By Alex Gonzalez
In 2007, when actress Miranda Cosgrove first signed onto the role of Carly Shay, the bubbly yet ambitious heroine of Nickelodeon’s iCarly, many social media outlets were still in their infancy. Back then, Myspace and Facebook were the internet’s dominant networks with their customizable profiles and user-friendly feeds. Twitter was only a year old; Instagram and TikTok didn’t yet exist. It was in this Wild West-like digital environment that, for many millennial fans, Carly became the first true influencer, launching a quirky, adventure-filled web show reaching thousands each week.
“Influencers just get younger and younger all the time,” Cosgrove tells MTV News. “When they first approached me about making iCarly when I was 12, I didn't know what a web show was. And I remember when they told me about it, I thought, ‘People aren't gonna relate to that, because I don't even really know what that is.’ And then when we got to around the third season, all of a sudden, people started making YouTube channels. All these kids were starting to make content online.”
The series ended in 2012, and nearly a decade later, the digital landscape has transformed tenfold. The influencer culture iCarly predicted has become bigger than Cosgrove could’ve ever imagined. High-profile Instagrammers are treated like celebrities, gifted thousands of dollars in products and free trips. Children under the age of 10 can earn millions of dollars annually posting YouTube videos unboxing toys. It’s in this new world that Carly Shay makes her return to the screen on Thursday (June 17) in a new iCarly series on Paramount+, a time when anyone with an iPhone, a ring light, and a passion for the craft can build a platform of their own — and one where Carly is sure to face some fierce competition.
The new series picks up 10 years after the events of the original’s final episode, in which Carly moves to Italy to live with her dad on a military base. In the years since, she and her crew have grown up and remained close, despite following separate paths. Each must face the challenges that come with young adulthood in their own way. Her older brother Spencer (Jerry Trainor) is now a wealthy artist. Her childhood best friend Freddie (Nathan Kress) has gone through a divorce and adopted a stepdaughter named Millicent (Jaidyn Triplett). Carly herself lives with a roommate, Harper (Laci Mosley), in the same apartment complex as Spencer and Freddie, still trying to find herself as a mid-twentysomething.
At 28, Cosgrove has also done some growing up since the show’s sixth season concluded. She began her acting career at the age of 7 performing in commercials before landing her breakout as the type-A band manager in Richard Linklater’s School of Rock. From then on, she and her family would set aside money she earned from each role — in addition to Carly, she played Megan Parker, the mischievous younger sister to Drake Bell on Drake and Josh — and put it in a college fund. After iCarly ended, Cosgrove attended the University of Southern California, where she initially planned to study film.
“It was just always really important to me to go and to get the college experience,” Cosgrove says. “When I got there, I started realizing I had to pick a major that I'm going to use possibly later in life. I started off with theater, then I realized I'm not very good on stage in front of an audience. And then I switched to film and I really enjoyed it. But also I'm not really trying to direct or write, so I switched to psychology. I guess that's what college is for, figuring out what you want to do and what you're interested in.”
In many ways, these experiences are reflected in the new iCarly, which promises to be more mature than its predecessor by putting its beloved characters in adult scenarios. Carly goes on dates. In one scene captured in the trailer, Spencer offers Freddie “hot wings, hot Cheetos, hot pretzels and hot beers.” Some may even be scandalized hearing Spencer yell, “Damn it,” when asked to recreate an old bit from Carly’s web show. “My experience filming the show, especially the pilot, has been a lot like my experience in real life,” Cosgrove says. “Because Carly's starting her web show for the first time in nearly 10 years in the pilot, and she's nervous and she's excited. That's exactly how I felt in real life, starting the show for the first time in almost 10 years.”
To that end, the show knows its audience — web-literate young adults who grew up alongside Carly — with various Easter eggs hidden throughout the season they will surely recognize. For one, the theme song will remain the same, with updated opening credits. In another case, Cosgrove had recreated the “interesting” meme, which depicts her character from Drake and Josh gazing suspiciously at a computer screen, that recently went viral. This reimagining will feature in an upcoming meme-themed episode of iCarly, which was inspired by the treasure trove of fan-altered images of herself online stemming from her numerous performances. Those that have trended in the last year alone have been used to satirize everything from unhealthy relationships to sexual awakenings.
Memes come and go, but the people in them enjoy brief tastes of internet fame. With instant live streaming and apps at the tip of your fingers, tools that were nonexistent when iCarly first aired, it’s easier than ever to create and curate a web presence. Anyone can go live via Instagram, TikTok has become a hub for “random dancing” bits, and viral moments on Twitter have a fairly quick shelf life. While the new iCarly addresses these changes in technology, fans will immediately recognize the show’s several “Pear” products, which are satirical takes on popular Apple offerings. There’s Carly’s iMac-esque Pear computer and then, of course, the PearPhone; a pear-shaped take on the iPhone, which comes in a variety of colors.
“We love the PearPhones and we didn't want to not have them,” Cosgrove says. “But because the show is a little more mature now, and the PearPhones look a little bit childish, we did a take on the PearPhone where it looks like an iPhone, but the logo on the back is a pear, instead of the entire iPhone being shaped like a pear. We had a lot of discussions about the PearPhones and trying to figure out the best way to keep them.”
Cosgrove’s characters were staples of many millennials’ childhoods, but Carly is the one to whom she feels the closest, in part because she reflects her own coming of age. When Carly was learning to navigate the internet and social media, Cosgrove was learning in tandem. As Carly would interact with fans via fan mail, Cosgrove was learning how to talk to fans via Twitter. During pivotal moments in Carly’s life, Cosgrove experienced them too. But even as she faces new challenges of her own, there will always be something about the role that feels fundamental to who she is.
“I had my first kiss on iCarly playing Carly,” Cosgrove says. “I had almost all of my childhood birthdays on the set of iCarly. I grew up making the show, so it's definitely a character that I'm always gonna love.”