Meri Perra blogs about the challenges she and her partner face in trying to raise their girls with feminist values
I remember as a kid watching Fantasy Island on a channel we didn’t get. You know, one of those channels from back in the day where you could sort of see the show, and also sort of see some of what’s
happening on the next channel, but with enough determination, you could basically see what’s happening in your own show.
Fantasy Island. Geesh. You think I could have just gone outside.
Now, we have Netflix, or in our house, our two-year old calls it Nexfix. And the only viewing restriction our girls have is moms-imposed. So there are choices, choices and more choices.
After surviving, I mean subscribing, to several months of Netflix, I’ve made my way around the block on the “Just for Kids” section. Taking these five factors into account, I’ve come up with a completely non-scientific and totally biased list of tops and nots kids’ TV shows, for your own viewing survivorship.
1. Learnin’: Our kids are too young to waste time in front of the TV, so the show can’t be a total time dump; the kids have to get a little, tiny bit of educational value out of it.
2. Ibuprofen: Parents should not have to reach for it in order to make it through the show.
3. The Moby Quotient: Are you selling-out your values for 15 minutes of kid-relief? How badly are you selling out?
4. Hangover: How long are the (almost inevitable) songs from the show going to stay in your head? Do you need more Ibuprofen?
5. And, mostly, is it good: Good as in, Hannah Montana throwback to 1990s home video quality not-very-good or Shrek-tastic?
Arthur: Author Marc Brown created the Arthur book series back in 1976 to encourage kids to read. He also happened to develop characters that are truthful, cheeky and hilarious. Based on an aardvark’s family adventures, older brother Arthur spends most of his time learning life’s lessons, without any preachiness, while dealing with his precociously sassy little sister, DW. The TV show started in 1996, and they’re still making new ones. According to Wikipedia, DW stands for Dora Winifred, something I’ve always wondered. Anything that is still fresh after 35 years has got to be good, and it is. (Ed. note — we’re fans of Muffy, aka Melissa Altro)
Backyardigans: The music in this show ranges from big band to hip-hop to rockabilly, and stands apart from all other kids’ show music. The show is about the adventures of the multi-creatured and diversely-coloured Uniqua, Pablo, Tyrone, Tasha and Austin who turn their backyards into far away adventures. One episode, they’re pirates, the next, knights, the next, cowboys. But they always back come home on time for a snack, and sing about it.
Fat Albert: Hey, hey, hey, this one is for older kids, I learned one day after seeing an episode with my two and four-year olds about drugs. Oops. Otherwise, take Fat Albert with a grain of salt, a hunk of cheese, shake and bake, and get some awesome TV-tainment. Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert character dates back to the ‘60s, where Cosby preformed Fat Albert in his comedy sketches. Then the idea of a kids show happened, an NBC prime time special aired in 1969, and eventually grew to 110 episodes, with several runs happening through the ‘70s and ‘80s. There’s something about Fat Albert, an active, kind-hearted kid, who leads his friends into always doing the right thing. Sure, they call him Fat Albert, but he doesn’t seem to mind, and it certainly doesn’t stop him. A young, casually-dressed Cosby comes on the show in book-ends, narrating the lesson (which usually is something along the lines of, obey the law, trust the police, don’t do drugs and stay in school). It’s preachy, but with your hunk o’ cheese, and grains of salt, the show works. And the theme song stays in your head in a happy way. NBC wouldn’t air the show on Saturday mornings because it was too educational. Nah, nah, nah going
to have a good time.
Fence-sitters – these ones are ok
Babar: I was nostalgic about my childhood love affair with the Babar series until I read the books as an adult. That’s when I realized that Babar, who learns how to wear clothes and function in French civil society, and then spreads his wear-a-suit and be civilized world-view to the other Africans, I mean, African elephants, is a poster-elephant for the goodness of colonization. That aside, this Canadian series featuring Gordon Pincent’s voice as the elephant king is well done. Yeah, just put the pro-colonization part aside, and it’s good.
Berenstein Bears: Beware, this show’s theme song about the ‘bears being just like you and me’ song will stay in your head, all day long. Not to mention, Mama Bear and Sister Bear are in serious need of wardrobe makeovers. And why, please why, don’t these characters have real names? One day, Brother and Sister Bear will grow up, and their respective spouses will call them, ‘Brother Bear’
and ‘Sister Bear’, and that’s, well, creepy.
Dora the Explorer / Diego: Practically mandatory programming for every preschool girl child with TV access in the world, Dora the Explorer has its good points: Dora is her own person, more concerned with exploring than wearing pretty dresses, and the kids pick up some Spanish. The boy version, Diego, goes on boy-overload to grab the little-boy demographic (and the girls who will watch it for Dora’s sake) and goes as far to say, “this rough and tough adventurer is working overtime.” Kids get to learn mostly-true facts about animals, like that some animals are “scared” of others.
Bring out the buckets of Ibuprofen:
Land Before Time: After the success of the original 1988 movie, they kept making these movies about 1000 more times (ok, 12), to the extent where I don’t think it’s possible to have worse musical
scores and more poorly developed characters. A grim fact: the child who played the original Ducky character, Judith Barsi, was murdered by her father in 1988, when she was 10 years old. Tragic. But if I hear “yup, yup, yup” one more time…
Max and Ruby: There’s only one thing to say about Max and Ruby: where are their parents and why does Ruby (who’s what, like seven?) take care of Max (who’s what, like two?) all day long. Hello? Where’s Children’s Aid? What’s a 7-year old doing frying bacon and taking her brother on the bus?
Caillou: I don’t think Caillou is a representative of active living while having a childhood hair loss condition, so the only reason I can think that he is bald, is so that he resembles the character in the original baby books. Both preachy and annoying, the episodes are short, but keep cycling straight through to the next one, so it’s like they are never-ending.
Veggie Tales: Good quality, check. Original content (combining different fairy tales, and twisting the stories, in creative ways so that the punch line isn’t always about marrying a prince and living happily ever after), check. A nice variant from the fact that almost every other kids’ TV show features, inexplicably, an anthropomorphic animal character, check (these are anthropomorphic vegetable characters). But wait a sec, what are the veggies doing talking about God? Ohh … un-check.
Meri Perra is a community worker-turned-journalist living in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood with her partner and two daughters
Image via YouTube