Month: October 2014

The actually educational TV shows your kids should be watching and their hilarious shortcomings (pt 4 of 5)

Bubble Guppies

It’s difficult to recommend a show that simultaneously entertains and stimulates tiny minds, but this gets pretty close. Maths, language, international studies, life sciences, timekeeping, problem solving, shapes and even biology are dealt with in the underwater city of Bubbletucky.

The show follows the exploits of a school class of merpeople. Yes, the so-called Bubble Guppies are merpeople who live among fish and basically get treated like gods. Each episode starts off with Gill and Molly introducing the theme, which is followed by the exceptionally catchy theme song (parents proceed with caution because this tune will get stuck in your head for days). They then go to school and go through the daily routine of playtime, lunchtime and song time.

Topics range from farm trips to construction and are deeply woven into the episode story line. The Guppies act out stories relating to the topic with morals or lessons at the end of each. It’s like all the best bits of school packaged in a really engaging way. My favourite episode included Ballet Ninjas – a concept so radical that I’m still scraping bits of my blown mind off the lounge walls.

The shortcoming.
The Guppies’ teacher, Mr Grouper, is a fish. And we’re supposed to believe that a fish is infinitely smarter than the merpeople. Also, you never meet any of the Guppies’ parents or figure out the history of the city.

There’s also the uncomfortable situation where the role-playing is based on concepts that sea dwellers have no possible knowledge of. Like the Pyramids of Giza, for instance. What do merpeople know about that?

Even worse
Nonny is the nerdy Guppies, the audience knows this because he wears glasses and knows a lot about many things. Now I’m no expert on merperson anatomy, but I’m pretty sure his allergies (another stereotypical nerd trait, just so you know he isn’t the star quarterback) wouldn’t manifest in his nasal accent. Dude you breathe water, science says it isn’t possible.

Beyond that Nonny is also slight of build and appears inherently weaker than the other male Guppies. With society already conditioned to laugh at nerds and geeks (looking at you Big Bang Theory) and not embrace them for the heroes and leaders they truly are (Iron Man, for example), I find it disturbing that such a great kid’s show will reinforce the idea. Think I’m making mountains out of molehills? Do some research on the episodes Nonny stars in, they all highlight his weaknesses. The inspiration for my rage is an episode where his glasses break and then much fuss is made about how terrible his vision is — the lesson is about the 5 senses, but they could’ve used a different delivery.

I feel your pain Nonny.

Posted from the trenches

Advertisements

The actually educational TV shows your kids should be watching and their hilarious shortcomings (pt 3 of 5)

Sofia the First

Strong female lead characters are an important criteria when choosing movies and TV shows for Spawn and that’s why this list is mostly populated by “girly” content. But think about it, consumerism is designed for girls. Get past the superheroes (who are technically all the same character anyway) and you’ll realise that there’s more narrative variety for girls. In Sofia the First, for instance, there’s a single mother who falls in love with and ultimately marries a king. The show then follows the exploits of her daughter who now needs to integrate herself into a step family and a royal lifestyle, while seeking the acceptance of her two new siblings and trying to balance her old peasant friends with forging strategic royal acquaintances from other kingdoms.

Sofia is gifted the magical amulet of Avalor by her stepfather, a talisman that grants its wearer a blessing or curse for each deed performed. Naturally the shows producers use this as a moral compass for the story arc and the ever graceful, friendly and helpful Sofia receives mainly blessings in the form of the ability to speak to animals and morph into mermaid form from all her good deeds. The curses are few, but serve as important lessons. When she’s chosen to sing the anthem at a festival and Sofia gets overwhelmed by celebrity, she boasts to her friends and promptly gets a frog in her throat that only disappears once she has made amends with her friends.

Since this show only exists to bridge a generation gap and introduce a new wave of consumers to Disney’s legacy princess merchandise (so they can sell decades old DVDs at premium rates), there’s a plot wrinkle that allows a famous princess to appear whenever Sofia is in a desperate situation. I can live with Ariel, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Belle, but I freak out a little when the traditional damsels in distress like Cinderella, Snow White and Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty) arrive to popularise their “someday my prince will come” propaganda.       

The shortcoming
The palace sorcerer Mr Cedric is comically evil, but needs Sofia’s amulet to complete his nefarious plan for world domination. While every story needs a good villain, Mr Cedric is possibly the kakkest embodiment of evil ever represented in a Disney show. Granted, this programming is pitched at 6-year-olds, but still. Also, Sofia never realises that he is actually trying to manipulate her. He once turned into a sea monster, with his Raven sidekick in tow as a squid and the girl still wasn’t suspicious that the monster looked and sounded like the sorcerer she knows and was even using a lifeboat from the floating palace.

All this blissful ignorance really undermines the image Disney has sculpted around Sofia’s charming mix of street smarts and intelligence. My daughter is 3 and can identify me in my baby pictures, I think the magic kingdom needs to use her on their test panel.

 
Even worse
I realise that the show’s longevity depends on Sofia and Cedric’s Road Runner and Wile E Coyote relationship, but there’s a bigger elephant in the room that needs some attention. So unless the kingdom of Enchancia has some seriously ahead of their time doctors, Sofia needs a biological father.

Was he an alcoholic? Were he and Miranda high school sweethearts? Was Miranda then shunned by her family for the illegitimate child? If he was killed in battle, there’s a whole chapter of Enchancia war history that I’m really interested in.

I like to imagine an episode where Sofia’s dad shows up, leading a revolution intent on overthrowing the crown and taking back his family.
     

