The State of Children’s Television

It’s been a while since I provided an update on the garbaged landscape of children’s television programming. When last I delved into the realm, my then four-year-old was suffering through the snottiness of Peppa Pig and the learned helplessness of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. She’s now six years old, and while her tastes have refined, she now has the horrific tendency to watch the same damn thing over and over and over again. She doesn’t just binge a particular show, though. She binges the same damned episode. Back to back sometimes! Add in a nascent quarantine Stockholm Syndrome, complete with a distance-learning first-grade teacher who thinks twenty minutes of content per day is plenty, and my kid can damn near recite half the dialogue.

This is allegedly a developmental thing. There’s comfort in familiarity. They’re learning story structure. But I call bullshit, because they also want mac & cheese for every meal. Including at restaurants that are literally just selling blue Kraft box shit. Yet somehow when I’m shilling out eight bucks for something I’ve got a 50-cent box of back home (even worse when its takeout), nobody’s ascribing it to some deep-seeded desire to learn subtle foreshadowing. 

Anyway, if I’ve gotta sit through it, then you’ve gotta hear me bitch about it. 

Gravity Falls. A shit-ton of caveats with this one. It’s far from “new,” having aired for only two seasons from 2014-2016. Plus it shouldn’t really be classified as a kids show. It’s geared more toward the pre-teen crowd, although at least fifty percent of the humor is aimed smack-dab at the parents. The D & D episode references when “it tried to be hip,” then cut to a “commercial” of two kids clad somewhere between MC Hammer and Fresh Prince spray painting a wall. A wizard starts rapping at them. Cue the tagline, “Diggity Dungeons an’ all Dat.” Then Dipper, the kid in the show, shudders and says, “The nineties must’ve been terrible.” That joke certainly flew over my daughter’s head, but I’m guessing it would also fly over half my high school students, too. After all, I actually remember the version two rules!

But we heard about the show from not one, but two of Daughter’s friends, albeit both with older siblings. So one afternoon I sat down with her and we watched the first episode together. At first, we were both skeptical. The plot revolves around pre-teen Mabel, voiced by Kristen Schaal, desperate to get a date. When she finally tricks a guy into dating her, her brother Dipper, voiced by Jason Rittter, thinks the guy’s a zombie. Daughter and I were both skeptical. She was unsure about the zombie content, and I didn’t really want to get into discussions about “practicing kissing” and not throwing yourself at guys that are obviously uninterested.

It turned out the zombie was actually a bunch of gnomes on each other’s shoulders wearing a trenchcoat. She was a little more on board. I was a little less on board since these gnomes clearly weren’t taking no for an answer. A guy throwing himself at an uninterested girl is so, so much worse, and will lead to much longer discussions.

But then one of the gnomes got hit in the “stomach” (nuts, really) and spews out rainbow vomit. We both gave it a thumbs up and proceeded to watch all forty episodes over the next month. Then she watched the entire series a second time. Followed by her “greatest hits,” ten or so episodes that must have been watched ten times each. 

And again, when I say we watched the “Sev’ral Times” episode several times, I don’t mean we skipped around en route through the series each time. She would literally watch the episode, then rewatch the exact same episode, then a third time. The following day, it’d be right back to the beginning. Sev’ral Times was a boy band, and I can still sing you all of their songs. 

In the end, she watched so much, she grew tired of it. Of course she did, because I’d just ordered some of the merch for Christmas. That’ll teach me to plan for a holiday more than a week in advance. 

She’s gone through a few other “binge and purge” watch-throughs. All five seasons of a Madagascar spinofffeaturing King Julien, the lemur voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen in the movies, but voiced by someone else in the TV show. Plus Puss in Boots from Shrek, which again didn’t feature Antonio Banderas, the movie actor. Although props to the voice actor, who plays both Puss in Boots and Fozzie Bear on Muppet Babies. That’s quite a range!

But as far as kids shows on constant loop, I could do a lot worse than a pandemic filled with any of these fun shows. 

To wit…

Abby Hatcher. One day, I randomly decided to have Daughter check out a show on Nick Junior instead of Disney Junior. Like when I branch out and try a new beer, some Hazy Juicy Deep Dank Double Red Brown Black Purple Sour from a brewery that just opened last weekend and will be closed by this time tomorrow. I usually kick myself and go back to the tried-and-true Sierra Nevada or Red Trolley, and so it was with Daughter’s forays into the nether regions of children’s programming. They leave Daddy with a mean hangover.

She had been on a mini-Vampirina kick around Halloween. I think I covered Vampirina in the last review. It’s a solid, if predictable, show. In general, I approve of shows Daughter feels comfortable with WITHOUT having to watch the same episode seventeen times. But alas, if she only watches each new episode twice, the phase only lasts a week or two. Then it was on to Abby Hatcher

The plot involves the titular character whose parents own a hotel that has mystical creatures in it. Unlike almost every other kids show, everyone else is fully aware of these magical creatures. I know Snuffleupagus is out and about now. There’s been an understandable push away from encouraging kids to keep secrets. But maybe if the plot of Abby Hatcher kept the damn creatures in the background, they’d be less annoying. 

