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


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