During the week of Thanksgiving, the Funkhouser family offers up the facets of pop culture for which they’re especially thankful. Today, S.E. Shepherd shares the objects of his cultural gratitude:
When you have little kids in your house, you watch a lot of kids’ shows. If you ever meet a parent who tells you they never let their kids watch TV because they don’t want to spoil their precious little minds or they want to shelter them from crass commercialism as long as possible, they are lying. Every parent lets his or her kids watch TV. Every. Single. One. You know why? Because having little kids is super great, but it’s also hard and frustrating and exhausting and sometimes you just need a minute where you kids aren’t looking at you with eager eyes begging you to entertain them. And guess what? TV is really, really good at entertaining kids for 30 minutes while you slump on the couch and close your eyes and or just stare blankly into the middle distance. There may be no device on this planet that is better at its job than TV is at entertaining kids. Who am I to deny an invention so perfect the opportunity to fulfill its destiny? And if it happens to also give me a few brief moments of respite from the never-ending demands of fatherhood, then I guess that’s a great big bonus for me. If that makes me a bad parent, well, I can live with that.
But there’s a problem with having to watch a lot of kids’ shows: Most kids’ shows are complete garbage. Thomas the Train? Sucks. Dora the Explorer? It sucks. Chuggington? Just a giant steaming pile of suck. Lalaloopsy? OH MY GOD IT SUCKS SO HARD.
That’s why when I come across a show that holds my kids’ attention for 15 minutes and simultaneously doesn’t make me want to kick the TV in with a steel-toed boot, I feel pretty darn thankful. In this season of giving thanks, here are three kids’ shows that don’t suck for which I am eternally grateful:
The Octonauts is a British cartoon that features the adventures of a group of animals who live underwater in an awesome sea-base and interact with different species of aquatic creatures. There’s Captain Barnacles who’s a polar bear, Peso who’s a penguin and the team’s medic, and Kwazii who’s a badass cat with an eye patch who may or may not have been a pirate before he joined the crew. Not only do they talk with awesome British accents, but also they’re all super smart. I mean, forget the fact that these are animals who somehow can move and talk like little human beings; they are also scientists and marine biologists and cryptozoologists and engineers. They are dedicated to environmental preservation and helping animals that are in trouble. And they build these awesome mechanized vehicles and suits, some of which basically look like smaller, cuter versions of the Jaegers robots the dude from Sons of Anarchy piloted in Pacific Rim. But the best part of all is that each segment/episode ends with the Creature Report, a short song and dance number that summarizes the episode’s plot and teaches kids two or three facts about real animals. Sure, the educational part is great, but beyond that, the tune is a legit club banger. Creature Report is my jam.
A lot of parents dislike Little Einsteins, and I get that. It’s made for preschoolers and can be a bit repetitive and annoying. There’s a kid on the show who is so easily bowled over by the world around him that you get the impression he’s just hamming it up for the cameras. He’s constantly yelling, “I CAN NOT BELIEVE IT!” And there was a month-long stretch about a year ago where my kid would parrot that expression any time she witnessed anything occur. A bird landed on a fence post? I CANNOT BELIEVE IT! Mommy put a cup of water on her highchair tray? I CANNOT BEILIEVE IT! You get the picture. Imagine a small person who you are around 24 hours a day yelling that at the top of his or her lungs every five minutes. You can see why some people hate this show.
Then you remember that it exposes kids to classical music and famous works of art, and it actually encourages kids to move and talk and interact with the characters on the show. Think about the shows you watched as a kid. Did the freakin’ Snorks ever teach you about classical music? Did any of your precious “I’m a 90s kid so I love Nickelodeon” shows ever expose you to the work of some of the greatest musical and artistic minds of all time? I didn’t think so. The Little Einsteins — Leo, Annie, June and Quincy — travel around the world (and seemingly through space and time?) in a rocket ship called Rocket that is basically a flying Swiss Army Knife. They play instruments, appreciate art and are nice to animals. Trust me, there are a lot worse lessons to shove down your kids’ throats while you’re trying to take a 20-minute nap on the floor.
The Three Stooges
This technically isn’t a kids’ show, but my kid loves it so that’s good enough for me. Sure, there’s the occasional racist caricature that makes me cringe and fumble for the fast forward button, and every viewing has to be proceeded with a reminder that this is just pretend and that we never, ever hit each other in the face with a cast iron pan. But I promise you this: You’ve never heard more genuine laughter than when a three-year-old watches a wall-mounted ironing board bonk Larry on the head or when Moe jabs his fingers knuckle-deep into Curly’s eye sockets. The belly laughs those three doofuses* cajole from my kid are what true delight sounds like. And for that, I’m thankful.
*I don’t count Schemp. I know he was one of the originals, but I like my Stooges one way and one way only, and that’s with a heaping helping of Curly. Get out of here with Schemp.