How do you get a job thinking up ideas for kid’s television programs?
Don’t act like you aren’t familiar with them. Let’s drop all the pretense, it’s just me and you. I know you occasionally let your kids watch children’s television programming. No matter how much Mommy (or Daddy) and Me Playtime is scheduled and regardless of the countless flashcards, number books and inspirational audio tapes we subject the kids to, sometimes the bathrooms have to be cleaned and nothing holds the kids attention like the television.
There are lots of choices out there. There are countless networks showing countless different shows. What you show your kids and what they like is pretty much dictated by personal taste and just how much you can suspend reality. I don’t mean “talking animals” and “flying superheroes” suspension. I mean real suspension of reality.
Eli’s favorite is a show called “Team Umizoomi.” In this show, Milli, her brother Geo and a robot named Bot . . . really, the robot’s name is Bot, use their powers to help the good people of Umi City. Milli has “Pattern Power.” She uses her dress and sometimes her ponytails to apply patterns. It’s kind of hard to explain how that helps people in trouble but Milli always manages to make her skills relevant. Her brother Geo has a belt with shapes on it. It is called his “Shape Belt.” Really. Like his sister, Geo manages to find ingenious ways to put his skills to good use. Bot has a screen on his belly called his “Belly Screen.” He receives messages on his belly screen. This is helpful. Did I mention that these characters are really, really small?
There is a fourth member to Team Umizoomi; your child. The child viewing the show is identified as Umi Friend and has “Mighty Math Powers.” Your child is responsible for all the counting responsibilities involved in the various rescues. Your child also has to do most of the shape and pattern identification. It’s not fair, but Milli and Geo call the shots in Umi City.
A close second to “Team Umizoomi” on the Eli scale is “Bubble Guppies.” As far as suspension of disbelief goes, this show makes Milli, Geo and Bot downright plausible. The Bubble Guppies live in the ocean. They are little merpeople. They are like mermaids but some of them are boys. They have fish tails and people bodies. The Bubble Guppies live in an underwater city called Bubbletucky and attend a school. Get it . . . a school? But really, the show centers around their classroom. Their teacher is a giant grouper named . . . wait for it . . . Mr. Grouper.
The Bubble Guppies; Oona, Deema, Gil, Goby, Molly and Nonny, and their dog Bubble Puppy (Google it. I’m not making this up) repeatedly find themselves in situations that call for teamwork, cooperation and, occasionally math and science skills. For instance, in the first episode “Call A Clambulance”, one of the guppies little fish friends falls off a tricycle . . . yes a fish riding a tricycle underwater, and breaks his tail. This leads to an exploration of skeletal structure and doctors, nurses and hospitals.
Another episode deals with airplanes. The Guppies explore the commercial flight experience. The learn about airplanes, flight, boarding and other aspects of commercial flying. They leave out the fact that flight is kind of impossible in Bubbletucky because it is underwater. Bubbletucky has parks, trees, streams, the aforementioned airport and an actual beach complete with sun . . . underwater. Mr. Grouper reminds everybody to use sunscreen at the beach to avoid sunburns . . . underwater. I guess Bubbletucky could be in like one of those bubble atmosphere things, but that would be SO unrealistic.
No discussion of Eli’s favorite tv shows would be complete without mentioning Dora and her cousin Diego. Dora Marquez (Don’t even act like you knew what Dora’s last name is.) and her cousin Diego Marquez (Their fathers are brothers. Behold my skills) travel the world being really helpful. Diego is an animal rescuer while Dora is just a general do-gooder. Part of the good they do is help teach Eli and Charlie Spanish. They go through their adventures bilingually and the boys enjoy learning the Spanish words. Charlie can actually tolerate “Dora The Explorer” and “Go! Diego Go!” These shows are at a higher age-related level than the others I’ve discussed and he actually likes these two shows. However, I have seen him surreptitiously paying attention to Milli, Geo and Bot.
My main problem with the two shows is the complete lack of parental supervision. Rarely are the parents mentioned. Dora’s mom is an archeologist and her Dad is unemployed. At least the producers haven’t revealed what he does outside of coach Dora’s baseball team. Diego’s folks are “animal scientists”. Regardless of occupations, the kids are zipping all over the world. Dora has her “Backpack” and her friend “Boots” the monkey and Diego hangs with a baby jaguar named appropriately “Baby Jaguar.” Together they send mixed messages. Like you should be very careful approaching animals you don’t know. Great message until you mix it with that fact that Diego is off in the jungles of Ghana with a meat-eating cat when they come across this animal they don’t know. Little knowledge for you Diego. If you run off across the continent without a sweater or parental permission the animal you find might not care how careful you are being.
Those are the shows that my boys watch the most. Eli occasionally catches an episode of “Yo Gabba Gabba” but not often. I can hang in Umi City and Bubbletucky and travel the world with the Marquez cousins, but DJ Lance and that knobby guy freak me out a little.
As I made my way through the kid’s programming, I was overwhelmed with outrageous premises they are based on. I mean, collectively, these shows seem like they were conceived by the guys from “That 70s Show,” while they “brainstormed” around the table in Eric Foreman’s basement.
These shows just can’t hang with the shows we had back in my day. We had solid, steady shows. We had Sesame Street. Now that was a kid’s show. Educational, informative, innovative and brought to you by the letter N and the number 4.
OK, maybe kid’s programming is synonymous with suspension of reality. It’s a common thread. My kids are as enthralled with Umi City as I was with Sesame Street. Stop doing the math. So what if I was 11 and watching Sesame Street? It was a classic that transcended age groups.
Sesame Street is the only kid’s show I know of that saw the main characters visibly age. I tuned in several years ago and wondered who the saggy old man was. to my horror, it was Bob, the singing guy. Time has not been good to Bob. The people of Sesame Street have moved on with their lives. To my surprise, Luis and Maria were married. Maria had joined Luis in the fix-it business and they had a child. Back when I was watching, Maria was holding hands with David on the steps next to Oscar’s trash can. Wonder what ever happened to David?
One thing did bother me. They had a furry green grouch living in a trash can. A talking frog was dating a talking pig and a 9 foot bird was an accepted resident. But nobody would believe that Snuffleupagus existed. Grouch in a can, sure. Giant bird, ok. Snuffleupagus, no way. Guess they couldn’t suspend their disbelief.
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