      

Posted from the trenches

The actually educational TV shows your kids should be watching and their hilarious shortcomings (pt. 2 of 5

The crazy dad with way too much time on his hands and an almost unhealthy obsession with his daughter’s media consumption is back with another chapter to the tale of good value tot TV. Today my sights are locked on Disney Junior, or DSTV channel 309. Check out my Dora the Explorer ramblings in part 1.

Doc McStuffins
You wanna talk about a layered TV show? Try an African American family who live in a leafy suburb where the mother is a doctor and the father is a stay-at-home dad. Dottie, the daughter and eldest child is “Doc” whose mother gave her a set of doctor’s tools of which the stethoscope brings her toys to life. You know where it’s going from here… She fixes toys, documents their ailments in the Big Book of Boo Boos, gives check ups and pretty much does the usual kid thing where they emulate their parents — I, for instance, can’t open up a laptop in Spawn’s presence without going 12 rounds with a toddler who wants to “work”.

The beauty of Doc McStuffins however are the plot lines. Everything is a metaphor. My favourite episode is when Rita the Cheetah comes to visit and all the toys don’t want to play with her because they think she suffers from mystery pocks (one of the other toys had mystery pocks in an earlier episode; it ended up being paint and was cured with the advanced medical technique called hand washing). So Rita the Cheetah is from Africa, plus poorly understood disease equals metaphor for AIDS. The moral of this episode was all about understanding each others differences.

The show is packed with similar themes and plots, scores extra points for the feminist angle and has almost cured my daughter of any doctor fears. But there’s one thing that bugs me.

The shortcoming:
Every show needs comic relief and usually it’s up to the feisty black woman to be just that. Don’t believe me? Tyler Perry made an entire career out of flogging that old horse. Now remember this is a show about an upwardly mobile African American family who all speak without a hint of common accent. How do they inject some humour? They give the most obviously black female character a thick southern drawl and a no nonsense attitude.

Hallie is the nurse in Doc’s clinic. Hallie is a hippo. Hallie’s don’t speak so good. Unsurprisingly Loretta Devine voices Hallie.

So for a show with so much going for it in terms of removing stigma, why then are we painting by racial profiling numbers? Did the script writers get bored or was this the work of the producers? Hallie’s antics doesn’t add anything to the show from my daughter’s perspective because the only way the humour works is if you know it for what it is.

I’m not boycotting Doc McStuffins for it, but I am disappointed.

Even worse
Besides for the various mental issues presented by the rest of the regular cast (Chilly the neurotic snowman, Stuffy the anxious dragon and Lambie – the lamb, not the flyhalf – the overly-attached lamb), we never see what the father does. Yes he mows the lawn and does a spot of gardening, but what does he like do.

Maybe he’s a retired football player, or a freelance journalist, or even a drug dealer… Anything would do. This is a no judgment zone Mr McStuffins, just tell us how you remain sane and blissfully ignorant to your daughter’s magical powers.

I’ve decided that he’s a functional alcoholic, until the producers tell me otherwise.      

  

The actually educational TV shows your kids should be watching and their hilarious shortcomings (pt. 1 of 5)

Let me kick things off with some full disclosure: I work from home at least two days a week and take an almost insane interest in my offspring’s media consumption. We have one of those PVR things and I think it’s annoyingly cute that she refers to her shows as movies. (Side note: because I’ve recorded a bunch of her favourite episodes and she can watch pretty much on demand, so it causes havoc when we’re in a setting where she is forced to wait for an episode of something).

Bottom line, I’m crazy enough to write an entire article on the best educational kids shows when I’m also fully aware that these things exist purely as a vehicle to sell merchandise through. And to take pressure off of competitive party parents, because kid’s birthday parties are now a contact sport played with money. So read on and see how far this rabbit hole has taken me.

Dora the Explorer
The feisty Latina with the comically over sized head goes on adventures solving problems with the magical powers of logic and Spanish. To assist in her heroism she has at her disposal a sentient map and backpack. So I’m not sure whether or not Dora can actually read because the map only communicates with the audience, prompting the children to deliver information to her. Which is strange because the map is hers and my kid is not stupid; she knows that the TV show doesn’t exist in the same universe as she does. Further more, if the backpack (named Backpack) is supposed to be so smart, why doesn’t it just spew out the correct item whenever Dora is in trouble?

What the show does well is teach problem solving and some basic maths and physics. Also there’s the Spanish bit, which kinda makes Dora a miniature version of Pitbull — on a crusade to teaching the world Espanyol, one hook at a time.

The shortcoming:
Dora is always accompanied by her friend Boots, a sentient monkey with a shoe fetish. My quarrel isn’t with the inappropriate nature of Boots’ adoration for Dora, but rather that I’ve neither see nor heard about his family. Like does his mom speak? Is he the result of some science experiment? Is he suddenly going to go ape and share the serum with his other primate pals and overthrow the government, claiming the planet for themselves?

What’s your deal Boots?

Also, I’m not a fan of primates as pets and now my daughter is thinking that it’s a natural thing. And she has no concept that monkeys are actually wild animals and are dangerously unpredictable when they come in contact with humans.

Even worse
So this Swiper the Fox character is a kleptomaniac fox who wears a bandit mask and instead of the show addressing his obvious problem and trying to find a root cause, kids are encouraged to just tell him to stop swiping. Now I suffer from junkie empathy and would hate for my kid to grow up ignoring the social issues that really contribute to criminal behaviour. Dora the Explorer’s ignorance to Swiper’s situation is deeply disturbing, but Spawn’s wellbeing seems to rely on a daily dose of the show so I let it slide.