Parenting Through Nick Jr.

FullofKittens 12/31/2009 

Here's a quick rundown of some of the shows that have been shown in my household in the 6 months since we realized that my kid was paying attention to the TV... so I couldn't just sit there watching horror movies anymore.

Two disclaimers:

#1: This review does not, as you are expecting, consist of 100% negative reviews of children’s shows. When you are forced into contact with these shows all the time you eventually start to savor the differences, and you appreciate it when the shows don’t all choose to suck shit like Franklin.

#2: I know that sticking your child in front of the TV is as close as you can legally get to child abuse. Lord knows the developmental problems I’m inflicting on my child while he watches TV instead of building a toy food coop out of recycled blocks and then painting it all with paint we made in some other personally enriching family activity. I work and go to school, my wife works, we don’t do daycare, somebody’s got to distract this kid while we iron our clothes or take a crap. That somebody is Dora. If you have a problem with that, please let me know when you are available to babysit.

The shows:

Max and Ruby

God damn are girls stupid.

Theme song: 5/10
Enjoyability to 32-year olds: 5/10
Enjoyability to 2-year olds: 10/10

Max is a little bunny and Ruby is his older sister (also a bunny). Max, like former President Calvin Coolidge, is a man of few words: specifically, one word per episode. The one word he knows per episode is the solution to the problem that Ruby is having, and it takes her the length of the episode to figure this out, even though this apparently happens EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Ruby is the biggest moron in the history of cartoons. Her friends are equally stupid.

Here’s the general format:
Max runs up to Ruby and her friends: “Fire!”
Ruby: “No Max, I don’t have time to play fire truck with you.”
Max: “Fire!”
Ruby: “Okay, we’ll play fire truck for a few minutes but then I need to get back in the kitchen because we are making Girl Troop Cookies!”
(House burns down due to the grease fire Ruby caused because she is INCOMPETENT AT LIFE... which is unfortunate because her parents are apparently both at the bar)
Max: “Fire!”

This show is apparently based on a classic series of books, and that is the only possible defense they could have from the incredible number of letters they must receive every day from outraged feminists. The message of Max and Ruby is unambiguous: male toddlers are much, much smarter than any female child.

Blue’s Clues

Steve r00lz, Joe dr00lz

Theme song: Steve: ???/10 (was there even a theme song before Joe?), Joe: 2/10
Enjoyability to 32-year olds: Steve: 7/10 Joe: 3/10
Enjoyability to 2-year olds: 10/10

If there’s any universally agreed-upon statement in parenting, it’s the fact that Blue’s Clues really sucked after Steve left. Anyone who watches more than 2 episodes will agree that Steve kicked Joe’s ass.

Why? What’s the difference? It’s some dude chasing a cartoon dog around. How could anyone do a good job in this situation? The producers of the show said that out of the hundreds of applicants they got before the pilot, Steve was universally preferred by all children. The reason? Steve didn’t want to do it, and it shows on his face. Every word that comes out of Steve’s mouth sounds like “GET ME OUT OF HERE.” He did that shit for 6 years!

Result: The whole show feels like Steve’s your teenage brother who is consenting to play games with you for a couple of minutes. Kids love it, adults get to feel bad for Steve, everybody wins.

Ni-hao Kai-Lan

Chinese people talk weird.

Theme song: 6/10
Enjoyability to 32-year olds: 3/10
Enjoyability to 2-year olds: 10/10

Kai-Lan is essentially a Chinese Dora: she talks right to your kid and encourages them to speak a different language (Mandarin Chinese, in this case) in addition to English. I was told long ago that in Chinese, the inflection is part of the word, but I never heard it in practice until now: Kai-Lan’s word for “grandpa” is really strange when you hear it in the middle of an English sentence.

The show is also similar to Dora in that every episode follows the same basic blueprint every time (which is true for most of these shows, really). The difference is that, whereas every episode of Dora is an RPG-esque FedEx quest, every Kai-Lan episode consists of Kai-Lan’s superdeformed animal friends getting pissed at each other for some idiotic reason and then she has to figure out what the fuck everyone’s problem is this time and get everybody to get along again.

