New TV show puts smart girls in spotlight
"Yes, it's true. Women do run the world," the head of a females-only spy agency tells four schoolgirl recruits in "Project Mc2," Netflix's new series for tweens.
But spinning reality isn't the show's intent. Instead, it seeks to encourage girls to do the math and realize they are capable of succeeding in the male-dominated fields of science and technology.
That lofty aspiration is wrapped in the lively, goofy fun of "Project Mc2," about four girls who join forces with intelligence chief The Quail, played by actress and real-life math whiz and author Danica McKellar ("The Wonder Years").
In the three-episode "Project Mc2," available Aug. 7 on Netflix in the United States and 50-plus other countries, the fledgling teenage spies are smart, stylish and far from social geeks. The target audience: viewers age 7 to 12, the so-called "tween" demographic and a second season is planned.
"It's really aspirational," said executive producer Shauna Phelan. "It shows you can be smart and cool. You can be smart and funny. You can be smart and stylish and those things are not mutually exclusive in an individual."
"It would be amazing if we had a younger demographic look at these girls and realize, 'I love these super-smart girls and I want to be like them,'" Phelan said.
Consider it a pop culture contribution to academic efforts to engage girls and young women in the disciplines known by the acronym "STEM," for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The series' diverse cast includes Victoria Vida, Genneya Walton, Ysa Penarejo and Mika Abdalla as the intrepid quartet called on to rescue a royal - but not a princess.
"Our damsel in distress is a prince on a civilian flight to space. So we flipped the paradigm there, where we have four smart girls saving the boy," Phelan said.
For McKellar, "Project Mc2" adds up to a passion project. She has a bachelor's degree in math.
"This is what I want girls to see more of. Instead of imagining, 'I'm one of these vapid models I see on the covers of magazines, or reality stars,'" McKellar said. She'd like youngsters to envision themselves striding down Wall Street in "4-inch heels and going to a high-powered job."
"Being smart means you're in control of your life," she said.
Entertainment is the show's first goal, but a consultant was brought in to ensure the accuracy of the science the young agents dabble in, Phelan said. Writer Jordana Arkin went one better, vetting the show's espionage angles with a friend who's ex-CIA.
The action and the science are lighthearted: In one scene, the girls dust for fingerprints with a concoction made from kitchen ingredients.
"Project Mc2" offers something else for tweens: a serialized story, not stand-alone episodes.
"They can even binge-watch," Phelan said.