They’re called Buzzleys, and they basically look like sentient Koosh balls who sing in eight-part harmony, about an octave above Alvin and the Chipmunks. They’re really freaking annoying and they sing multiple times per episode. It’s always the same song, the Roto Rooter commercial jingle. They change the words based on whatever problem they’re trying to solve, but my hearing ain’t great and I’m usually not paying attention, so all I hear in the background is Alvin, Simon, and Theodore sucking in some helium and then singing “And away go troubles, down the drain.”

In one episode, the Buzzleys were sad and Abby Hatcher had to cheer them up. The song in that episode was the classic five-note blues riff most notably from “Bad to the Bone.” But instead of “From the day I was born,” they sing, “Oh we’re so sad…. And we’re so blue…. We just don’t know… What toooo dooo.”

(And yes, it’s made worse by the last batch only having three syllables)

And if you think childish is bad, wait till they add cat meows in…

Gabby’s Dollhouse. I don’t get this show at all. It’s fine, I’m probably not supposed to. Although kids shows should occasionally keep in mind the parents who sometimes have to tolerate them (see above and below).

Gabby’s Dollhouse starts with a real-life little girl. But unlike the Ryan Kaji, the kid who made 22 fucking million dollars on YouTube before getting a Nick Jr show and shan’t be getting a review from me here (or hopefully ever, as Daughter has blessedly not glommed onto him), “Gabby” isn’t really a Gabby. Ryan, as annoying as he is, is a genuine kid that just started making YouTube videos. Gaby is an actress named Laila. She also plays “Young Bo” on Black-ish, so hopefully she doesn’t need the Dollhouse show and can pull the plug on it soon.

Gabby, or “Gabby,” starts the show by talking to the camera a la Mister Rodgers or the Bubble Guppies or any other variant of pre-school show, during which she establishes the theme of the episode. I kept pointing out to Daughter that this show is clearly designed for kids younger than her. But whatever, it’s got cats. Cats that meow in the middle of every song. Ugh.

After a convoluted, three to five minute “check-in” with the theme of the day (hiccups or school or pirates), “Gabby” stands up next to a giant dollhouse, sings, then pinches some cat ears on her headband and turns into a cartoon. The rest of the episode is her certoon self interacting with the cartoon dolls in her cartoon dollhouse. Or real clubhouse? I can’t tell.

And cats, of course.

She still talks to the audience while in cartoon form. At the end of each episode, instead of turning back into her human self, she makes the cat dolls fight against each other in a death-match from which only one can survive. At least that’s what I wish would happen. Instead she randomly spins a wheel and lets one of them sing. 

Thank God there’ve only been ten episodes of this snoozer. Here’s hoping it’s a one-and-done.

How hard is it to please kids while entertaining adults? After all, the Aussies can do it…

Bluey. Sorry, did that sound harsh toward Australia? They have some wonderful cultural milestones. I call myself the Wombat, after all. But short of their fancy opera house, one normally doesn’t think of pop culture from the Land Down Under unless they’re singing a forty-year-old pop song. 

Plus Kylie Minogue.

But they have a fun kids show called Bluey. It features a family of dogs, one of which is named, oddly enough, Bluey. Guess what color she is!

The titular character is a six-year-old blue dog, but she’s far from the “main” character. Bluey has a younger sister named Bingo. Also with a fair amount of screen time, rare for a kids show, are her parents, who actually have names. Their mom’s name is Chilli. Get it? Chilli Dog? Ha ha! And dad’s name is Bandit, just like… uh, I don’t get this one. Must be an Aussie thing, cause I ain’t never heard John Cougar singing about sucking a Bandit Dog outside a Tastee Freeze.

It’s quite the ensemble cast, despite the entire ensemble being cartoon dogs. Speaking of which, they toe the line between dog behavior and human behavior quite well. When I said Bluey was six years old, I meant in human years. Her parents seem to have been around since the nineties. But just when you are about to forget they’re dogs, Dad talks about the time he had “bum worms.”

I was worried about this show when Daughter first discovered it. It’s only nine-minutes long and named after a child animal who speaks with an accent. Sounded like prime Peppa Pig territory. Maybe that’s on me for not distinguishing between an English and Australian accent, but when I was in England once, they thought my accent was Australian, so I guess it’s fair game. Although honestly, I live in the same state as Hollywood, so California accents should be pretty easy to spot. How can that Brit not distinguish between Crocodile Dundee and American actors like Mel Gibson… or Russel Crowe… or Kylie Minogue? Aussies, y’all need to throw a “crikey” in there every few sentences so we can tell you from the other former colonies. Kinda like I just did with that “y’all.”

