Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hey! DW!

Right now I'm kind of angry with my local PBS station. Why? Well, every fall, they shuffle their lineup of kids' programming around. It's almost always the same shows, but they just shift them into new timeslots so nothing's ever in the same place. The Daughter likes to have the teevee going while she eats breakfast and for a little while when she gets home. When the shows on are shows we like (Fetch with Ruff Ruffman, Between the Lions), that's great. When we end up with a bunch of crappy shows, it's a whole lot of ugh.

(Shows we don't like? Look, I will forever be a fan of HA Rey's books, but the Curious George teevee show is horrifically bad. And there's just something awfully nauseating about Clifford. Sorry, but I see that big red dog and I wonder why the town isn't always pissed at him when he leaves his Ford Taurus-sized droppings. And of course, of all kids' shows, the one that lends itself most to MST3K-style commentary is Caillou.)

Our favorite kids' show, though, is really no contest. It's Arthur.

From Byzantium's Shores: chronicling the misadventures of an overalls-clad hippie

Arthur is the story of Arthur Read, his family, and his friends in Elwood City. Arthur and friends are all anthropomorphized animals: Arthur and family are aardvarks, friend Buster Baxter is a rabbit, and so on. It's hard to describe what's so good about the show, but in general, it has a great sense of humor, with a lot of jokes slipped in that only parents will get; it doesn't rely on sickening sweetness to make its moral lessons; it depicts a very well-realized town with a lot of interesting and quirky supporting characters.

Actually, I just now figured it out: Arthur is like a more wholesome, less subversive version of The Simpsons.

I just learned that Nail Gaiman will be making a guest appearance on Arthur, which led me to this article on Arthur as a "geeklet icon":

1. Let’s start with more of those guest voices: Arthur’s had a bunch of these, and one of the things I think makes them awesome is that more often than not, the visitors are playing themselves, which can introduce parents and kids alike to new faces and ideas. Architect Frank Gehry’s been on the show, as has kinetic sculpture artist Arthur Ganson, and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. (Renamed “Alex Lebek” in the Arthur episode, for some reason.)

2. The value of reading is a huge underlying message: Arthur and his friends go to the library a lot. They did an entire musical episode which included a song and dance the benefits of a library card and another using The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to illustrate the addictive power of books. Oh, and Arthur’s last name is, in fact, Read.

My favorite Arthur episode, "The Ballad of Buster Baxter", depicted Buster Baxter's return to Elwood City after a year away, and his attempts to reintegrate himself into life there and the awkwardness thereof. This is the kind of story that's easy to relate to, and the episode is pretty insightful about the fears involved: the kids wonder if Baxter has changed from being the kid they knew, while Baxter wonders how he can convince them he's the same old kid while wondering how much they have changed. But even so, the best thing about the episode is the form: it's told in a series of vignettes, connected together by the singing of a guitar-toting balladeer moose, voiced by Art Garfunkel. (Sample lyric, after the kids have decided that Buster probably likes all kinds of strange foods now, such as escargot: "Life can be tough as nails, when your friends think you're a guy...who likes to eat snails!") At episode's end, as the balladeer is summing things up, Buster turns to Arthur and asks, "What's with the singing moose?"

Yeah. Arthur rules. So WNED has it on at 1:00 in the afternoon now. Bite me, WNED!

(image via)


Roger Owen Green said...

I was just listening to the end of Arthur and the end theme (that sort of reggae/ska thing by Ziggy Marley) had a hiphop mix.

TiVo, DVR, VCR - only way to watch TV anymore.

Aaron said...

I like Fetch too. I don't catch much of Arthur though. Another fav is Word Girl.

Quince said...

We like Word Girl and Cyberchase. Arthur is a favorite too. I like your comparison to the Simpsons.

fillyjonk said...

I don't even have children, and I occasionally watch "Arthur." (my local PBS affiliate runs it around 4 pm. It's a nice thing to watch after a difficult day on a college campus).

The writing of the show is good. Even a kid-oriented show, if it has good writing, is enjoyable for an adult to watch. (Conversely, a show with poor writing, is excruciating to watch).

Two other "celebrity cameos" I remember: Mr. Rogers (RIP) and Frank Gehry (there's another Simpsons link: I daresay he's the only architect ever to provide a voice-over on two different animated shows.)

Kerry said...

Caillou is banned in our house. It's his annoying, high-ptiched, whiny, baby voice. Shut the hell up, Caillou!

Ditto on Dora.