Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kids' Shows That Don't Suck

Having kids puts a damper on your entertainment lifestyle.  There was once a time you could come home on any given weeknight with a pizza and a couple of movies filled with profanity and violence, and not give it a second thought.  Heck, even babies don't put too much of a crimp in this.  I fondly remember picking up my infant son (forthwith to be referred to as "The Boy") from daycare, coming home and feeding him while watching Fight Club...ah, memories.

But eventually a child reaches the age of discerning TV viewership.  Also, they start to repeat bad words.  So the television becomes, before bedtime at least, the realm of the children.  This can be extremely distressing, especially when Dora and that damned monkey start repeating everything three times, then again in Spanish!  However, there are options out there that kids love, and I daresay an adult could watch...even without kids around.  Not that I do...

Spongebob Squarepants
This cartoon has, I think, officially reached "classic" status.  I knew people in college who swore by it, but I never watched.  Oh, how I'm saddened by my 20-year-old self's ignorance.  In fact, a good case can be made that this show isn't for kids at all, but there aren't very many kids who don't know the entire theme song, The Boy included.  The verisimilitude of the show is occasionally, um, lacking (how can Spongebob cook crabby patties on a flat top grill...under water?  It's madness!) but that's hardly a reason not to watch.  Personally, I'm waiting for the spin off featuring Mr. Krabs and Plankton running a themed restaurant together, Odd Couple style, perhaps as some sort of court-ordered punishment (note to Nickelodeon--make this happen).

I would also accept a one-man variety show featuring only Gary the snail.

Curious George
This show forms one of the anchors of PBS's educational cartoon block in the afternoons and super-early Saturday morning (<stage whisper at 6:00 AM> "Daaaad....Daaaad!  Can you help me with the remote?").  This particular iteration of H.A. Rey's beloved characters is geared toward teaching kids math and science concepts, which it does to a reasonable degree, but the writing is actually very clever and entertaining.  The man with the yellow hat (who remains nameless in this show as in the books) is the straight man to George's simian shenanigans, and is a very relatable figure for all those dads out there who could be classified as "lovable bumblers."  Though they still dance around the fact that a grown man with the scratch to afford a two-bedroom high-rise apartment with a doorman in Manhattan seems to feel more comfortable living with a monkey than a woman.

Nothing to see here.  Move along...
 The Penguins of Madagascar
In my opinion (which is really the only one that matters on this particular corner of the internet), Madagascar sucked.  Maybe it's my latent dislike of David Schwimmer--he should never have gotten Rachel in the end, she should've gone to Paris--or that I just don't believe in Dreamworks the way I believe in Pixar, but I can't stand that movie.  Except for the penguins.  From the Shatneresque Skipper to the ridiculously good-hearted Private, this crew screamed for its own show.  The plots aren't earth-shattering in their originality, but the screwball interaction of the members of the team and their lemur next-door neighbors at the zoo make the show eminently watchable.

Kind of like those lovable marching waterfowl from a few years ago, but without Morgan Freeman's voice.

The Clone Wars
I'll come right out and say it:  George Lucas is an asshole.  He gave my childhood a good kick in the pills with the "remastered" original trilogy that was re-released in the late nineties.  Apparently, "remastered" means adding a snazzy CGI song-and-dance number, at least for Return of the Jedi.  Then between Jar-Jar Binks and Hayen F-ing Christensen, the prequels took the virgin canonical territory of the Clone Wars and turned it into a series of extremely expensive toy commercials.  But an awful lot of that was redeemed when Cartoon Network picked up The Clone Wars.  The animation is interesting and edgy, with 3D CGI that doesn't strive for so much realism that human characters fall into the uncanny valley (think Tom Hanks' cold, dead eyes in The Polar Express), and the drama is arguably more palpable and real than anything in the prequels.  Kids dig it because of R2-D2 and lightsabers, adults can watch it and actually immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe again without feeling a vaguely awkward anger.

Even animated Samuel L. Jackson is a badass.

Any Holiday "Special"
OK, these aren't truly very "special" anymore, since you can have any one of them on DVD to watch in July if you want.  But in our house, Frosty goes away with the Christmas decorations, and The Great Pumpkin gets cleared from the DVR exactly one week after Halloween, so the sense of nostalgia that we all feel when watching won't diminish.  Although, it is very apparent that most of these shows were made in the 1960's--what the hell were these people smoking?  Have you ever really watched Rudolph?  The Island of Misfit Toys will haunt my dreams forever...

Pictured:  A creeping sense of dread...
And don't get me started on Frosty Returns:  John Goodman Ruins Christmas For Everyone.  Still, there's something really warm and fuzzy about watching a holiday special you've seen at least 25 times in your life with your kid, and seeing what he laughs at.  Then it becomes fresh again.  But The Little Drummer Boy will always, always be creepy.

So, if you find yourself owing your kids some TV time but still want spend "quality time" with them, keep these in mind.  Otherwise you'll be singing "I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the MAAAAAAPPPP!" all through the following work day.  Doesn't play well on conference calls.  Avoid if possible.


  1. Great post. I have spent many a day watching Spongebob with my kids.

    I resisted at first. How could that silly little thing possibly be funny? Well, it turns out I was so wrong. The show is comic genius.

  2. C'mon what about Yo Gabba Gabba?

    & YouTube has been a lifesaver as I can watch the old non-sucky shows like rainbow bright, carebears, strawberry shortcake et al...

    Gimme more JONNY

    ...toddler aged stuff or suggestions?

  3. Not sold on Yo Gabba Gabba, although by most accounts it teaches kids great stuff. I really only know it from clips on "The Soup," an admittedly non-objective way to get information. I will say that the big red bumpy guy seems a little...suggestive...for a kid's program.

    Actually, it's been so long since I've written this, that the TV landscape has changed. There may be a Part II coming up. Thanks for the comment! And sorry I'm 2 1/2 months late replying to it!