From Disney Channel to Disney Plus: Revisiting “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” 14 years after finale

Written By Rachel Ross, Co Features/A&E Editor

Growing up, I was definitely more of a Disney Channel kid than anything else. One of my favorite shows, if not possibly my favorite show, was The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Of all of the Disney shows I grew up with- Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, That’s So Raven, etc.- this one has stuck with me the closest into my adult life. This deep seeded love encouraged me to craft several highlight nights of personal favorite episodes to show my boyfriend, who grew up a Cartoon Network kid, and thus largely unfamiliar with Suite Life. These few nights were such a hit that they encouraged us to embark on a journey to watch the entire series end to end. Now, coming out the other side, I believe I’ve developed a further love and respect for the show beyond the one I’ve had since childhood. 

For those unfamiliar, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody follows two twin boys, Zack and Cody, portrayed by Dylan and Cole Sprouse. While Dylan has sort of taken a step back from the public eye since finishing his run on Disney Channel, Cole has remained in the limelight, gaining much attention for his portrayal of Jughead Jones on the CW’s Riverdale. 

Zack and Cody live in the Tipton Hotel, where their mother, Carey, works as a lounge singer. As the boys declare in my personal favorite episode, Commercial Breaks, the Tipton is their place to play; they routinely get into hijinks with the hotel’s staff and other guests, specifically the teenage girl who runs the candy counter, Maddie (Ashley Tisdale), and teenage heiress London Tipton (Brenda Song), whose father owns the hotel. Occasionally, other hotel staff get in on the boys’ schemes, such as bellboy Esteban (Adrian R’Mante), engineer Arwin (Brian Stepanek) and maid Muriel (Estelle Harris). The boys are often corralled or reprimanded by the hotel’s manager, Mr. Moseby (Phill Lewis), whose goal each episode is usually to put a stop to whatever they are doing, or clean up the mess they’ve made. 

Beyond any nostalgia filled bias I acknowledge I may possess, I sincerely and unabashedly believe that this show has stood the test of time; I would still earnestly call this a good, entertaining series at age 19. The situations that the writer’s craft for the boys to get into, combined with the unique backdrop of the hotel, and a variety of personable, loveable characters blends into a fantastic sitcom, not just by kid’s standards, but by any standards. 

One of the strongest examples of this is the show’s sense of comedy. Sure, at times it is bogged down by the usual “I love my skateboard and hate my family” Disney Channel fare, but more often than not, the writers manage to craft material that is genuinely funny, which I think is an especially commendable feat, considering how heavily censored I’m sure they were. Yes, obviously this show is geared towards children, but besides the absence of more mature jokes or episode themes, I wouldn’t consider it to be very different from a “Family Ties or “Full House-” sitcoms that were not considered just for kids.

So from an entertainment standpoint, I definitely stand by this show even today. However, I can’t say the same for the outdated and offensive stereotypes portrayed here and there. There are a number of racial stereotypes utilized throughout the show, especially in the character of Esteban, as well as a collection of the guests who visit the hotel from other countries. 

I hate to say, “It was a different time” because that feels so dismissive, but in this case, I don’t believe anything was done with malicious intent or to push any kind of agenda; I think it really was just the writers failing to understand how some of the jokes they were writing were wrong or offensive due to poor societal standards. I’m not saying it’s ok or that it should be ignored, but I personally do not believe the whole show should be penalized for it. 

One of the most unique elements of the show is the setting, being the hotel and its different locales. Giving the boys this huge stage to run emoke on plays an essential role in the show’s originality and situational comedy. The majority of the show’s best episodes are the ones that utilize the full potential of the setting, such as having the group search the hotel for buried treasure, having the hotel host a dance competition, or having the hotel film a commercial. That’s not to say the show necessarily relies on the hotel either; there are plenty of episodes that take place outside of it, such as at the boy’s school, the mall, or in one case, a game show, that maintain the same charm. Suite Life has always stood out to me, even as a kid, for the uniqueness of its concept; it’s just a fun idea for a show, especially a show geared towards kids. Now, I’m able to appreciate it on a deeper level, a more artistic level, for the phenomenal job the writers did at utilizing this concept to its fullest potential. 

The show’s cast is composed of truly entertaining and talented actors. I mean, I’m not saying anyone was snubbed for an Emmy or anything, but I do believe the entire cast maintains a high level of energy and commitment to the material that really amplifies the show and makes it as charming as it is. I feel confident in saying that they often transcend the usual expectations of a “Disney Channel actor,” especially the boys as they get older. The Sprouse twins deserve a lot of credit for their performances in this show, especially considering their age when it started. They quickly work their way beyond being just cute, mischievous boys in the first season to having a noticeable handle on the material and line deliveries in the second and third. 

Ashley Tisdale and Brenda Song offer a great contrast to the boys during their own subplots together, as well as meld naturally in main plots they are a part of with them. Maddie and London often get into their own schemes and hijinks that are nearly on par with the boys in terms of entertainment and compatibility. I really appreciate the way in which the girls handle their differences in a contrasting way to the boys, mostly due to their age difference. While the boys often bicker over their differences in personalities, they tend to come back together quickly, bonded in their brotherhood. London and Maddie’s problems however usually spawn from financial differences, and through them, different world outlooks, which often cause deeper schisms and divides. However, the girls usually come back together after developing an understanding of the other’s perspective. 

Of the rest of the ensemble cast, I have to single out Phil Lewis as Mr. Moseby. He is by far one of the most entertaining characters on the show; my boyfriend sites him as his undeniable favorite. He masterfully walks the lines between being this sarcastic, clean cut manager, to a gentle mentor figure, to a wacky, eccentric character sometimes getting into crazier shenanigans than the boys. He is fantastic in all capacities, especially when he shares scenes with London, offering her advice or consoling her. This leads into what I’ve come to appreciate the show for most in recent years: the sense of family. 

At its core, Suite Life is about how family doesn’t just have to be comprised of blood relatives; it is anyone who loves you and cares for you. For the boys, and their mom, the staff at the Tipton are their family; they are always there to help them when they need them, or offer support in times of crisis. Beyond that, the show regularly addresses difficult concepts in regard to family, especially with the boys and London. There are several episodes surrounding the boys’ difficulty dealing with their parent’s estranged relationship, as well as hopes they will get back together, and fears for their mother marrying someone else and how it will impact their lives. For London, whose primary caretaker is Moseby, the absence of her father, disappointment when he fails to keep commitments, and difficulty connecting to step mothers are some of the issues addressed. Of all of the shows on Disney Channel during my childhood, I think that this one absolutely had the strongest message, and the best execution of it. The lessons it taught me about family still stick with me today, even if I didn’t realize at the time that I was learning lessons at all. 

The Suite Life of Zack and Cody is a prime example of the power media can have on our lives, especially in adolescence, and the way it can mold us and shape us into the people we become. I am sincerely thankful for this show, and all of the people who worked on it, for the entertainment it provided me with over the years, and the fond memories it left me with. I hope all of the cast and crew know the impact the show had, and are proud to have been a part of it.