So let’s see. Nine minutes long, titular animal character, not great animation, and they drive on the wrong side of the car. Can I be forgiven for fearing Peppa Pig Part Poo? And there is no show Daughter has ever watched that I would trade for Peppa Pig. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose between Peppa Pig and Teletubbies, I’d probably choose the gun.

But Bluey is no Peppa Pig. Unlike the swine, when the character Bluey is being a bratty little diva, they call her on that shit. In fact, a fair amount of the show revolves around the horribleness of childhood narcissism. In one episode, the girls argue over whether grandparents know how to floss dance. Bingo, the younger one, thinks they can, but obviously she’s wrong. After they video call their grandparents and Bluey is proven right, she gloats and Bingo runs off crying. The parents ask Bluey if she’d rather have a sister to play with or if she’d rather be right. After looking down in deep thought while the commensurate “I’ve learned something today” music swells, Bluey looks up and says, “Can it be both?” Both parents yell “no” before the words are even out of her mouth, because they know what’s coming.

That true child behavior is what Bluey gets that most of the other shows don’t. In another episode, they’re sitting at a table outside a Thai takeout restaurant, waiting for the spring rolls, which weren’t included in their original order. They try to play “waiter” with the menus, they play pirates, they play something else while Dad really just wants to check his phone or read the paper or something. Bluey has to pee. While he’s holding her behind a bush, Bingo tries some of the spicy food and starts freaking out. He tells Bluey to hold it while he runs over to turn on a faucet so Bingo can drink. When he returns to Bluey, she’s held it too long and can’t go now. Bingo freaks out and knocks over the food they already got, all while the faucet floods the sidewalk. Bluey finally starts going when the waiter comes out to announce that their spring rolls aren’t quite ready yet. 

If this were a Peppa Pig episode, Peppa would say something stupid and snort, then they’d all fall over laughing. If it were Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, they would’ve sat on their ass and whined for Tootles to microwave the spring rolls and never gotten any comedy out of it. 

There’s one major drawback to watching Bluey, which is feeling like a failure as a parent. Both of the parents play fully vested in their kids’ make-believe. When the kids come up with a magic freeze button or a game where the parents have to dance embarrassingly in public, they play along. They never tell their kids they’re busy or that the game has gone on long enough. Never once has Bandit nor Chilli told Bluey to go watch a few episodes of Bluey while they finish editing this blog post. 

How could they? The damn show’s only nine minutes long. But evidently nine minutes is long enough to make me feel like a failure of a parent. But at least they’re entertaining about it.

WandaVision. This is a late addition to the write-up. Didn’t expect it to be here.

I told Wife that I wanted to watch this show as it came out. Tonight we’re gonna [watch tv] like it’s nineteen ninety-nine.

The problem in our household is keeping both parents awake longer than Daughter. If she wants “snuggles,” then the snuglee is usually down for the count. That’ll be fine when Falcon & Winter Soldier starts, as it’s supposed to be violent, so I can watch it by myself on the nights that Wife is playing good parent. Usually after a bout of Bluey.

But Wife and I both wanted to check out WandaVision, so I came up with a brilliant. Friday night, so let’s let the kid fall asleep on the couch while we’re watching grown-up TV. Nothing put me to sleep quicker when I was her age than five minutes of Hill Street Blues. And that was even in color, whereas the first two episodes of WandaVision were going to be in black and white.

But what the fuck? She actually liked it! And it’s not like she’s seen any of the Marvel movies, beyond Ant-Man, which bored her. But something about the Bewitched-esque magic and jokes that haven’t been funny since 1958 and the kid was WIRED!

Since then, every Friday has been WandaVision night in our household, and it’s the six-year-old who’s reminding us. To be fair, I think she’s been going more on inertia the last few weeks. She claims it’s just the “outside” stuff she isn’t a fan of, but I think even when it’s in the fake sit-com portion, she’s lukewarm. She would’ve been happy with nine straight Leave it to Beaver rip-offs. 

But honestly, if she’s okay watching WandaVision, might there be a light at the end of the children’s programming tunnel? Can I get her to watch some Star Wars? The original movie is a wee too much 1970s pacing, but I’ve heard the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons are worthwhile? Is it possible to put Schitt’s Creek on before 9:00 PM so we might finally finish it?

Or should we should double down on the tryptophan. Play Bosch, and she’ll be down for the count. I call it the ol’ “Hill Street Blues one-two.”

One Comment

Loved your post! Things are definitly changing! Some would say for the better, others say for the worst.

Please check out my article on the discontinued Dr. Seuss books and let me know what you think!
I am a new blogger looking to expand! Please reblog or follow if ya enjoy!

https://storytimewithbell.wordpress.com/2021/03/07/dr-seuss-books-discontinued/

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