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TV Series Review

Since 1948, the magazine Highlights for Children has chronicled the choices of Goofus & Gallant, similar-looking boys who couldn't behave more differently. One is rude, the other kind. Each installment promotes pro-social behavior by modeling it for children and encouraging them to be a Gallant, not a Goofus. To a lesser degree, that dichotomy comes into play on Disney Channel's popular sitcom The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.

Identical twins Zack and Cody (brothers Cole and Dylan Sprouse, who look less identical now than they did when the series premiered in '05) live in the posh Tipton hotel with their single mom, the resident lounge singer. Childish irresponsibility lands the boys in hot water, usually because they've run afoul of Mr. Moseby, the uptight hotel manager. While there's no malice in either of the twins, Zack is less sensitive to others' feelings, more likely to give in to peer pressure and quick to gross out a girl with talk of "eye boogers." Cody acts the dutiful gentleman. He's the pair's conscience, though Cody's kindness can cause people to take advantage of his good nature, leaving some young viewers to wonder if sweetness may be overrated.

A few years older—and only slightly wiser—are the teenagers hanging around The Tipton. The most mature presence is Maddie (High School Musical's Ashley Tisdale), the hard-working girl who runs the candy counter. She attends a strict parochial school known for its plaid skirts, nasty food and yardstick-wielding nuns. Maddie's friendly rival is wealthy London Tipton. This snobby, self-absorbed hotel heiress comes off as absurdly superficial, giving Maddie the chance to be a voice of reason ("London, it's not all about outfits; it's about the people inside them"). The girls giggle about cute guys, but while London only cares about looks, Maddie wants "intelligence, sense of humor, sweetness and creativity."

Despite stray remarks about gassiness or sizing up the opposite sex, the humorous situations on this show always set up strong moral lessons, such as when a bossy lack of cooperation nearly breaks apart the kids' rock band. Other episodes have addressed the need to embrace outcasts, respect people's privacy, accept blame for mistakes and resist craving the acceptance of the in-crowd.

Also, Zack and Cody's poor judgment leads to consequences and restitution. Mom's no pushover. She loves her sons enough to assign punishments that fit the crime. For example, when they spy on girls in the next room through a hole in the wall (no immodesty implied), the girls poke them in the eye. But Mom goes further, preaching respect for women and assigning her sons an essay about why peeping is wrong. Goofus moments aside, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody usually proves quite gallant.

Episodes Reviewed: 6 episodes, March 12 & 19, 2007

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Bob Smithouser

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