So essentially, in my kid’s eyes, Spanish is the official language of delivery men and Chinese is the official language of project managers.

Wonder Pets


Theme song: 10/10
Enjoyability to 32-year olds: 8/10
Enjoyability to 2-year olds: 10/10

This show only lasts two minutes but if you’re like me you’ll probably end up watching it on Youtube a couple of times in a row:

That’s it, that’s all there is to Wonder Pets.


Watch this TV show about playing outside

Theme song: 2/10
Enjoyability to 32-year olds: 3/10
Enjoyability to 2-year olds: 10/10

Setting aside the ironic premise of this show – “kids shouldn’t watch TV, they should be exercising” – let’s talk about how creepy this show is.

For those who haven’t heard of it already, Masahiro Mori’s ‘uncanny valley principle’ of robotics states that, as robots become more realistically humanoid, they will eventually freak people out as they make the transition from ‘cute robot’ to ‘animated corpse.’ Lazytown is the purest evidence of this concept I have ever seen.

There have been fake people on children’s television forever: Sesame Street certainly had plenty of fake people on it, and they all looked totally fine. This picture should illustrate what to do and what not to do:


Instead of entertainingly toylike felt kids, the producers of Lazytown decided to make their kids look like real kids whose faces are made of melting candlewax. Horrific.


That little bear needs to kick his dumbass turtle friend to the curb

Theme song: 0/10
Enjoyability to 32-year olds: 0/10
Enjoyability to 2-year olds: 10/10

I hate this show. I hate the theme song, I hate the characters, and I hate the premise.

Franklin is a turtle whose friend is a bear. They hang out, and Franklin hatches some kind of plan to do something and invariably fucks it up by being a self-centered idiotic asshole. Then his parents have to bail him out.

All I can do is imagine the conversations that Franklin’s parents are having with the bear’s parents. “Please send your son to come play with our son. I know he has better things to do but it’s so good for Franklin…” and then Franklin’s mother bursts into tears while the dad turtle pours himself a double and wonders if there’s an age limit on giving kids up for adoption.

My mother-in-law teaches kindergarteners and she told me that they have to have shows like Franklin because if it was all rock and roll rave-ups like Jack’s Big Music Show (which is awesome, by the way) kids would flip out from being overstimulated. Okay, I’ll buy that. NOTE TO NICK JR EXECS: If you need downtempo shows, find more like the wildly superior Oswald or the average Olivia and cancel Franklin. Maurice Sendak’s Little Bear is terrible, too.

Wow Wow Wubbzy!

(gtr:) Wah Woh Wah Woh Wahwah Wohhh WOWWWW

Theme song: 10/10
Enjoyability to 32-year olds: 7/10
Enjoyability to 2-year olds: 10/10

Wow Wow Wubbzy! is an example of a kid’s show that basically just surpasses your expectations of what you’d see on the kids’ channel. The animation style is entertaining, the stories are… well, they’re better than the stories on most of the other shows, and most important, the music is frickin’ rad.

The theme song is ridiculously catchy, every episode has another really catchy power pop song in it, and as a bonus, the incidental music is all covered in auto-filters so that every instrument goes “Wow wow!” I know I am geeking out about this. Just wait until the part about Yo Gabba Gabba.

In this article’s only video game tie-in, the show’s soundtrack was done by Mike Reagan, who also worked on Sony’s God Of War franchise.



Theme song: -1,000,000/10
Enjoyability to 32-year olds: -1,000,000/10
Enjoyability to 2-year olds: 10/10

Pan’s Labryinth meets the scary orange muppets from… Labyrinth*(!) meets the way people talk to the deranged in a nursing home.

Oobi is a pair of hands plus some disembodied eyeballs, making a face while the TV talks to you like you’re mentally handicapped. It is a singularly discomfiting experience. I can only watch this show for about 60 seconds before turning it off.

Apparently – according to Wikipedia! – Oobi is loved by parents of autistic children, and that’s great for them I guess, but I find this show terrifying.

*!!! Never made that connection before.

Dora The Explorer/Go Diego Go!

