11 Facts About 'The Secret World of Alex Mack'
The Secret World of Alex Mack was secretly one of the longer running series in Nickelodeon history, logging 78 episodes over four seasons from 1994 to 1998. It only ended because its star wanted out (we'll get to that). The show centered around the titular Alex Mack, who was doused with a mysterious chemical that gave her powers like morphing into goo, turning others into goo, and things that had nothing to do with goo, like shooting out electricity from her fingertips. Her only confidants were her bestie Ray and book smart older sister Annie, as the decidedly evil company that manufactured the chemical was out to find the student they knew was hiding their darkest secrets. Here are 11 things you may not have known, or may have completely forgotten, about the show.
1. THREE HUNDRED GIRLS AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF ALEX.
Alex Mack co-creator and producer Thomas W. Lynch told the Los Angeles Times in 1994 that he wasn't interested in a girl who "looked like she worked too much in television, had the kinds of reactions you always see, the smile, the look, the acting with eyes and all that kind of thing." He saw 300 girls for the role. What set Oleynik apart? "Larisa had such a great natural instinct," he said. "It was stunning. She made the character richer and more shaded."
2. ALEX MACK REPLACED A SNICK STAPLE.
Nickelodeon's iconic Saturday Night block launched on August 15, 1992, starting with Clarissa Explains It All's second season premiere, "Crush." Clarissa and crew would remain at the 8PM EST slot for the next two years, all the way until the end of its original run. When it came time to replace the show, Nick decided to stick with a series with a female protagonist, and on October 8, 1994, Alex Mack replaced Clarissa, starting a night of programming that included Space Cases, All That, and Are You Afraid of the Dark? In another two years, Alex Mack would run new episodes twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday, replaced on the SNICK lineup by Kenan & Kel.
3. JESSICA ALBA WAS AN ORIGINAL CAST MEMBER.
Alex Mack marked the television debut of actress Jessica Alba, who had made her film debut a little over a month earlier in Camp Nowhere. Alba would appear in the pilot and two other episodes of the first season as the snobby "Jessica," the girlfriend of Alex's crush Scott Greene. Jessica was designed to be hated: She wasn't just dating the likable main character's crush, but acted cruelly toward her, too. When Alba left to co-star on the television reboot of Flipper, Scott Greene got himself a new girlfriend, Kelly, who also antagonized Alex.
Only Alba's season of Alex Mack has currently been officially released on DVD; the cover has young Alba's face towards the upper left hand corner, touting the fact that it was her TV debut.
4. THERE WAS SOME CONTROVERSY.
In the pilot, when Alex reformed back into a human after turning into goo, she would no longer be wearing clothes. The writers quickly gave the character the power to keep her clothing on in subsequent episodes, both because there was a minor controversy over it, and because they likely noticed the embarrassment of then 12-year old star Larisa Oleynik. When asked about the naked morphing years later, Oleynik said, "I remember being mortified! I was just really embarrassed, being that I was 12 or 13 or whatever. I had this towel wrapped around me or something and was behind some boxes. I was so, so embarrassed. They did then end up changing that ... which was a good thing."
Another issue was raised upon the United Kingdom's release of the season 1 DVD in 2012, when it was suggested by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) that anyone under 15 should not purchase a copy. The reason given was that in one scene a "child character" hides inside a tumble dryer, and the danger of doing such a thing is never addressed. The BBFC claimed that instead of cutting the scene, the distributor said they were fine with the rating because it was aimed for "an adult 'nostalgia' market" and not for children who wouldn't be familiar with the show anyway.
5. ALEX'S HATS WERE INSPIRED BY THE 1960s STYLE OF THE COSTUME DESIGNER'S FATHER
Lynch admitted in a 2012 story that it was costume designer Laura Slakey's idea to have Alex Mack wear hats. "She just threw this hat on and I was like, 'Wow, that's perfect,'" Lynch said. "The most iconic thing in the show, I had nothing to do with." Slakey was inspired by the way her father dressed in the 1960s; she imagined that Alex would dress differently since she didn't come across as a popular girl in the pilot script.
Initially, Nickelodeon didn't want the hats, but Lynch won that battle. Oleynik couldn't pick a favorite hat when asked years later, but she did bring up a lid she has never gotten out of her mind that the cast and crew referred to as the "condom cap."
6. THE STORY BEHIND THE NAME OF THE CHEMICAL IS HEARTBREAKING.
Along with fellow creator Ken Lipman, Lynch wrote the pilot script for the show. Lynch's father was a nuclear physicist who worked with radioactive materials that he kept in the garage, providing some basic inspiration. Lynch's childhood is also how he came up with GC-161, the name of the chemical that gave Alex Mack powers. While GC was derived from "DNA research," 161 came about from divorce. Lynch was eight when his parents divorced, and 1 + 6 + 1 equals 8.
7. THE BIG BAD WAS MR. BELDING'S WIFE.
Louan Gideon played Danielle Atron, the evil owner/CEO of the Paradise Valley Chemical Plant. Gideon, however, might be best known as Becky Belding, Mr. Belding's one and only, from Saved by the Bell. She appeared in an episode giving birth to Zack Belding, named after Zack Morris, who was stuck in an elevator with Becky when she was in labor. She also appeared in an episode of Saved by the Bell: The New Class and on Seinfeld.
8. THERE WERE ACCOMPANYING BOOKS.
Between 1995 and 1998, 34 books featuring Alex Mack and company were published concurrently with the TV show. Only the first and last books, which were novelizations of the first and last episodes, didn't have original stories. The books ranged in length from 130 to 180 pages, and most were written by Diana G. Gallagher, a veteran author of books based on TV shows.
9. THE SHOW WAS NEVER CANCELLED.
Larisa Oleynik was offered a fifth season, a feature Alex Mack film, and "a ton of money," according to Thomas Lynch, but Oleynik said she wanted to keep her character innocent, and that she was burnt out and wanted to finish high school. While that may be true, Larisa took on the role of Alissa Strudwick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's girlfriend on 3rd Rock from the Sun, for 21 episodes soon after Alex Mack's end.
10. THE WRITING STAFF AND DIRECTORS WOULD GO ON TO BIGGER THINGS.
Matt Dearborn not only wrote seven episodes of The Secret World of Alex Mack, but directed three installments as well before creating the popular kids series Even Stevens. Vance DeGeneres—yes, Ellen's brother—wrote on the show before becoming an early Daily Show correspondent and writing for some Oscar telecasts. Writers Brian Hargrove and Jack Kenny would later co-create Titus. Neena Beber wrote the episode "False Alarms" before writing on Daria and penning the Mandy Moore movie How to Deal. Shawn Levy got his first TV show directing assignment on Alex Mack, eventually directing six episodes before helming Steve Martin's version of The Pink Panther, The Internship, Date Night, and all three of the Night at the Museum films.
11. THE AMBIGUOUS ENDING IS NO LONGER AMBIGUOUS.
In the final moments of the series finale, Annie checks up on Alex, who was just given an antidote by her scientist father that would rid her of all of her powers. Once Annie walks away, Alex pulls out the vial and smiles. Oleynik said that she played the scene not knowing if she takes the antidote or not: "You know, I never ... and I don't know what acting teachers would say about this, 'cause you're always supposed to have a choice ... but I never made that choice for myself when we were doing it. Just because I wasn't sure how I wanted the show to end in my mind." But Lynch revealed the answer in 2012. Spoiler alert: Alex Mack keeps her powers.