Feb 11, 2016

The Thirteenth Year

Every now and then the Disney Channel airs a movie over-brimming with teenage and young adult beefcake, only to hide it in a vault and refuse to release it on DVD, as if the network bigwigs find it embarrassing: Jumping Ship, Luck of the Irish, Johnny Tsunami, Full-Court Miracle.  But the most egregious is The Thirteenth Year (1999), which seems little more than an excuse to display 17-year old Chez Starbuck and his friends in swimsuits.

Chez plays Cody Griffin, a "normal" 13-year old whose main problems are: 1) the swim team, where he competes with star athlete Sean (Tim Redwine, left), and 2) his marine biology project, where he is partnered with the uncool science nerd Jess (Justin Jon Ross).  Oh, and his body is changing, and not just the expected changes of puberty: he's developing gills and scales.

Jess performs some tests, and concludes that Cody is turning into a mermaid -- or rather, a merman.  Turns out that his mother is a mermaid, and he will eventually transform altogether.

In spite of the "keeping my secret" hilarity, the movie is rather disturbing.  The transformation is painful and traumatic, and when it is complete, Cody will no longer be human.  He must abandon his human friends and seek out "his own kind" in the ocean.

But there's substantial gay content, and not just the endless swimsuit shots.

1. Although Cody has a girlfriend -- this is Disney, after all -- he ends up buddy-bonding with Jess.  The climactic rescue comes when he saves Jess from drowning, and then uses his mermaid electrical power to revive him.

2. None of the main characters other than Cody express any heterosexual interest.  They all seemed extraordinarily focused on him.

3. The "fish out of water" looking for a place where he can be himself.  Ok, gay symbolism.

Chez Starbuck hasn't done much acting since The Thirteenth Year.  He played a jock in Time Share (2000) and got undressed in the MTV series Undressed.  He appeared as himself in the reality series The Real L-Word (2011), about real lesbians, and for some reason made a plaster cast of his penis.

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