Another argument against NAFTA

Theme song: 3/10
Enjoyability to 32-year olds: Dora: 3/10: Diego: 1/10
Enjoyability to 2-year olds: 10/10

I doubt there is a person in the civilized world that hasn’t seen Dora’s likeness somewhere. In terms of popularity, she is an animated Miley Cyrus, who, in turn, is an animated Rachael Ray, who, in turn, is an animated Martha Stewart.

Dora’s show stinks. The only thing more annoying than Dora The Explorer – who shouts every word she says – is every other character on her show**, and Diego. Dora’s friends are like the Moron Hall of Fame. Boots, her monkey friend, redefines the term “wide-eyed” into something culty and unwholesome:

“My favorite part was where we made them eat out of dog bowls!”

Backpack seems pretty benign, if you ignore her song, which is the most hilariously phoned-in song in the history of television:

The main problem with Backpack is that she contains the single most annoying character on any children’s show: The Map. It’s impossible to put into words how cloying and inane this map is… if you’re a parent and your kid likes Dora, you will know that the part with the map is a chair-gripping experiment in pain tolerance.

Before I get into the other shitty thing about Backpack, let’s shift our attention to Go, Diego Go! Diego is a kid (older… than Dora? I guess?) who is friends with all kinds of dangerous animals. The dangerous animals get into a jam, and Diego gets them out.

A wolf is a dangerous animal

Three major beefs that I have with Go, Diego, Go:
1: It’s annoying in the same way that Dora is annoying. There’s tons of shouting, and every episode is exactly the same.

2: It’s full of alarmingly bad information. Example! I saw an episode the other day where we learned three things about bears: they love fruit, they live in the forest, and they need lots of hugs. Two of these facts about bears are true. One may be true, or it may be the kind of thing that leads a person to make a very bad decision later in life:

Come to think of it, Dora basically tells kids to walk across town by themselves, too. =(

3: It consists of WALL TO WALL PRODUCT PLACEMENT. The ‘other shitty thing about Backpack’ I alluded to before is this: Nick Jr (formerly Noggin) advertises itself to parents as the children’s television network that does not contain advertising. That statement is utter, complete bullshit. Every show on Nick Jr is an advertisement for its own line of merchandising. Nowhere is this more evident than on Dora/Diego. “Let me check my… field manual!!!” Every single thing they do requires them to yell about how they will be able to solve their problem if they consult their handheld knickknack, which is available at Target for only $19.99.

I’m not saying that any children’s show is innocent of being a front for merchandising sales, but Dora and Diego go way over the top in that regard.

**I guess I have nothing against Tico the squirrel.

Yo Gabba Gabba!

The greatest show on television

Theme song: 8/10
Enjoyability to 32-year olds: 10/10
Enjoyability to 2-year olds: 10/10

A skinny dude with a huge hat walks across an empty white room, carrying what seems to be a giant boombox. He opens the box on top of an abstract diorama, and it contains 5 humanoid toys. “YOOOO GABBA GABBA!!!” and the toys spring to life.

Yo Gabba Gabba! is what happened when a bunch of indie rockers and electro DJs got together and decided to make a replacement for Barney The Dinosaur. That’s not my colorful metaphor - that is literally what happened.

A lot of people in Caltrops forum are going to be all “FoK, you still haven’t seen The Wire, that’s the greatest show on television etc.” It’s true: I’ve never seen The Wire, though I’m sure it’s excellent. Nonetheless, I’m confident that none of the following has occurred on The Wire:

  • Mark Mothersbaugh has never shown the audience how to draw a monkey.

  • Biz Markie has never – while dressed up as a bat for Halloween – shown the audience how to beatbox.

  • The incomparable Leslie Hall has never shown a bunch of kids (and the audience) how to do the Razzle Dazzle Dancey Dance, which features an arm movement called “Laser Beam!”:

With that in mind, Yo Gabba Gabba’s position as greatest show on TV seems safe. Every minute of every episode is full of stuff like that. I try to think of what I would do if I had carte blanche to make the perfect kids show and I can’t imagine anything even close to a show where a green monster stomps around an abstract landscape to electro breaks, singing to carrots about the party in his tummy:

So yummy
So yummy