Nickelodeon is finally emphasizing cartoons that are less surrealist and absurd and more charming and grounded. SpongeBob SquarePants and Fairly Oddparents are never going away, and Pig Goat Banana Cricket has been picked up for a second season. But Breadwinners is all but dead, Sanjay And Craig looks to be on its way out, Harvey Beaks is little-watched (but probably the network’s strongest show), and that Hey Arnold! reboot is on its way. Even the new Alvinnn!!! And The Chipmunks hides a surprising amount of heart and warmth beneath its hideous CGI designs and singing-rodent premise. Animation journeyman Chris Savino adds to this increasingly down-to-earth slate with The Loud House, the story of 11-year-old Lincoln Loud and his 10 school-age sisters.

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It would be easy for Savino—who based The Loud House on his own upbringing—to build the show around how much Lincoln’s sisters annoy him and get in his way. Instead, The Loud House is fairly even-handed in its portrayal of Lincoln’s siblings, and while this early in the show they’re defined by specific, one-note traits (the bookish nerd, the athletic one, the punk rocker), they’re never treated as female obstacles. If anything, it’s Lincoln himself who lacks any real definition, fitting the boring template of the average preteen boy. The show gives him some shading when it’s revealed he’s a comic-and-TV nerd, but for the most part, Lincoln’s entire personality is expressed in direct-address monologues in the Malcolm In The Middle mode.

The series premiere, “Left In The Dark,” does a remarkable job of introducing the Loud sisters, via a plot that involves Lincoln trying to watch his favorite TV show. It’s a tough job for a show’s first episode—especially since every character’s name begins with an “L”—yet bits of nuance pop up once Lincoln finds his way to the couch, only to realize he missed one of his sisters, the quiet, emo Lucy. She’s the character The Loud House most empathizes with, and the episode perks up whenever she and her sisters speak up for themselves.

The Loud House focuses on Lincoln dealing with various “kid” problems within the context of a large, crowded household. Without going into the Louds’ financial status, the show is careful to address the difficulty of managing personal spaces and expressing individuality within cramped living quarters. The female characters are defined by their traits, but never judged for them. “Sleuth Or Consequences” is the best episode after the pilot, as Lincoln and Lucy work together to figure out who flooded the toilet. The installment sheds new light on Lucy, and it strengthens her bond with her brother. Here’s hoping The Loud House does the same with the rest of its cast, because its most potent moments involve one-on-one interactions between Lincoln and his sisters.

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If the show has a major flaw, it’s Lincoln’s best friend, Clyde. It’s a thankless role, made worse by the character’s constant pining over Lincoln’s sister Lori. The Loud House’s warm approach to its female cast doesn’t hold to the show’s only person of color, who is defined by his crush and how he helps Lincoln. The show’s simplistic visual style might also turn some viewers off, but Savino gives it context, presenting The Loud House as an animated newspaper comic. Title sequences are placed within panels, the storyboards are framed in a basic layout, and the limited color palette bleeds across the the background lines. It could be a money-saving move, but it comes across as an aesthetic choice, which succeeds within the show’s premise. If the characters of The Loud Family develop to the point where they stand on their own, they could hang around as long as the familiar faces of the Sunday funnies—or at least as long SpongeBob, Wanda, and Cosmo.