Emily Skinner) who is receiving therapy from his mother for issues with her father that were raised last season. As her peer, Cyrus also provides a sympathetic ear. It’s not the first incongruous friendship he’s developed on the show either. Arrogant athlete TJ (Luke Mullen) divulges his fears about falling behind at school, and urged by Buffy and Cyrus, he learns that he has a learning disability. As with Jonah, a diagnosis is key in helping him understand better, but only once he decides to embrace it. All of these storylines normalize the fact that many kids have issues, whether it’s at home, with their health, or at school. Hopefully, viewers will find comfort in seeing someone who is struggling with those same issues on such a positive and uplifting show.
While “Andi Mack’s” first outing mainly focused on that aftermath of the Mack family’s truth finally coming out after 13 years, this season expanded to reflect a more inclusive world with those in their orbit. Even after two seasons, the show feels fresh and new because of the show’s storylines that are usually underserved on TV. It’s no wonder that the series rightfully earned a Television Academy Honors, GLAAD Media Award, and Peabody nomination. The series deserves recognition for what it’s accomplished, while still delivering a lighthearted and engaging program.