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The series focuses on the Stevens family. Steve, the father, is a lawyer whose wife, Eileen, serves as a state senator (the show being set in Sacramento, California). Their oldest son is Donnie Stevens, a dumb jock who obsesses over his hair. Most of the show's plots center on middle child Ren, the family's resident Smart Girl, principal's pet and perfectionist, and youngest child Louis Stevens, the show's king of the Zany Scheme, get-rich-quick stunts and practical jokes.
This was the last "old school" Disney Channel Original Series before the paradigm shifter Lizzie McGuire premiered in 2001 and pioneered the now infamous Disney Channel Formula. It remained the last show on the channel without a quirky "gimmick" as part of the premise until Good Luck Charlie premiered ten years later.
This series contains examples of:
- Accidental Athlete: Twitty in "Head Games".
- Actor Allusion / Hey, It's That Guy!: Gary LeRoi Gray, who played Ren's Black and Nerdy friend Nelson during Season 2, was Nelson Tibideaux, the grandson of Cliff Huxtable, as a toddler near the end of The Cosby Show's run.
- All Cheering All the Time: Invoked and Played for Laughs in an episode Ren joins the squad, only to be criticized for not being perky enough; she takes this to heart and begins cheering all the time. This takes a turn for the bizarre where she cheers while doing laundry and suddenly realizes/cheers that a sock is missing...and still manages to make it rhyme and keep the pace.
- Animated Credits Opening: Done in Claymation.
- Anti-Sneeze Finger: One episode uses this at the end, when Ren is getting a retake of her school photo. She is about to sneeze, but Louis puts his finger under her nose to stop it and save her from being photographed in mid-sneeze.
- Bacon Addiction: Beans' favorite food.
- Breakout Character: The early episodes balanced Louis and Ren fairly evenly, perhaps even erring on the side of giving Ren more screen time. But somewhere along the line, the producers obviously came to realize that they had a star on their hands in the person of Shia LaBeouf, and Louis increasingly stole the spotlight.
- The Cast Showoff: A few examples, most notably Christy Carlson Romano (Ren), A.J. Trauth (Twitty) and to a lesser degree Lauren Frost (Ruby).
- Chained to a Railway: In "Louis in the Middle", Tawny pretends to be tied to a minature railroad while Alan attempts to run her over with a train in an effort to shake Louis out of his 'hero syndrome' mindset.
- Channel Hop: Unusually for a Disney Channel Original Series, this was not shown on the UK Disney Channel (unlike The Movie), getting shown on Children's BBC and later ITV.
- Child Prodigy: Louis learned to walk at six months.
- Criminal Doppelganger: In the episode Short Story, Louis gets Wrongfully Accused for the acts of another student from another school who looks exactly like him and even has the same name as he does.
- Actually, the evil Louis was named "Loomis Freeman".
- Dawson Casting: Applies to the entire cast, but especially Egregious with Donnie, a star athlete in high school played by an actor in his mid-twenties. Also, Ren was in middle school but was quite clearly of high school age (one possible reason why is explained below). Especially with Shia LaBeouf in the season finale which used footage from the pilot as a flashback. also see Development Hell below.
- Deadpan Snarker: Most of the cast, but Tawny seems to be the most prolific example.
- Development Hell: The series started out as a show called "Spivey's Kid Brother" with Spivey as the family surname and had its pilot shot in late 1997 before spending the next two years waiting to get picked up, resulting in Christy Romano ended up a borderline. Dawson Casting example (as well as the Spivey last name having to have been dubbed out of the first episode with Stevens). Watch the season one finale as it used footage from the pilot. The two years the show was in Development Hell shows especially with Shia LaBeouf as he looks years younger in the Flashback scenes that the pilot was used as, even more noticeable is that the flashback takes place only months before.
- Drop in Character: Beans, probably doubling as The Scrappy.
- Dumb Muscle: Eldest brother Donnie.
- Evil Twin: Loomis Freeman in the episode "Short Story".
