Sunday, December 03, 2006

"fixing" things which weren't broken in children's tv

I used to think "Dragon Tales" was a great children's television show. (For the non-parents out there: "Dragon Tales" is a PBS kid's show featuring the adventures of two upper middle-class Latino children who discover a way to travel to a magical land populated by chubby, talking dragons. Since this is PBS and kids' TV, hilarity does not ensue. G-rated adventures with a big dose of preachiness ensue).

What I liked about "Dragon Tales" was that the main character was a little girl, Emmy, a child of about first grade age, who is smart, brave, and bossy. She alienates her friends and little brother upon occasion by being inflexible and insensitive, but it always works out in the end. Most children's media hews inflexibly to the asinine rule that "boys won't consume things which are about girls, but girls will consume things which are about boys." So "Dragon Tales" stood out, and unlike other girl characters in children's television (such as the insipid, always wearing a vapid grin, annoyingly named Emily Elizabeth of "Clifford"), Emmy was not a girly-girl. She was athletic, pushy, and arrogant, but her friend and little brother loved her for her ideas and spark.

Despite the conventional wisdom, the little boys we knew loved "Dragon Tales." They tended to pick Ord, a large, witless blue dragon, as their favorite character, whereas girls usually named Emmy or Cassie (a saccharine sweet pink dragon who was allegedly the brains of the dragon clique).

The "Dragon Tales" world clicked along quite well for years. But then the geniuses (typed with sarcastic fingers) at PBS decided to introduce a new character, Enrique. Enrique moved next door to Emmy and her brother, Max, and soon was inducted into their secret dragon cult. Now Emmy has been reduced to an admiring sidekick of the older, more outspoken boy. Enrique blathers on and on, speaking in the particularly annoying version of Spanglish which public television producers think is educational, where he drops in a carefully enunciated word, like "casa" here and there. (I do not think this is educational in the least. I think it creates the false impression that children may become bilingual if only they consume enough "Dora the Explorer" products. Learning a few words here and there AND NONE OF THE GRAMMAR is witless, leaving a child with a Spanish vocabulary of about 15 nouns, no verbs, no adjectives, no adverbs, and no ability to put two words together).

So thanks a lot, "Dragon Tales." You completely cut the ovaries out of Emmy and turned her into a boy-following, older boy-worshipping little loser. The show suffers as a whole, and little girls have lost their spunkiest public television role model.

On a less gender-charged note, the Canadians have screwed up their main public television export, "Caillou", as well. "Caillou" is a very ugly little bald boy with beady eyes, a four year-old who is not particularly advanced or lovable. (Everyone is drawn ugly in "Caillou"; the mother's hideous green shirt with a floppy collar makes me want to poke my eyes out. I hate the limited color palette, with its over-recurring one ugly shade of green, royal blue, and basic red. Give me some beige, people! The world is filled with browns and blacks and purples, put some in, dammit! I thought I hated pastels, but after being subjected to "Caillou", I'll take the world of "My Little Pony" as eye candy).

"Caillou" used to alternate between animated stories of this extremely whiny, hairless Canadian boy and between incredibly charming puppets. The puppets were supposed to be Caillou's cat, Gilbert, a lizard, and something else which I never quite figured out, and this was beautiful and weird. When first Iris and then Lola were fans of Caillou, I would genuinely put down my book/newspaper/whatever and watch with enjoyment during the puppet segments. The atmospheric lighting, the charm of the puppets: we were enthralled.

But the "Caillou" people cast about for something idiotic to replace this endearing and well-executed puppetry with, and they fell upon the idea of recruiting some children and drilling them, in the manner of the foul "Barney" program, in little dances and songs. Now we have no more magical puppets; we have zombie children jerkily dancing and singing. Feh.

All that is left to me in children's television which is not insufferable is "Arthur", but that, thanks to the programming geniuses at KQED is now on at the unwatchable hour of 6:00 AM (KQED, by the way, is comprised of heartless bastards. Iris wrote to them when she was four and they took "Bearenstain Bears" off, drawing funny and fabulous pictures of herself watching "Bearenstain Bears" happily and then crying in front of "Clifford", which replaced them; I threw in an articulate cover letter, if I do say so myself, and NO ONE could be bothered to even send us a form letter in reply. Feh, feh, feh I say. Incidentally my first job out of college was at a public radio station, and one of my primary duties was to respond to each and every letter from the public, so it can be done. I know it can. Needless to say, we had donated before in the past, but not after my child sadly gave up checking the mail for a reply). And what has replaced "Arthur" during the magical time when Iris is chivvied out of bed and directed to pull on her school uniform, which used to be done before the bribe of "Arthur" to distract her from the warm, cozy glories of her bed? "Barney." Jesus wept.

10 comments:

hughman said...

oh for the days of "Zoom".

susie said...

oh, I loved loved loved Zoom!!! I would send SASEs like none other. And Electric Company was great!
ooooh, I miss that era of PBS. It rocked.

Freewheel said...

The Electric Company was probably the pinnacle of children's television. They actually *teach* stuff on the Electic Co. And what a cast: Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno....

You can get all the episodes from Netflix.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm dating myself if I say I miss Brother Buzz and Crusader Rabbit.

texzmissy said...

Any PBS station that takes off Berenstain Bears is seriously suspect.

Pointybird said...

You MUST be kidding me. Berenstain Bears is the only kids' show I turn off with a snap. I will even watch Barney, but the Berenstain Bears makes me want to choke myself with my tongue. Otherwise, I agree with every syllable, DH. I despise Enrique with all my heart. Ditto Calliou.

Anonymous said...

Harkening back to your September blog entry about pinatas, one of my daughter's birthday parties actually featured a Barney pinata...

the Drunken Housewife said...

Believe me, I heartily loathe the Bearenstain bears, too. But my then-four year-old was sad and pining for the damn things, so, like a halfway decent mother, I assisted her in voicing her angst.

the Drunken Housewife said...

p.s. sorry, my Texan Missy!

Anonymous said...

just so you know if you get on-demand there is berenstain bears on there