image via amazon.com
Today, The Buster found a children’s program on Netflix called The Wheels on the Bus and immediately begged to watch it. As far as I can tell, the premise of the show is to ride around on a bus singing repetitive songs and to foster basic childhood skills (the episode we watched promoted the virtues of getting along, sharing, not procrastinating, washing our hands, and eating healthy snacks). Sometimes the passengers get off of the bus and the viewers are treated to a video montage of things like insects and parades.
I’m sure this doesn't sound much different than any other children’s program. But the thing is that the people on the bus are crazy-weird. The bus is driven by Roger Daltrey (lead singer of The Who) dressed in a full-body dragon costume. Or at least the dragon is voiced by Roger Daltrey…it’s likely someone else wearing the actual costume. Other bus riders include an assortment of mismatched puppets, some people wearing what look like cast-off mascot costumes, and some (mostly) normal people. The kids are all future music-dance-theater majors, the grown-ups keep on smiling, and there is some guy dressed up like a clown/mime. Add in some terrible computer animation and some random children appearing as singing, dancing, fairies and you have half an hour of my life that I will never get back. Naturally, The Buster was riveted to the screen.
This is where good-mommy-me and I-like-the-arts-me have an internal struggle. The overall message of The Wheels on the Bus is great. No one is hitting anyone else. No one is being called stupid or dumb. We’re learning about taking turns. I want to like it, but the part of me that sat through all those theatre, literature, and film classes is threatening to throw a fit. The lessons are a bit heavy-handed, the production values poor. I want children’s programming to be smart, funny, and high-quality. And I want it to be watchable, and not just by The Buster and Miss Meatball. I want to see what they are watching—is there a new concept that I need to explain or help reinforce? Or something a character did that I don’t want my kids doing? We spend a limited amount of time watching TV and I don’t want to spend it watching rubbish. Or things I find straight-up annoying (Dora the Explorer, I’m looking at you).
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of great stuff out there. The PBS line-up is predictably good—where we live Barney is out and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is in (thank goodness). Sesame Street is as fantastic as ever. And while I still think that the Man in the Yellow Hat is a terrible pet owner (seriously, if Curious George were a human child, DFACS would have stepped in) and that Super Why should stop changing all those stories, I’m grateful for all the quality children’s media options available.
What are your favorite children’s television programs? Least favorite? In addition to the shows mentioned above, we like Kipper, Charlie and Lola, and The Octonauts.