- Extracurricular Enthusiast: Ren Stevens.
- Fake Band: The Twitty/Stevens Connection.
- Goth / Granola Girl: Tawny.
- Happily Ever After: Louis and Tawny.
- It Came From the Fridge: Louis' sloppiness has resulted in old food coming into vicious, evil life in both his school locker and under his bed. Never in the fridge, though, probably because other family members use it too.
- It's a Wonderful Plot: A Hanukkah special had Louis' great great great grandmother show him what the Stevens household would be like if he were never born. Without him, Donnie and Ren developed inferiority complexes from having a Marty Stu for a younger brother instead, and the lack of comic relief created misery among the family.
- This is the only episode available on DVD, included on a compilation of various holiday specials starring Disney Channel characters.
- Ivy League for Everyone
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: As of 2010, the show is no longer aired on TV, and almost none of the episodes have been released on DVD.
- Known Only By Their Nickname: Subverted with Twitty as he is rarefy referred to by his first name and never by Louis as he seems confused when someone calls him Alan.
Louis Stevens: Who's Alan?
- Also Beans is rarely referred to as Bernard.
- Last-Minute Hookup: a Disney Channel tradition. Louis and Tawny.
- The Movie: The family plus Beans is stranded on a desert island in a combination Survivor/Joe Schmo-type reality show hosted by Tim Meadows.
- Musical Episode: "Influenza".
- Also a Fever Dream Episode.
- Mr. Fanservice: Donnie had his fair share of shirtless scenes.
- Ren and her bikini could be an example of Ms. Fanservice in the Movie, but your mileage may vary
- Official Couple: Louis and Tawny.
- Power Trio: Louis, Twitty and Tawny. Also; Ren, Ruby, and Monique.
- Put on a Bus: Virtually all of Ren's friends except for Ruby and Monique.
- Sadist Teacher: Coach Tugnut, especially in Influenza the Musical.
Real Men Wear Pink: Donnie Donnie is quite Masculine but enjoys getting facials and shaves his legs. In one episode he turns the safety valve of the hot water heater so he could use use the scalding hot water from the shower in order to turn the bathroom into a sauna. Hilarity Ensures when Louis's candy bars that he has to sell melt after being to close to the heater.
Tugnut: It has been pointed out that my obstacle course is dangerous, cruel and sadistic. It has also been pointed out that I myself am dangerous, cruel, and sadistic. So I have decided to cancel 6th period.
- Shout-Out: To The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.
- Slippery Swimsuit: Louis was trying to show his dad that he could be serious in a swimming contest, only for it to backfire horribly when he still managed to be the brunt of jokes due to his trunks falling off and his not realizing it until after Twitty points it out.
- Spinning Clock Hands: Gag version is done in one episode where Steve Stevens remarks he has to fix the clock.
- Teen Genius: Ren, and to a lesser degree Tom Gribalski.
- Throw It In: In-Universe example: In the movie's beginning, during Ren's valedictorian speech, Louis and Beans (after tricking Donny into letting them go backstage) have a beach ball-shaped device bounce around the podium, with Tugnut (who was asleep during the speech) being ordered by Weskler into grabbing the ball and restoring order. Louis intended for the ball, when exploding, to release confetti. However, Beans (who presumably was the one who actually created the ball) misheard his instructions and said that he thought Louis said "spaghetti", right after the ball detonates and sprays the coach with the brunt of spaghetti and meatballs. Louis then said to Beans that his mishearing things made the prank even better.
- Too Dumb to Live: Donnie. "When I look at the sun, I have to squint"
- This sequence from The Movie when the family learns that the "tribe" has shunned them.
Miles: You have been shunned.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: Virtually every episode had a main plot and "B" story, with one revolving around Louis and the other involving Ren. The show alternated which character received the A plot and which received the B plot.
- Victorious Childhood Friend: Louis and Tawny.
- Zany Scheme: Probably the show that first got Disney Channel addicted to the trope.