Kristen and I ingest a generous portion of TV aimed at the toddler set because we have a three year old who just loves the darn thing. There was once a glorious period of time where we diverted his attention from the TV fairly successfully save for sports that we wanted to watch. I knew so little about the mind-numbing hours my future held.
Back then, he would soak up the British Open like it was Elmo’s European vacation. I started getting smug with friends: “Oh no, Elliott really isn’t interested in watching any of those kids videos. He’ll watch a little football with me but other than that he pretty much leaves it alone…” Jackass…
Then last Christmas we drove up north in our new, DVD-playing minivan and somewhere in the middle of Virginia I realized that in an effort to make the drive more manageable, we had opened Pandora’s animated box. Not a day goes by where Elliott doesn’t ask if he can “watch a TV show” and by that he means something that will pretty much suck the life out of anyone over the age of 5.
When I was his age we had Sesame Street and I’m still cool with that one but now there are endless others that feign educational or moral lessons for the grand goal of selling lots of videos, books, toys, and clothes to idiot dads like me. These people are very successful.
One of our first forays into the genre was Bob the Builder. Each story is only about twelve minutes long but the theme song is epic. It’s like a fake, plastic hammer to the temple–“BOBBB the builder! CAN WE FIX IT? BOBBB the builder!! YES WE CAN!!!” It roars through the sound system at the beginning and end of each episode and seems to ignore all ‘volume down’ prompts.
There are some light lessons learned by the assortment of dorky, anthropomorphous, construction machines who serve as Bob’s crew. The common thread of building and fixing is clever too but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this show can stoke the fire of the inner cynic in me to a point of combustion. I’m always certain to remove all actual tools from the room before viewing. And this is one of the better ones!
Some are so lame that I cannot get beyond lamenting ‘somebody actually wrote this? There is a person, an adult Actor somewhere, who is actually coming to work every day to read these lines?!’ See Dragon Tales or Berenstain Bears or Clifford. Sample dialogue: “Wouldn’t it just be the greatest if we all shared EVERYTHING?” “Yaaay!!!” These aren’t even the worst offenders. I put my foot down at Caillou. I just don’t even want to know what this bald-headed, 4 year old nerd has to say. Am I a bad person? I’m not sure Elliott is even buying this bologna.
Then there are the pseudo-educational ones like Super-Why and Dora the Explorer–and maybe these are just meant for older kids but posing a question to the TV audience, blinking a few times and then just giving the answer anyway is not teaching my kid all that much, is it? It’s driving me bonkers is what it is doing.
Sid the Science Kid was on the right track (“ever hear about the kid who wanted to know everything…about EVERYTHING??!!”) Yep. He’s ambitious alright but perhaps more so than his creators as they seemed to only have made a handful of episodes. Dinosaur Train is pretty legit though. I don’t know that Elliott is picking up on much of the paleontology, but I’m catching a few tidbits here and there and I dig it when Buddy the T-Rex has a hypothesis.
There are some European imports that baffle me as much as a sold out Hasselhof concert. Kipper is a talking dog with a British accent and the most painfully boring story lines you could imagine. Like the one where he couldn’t sleep. (” ‘Ello Henry. It’s Kippah. Are you awake? I kahnt sleep!”) Wooh-boy! Better TIVO that one!! RubbaDubbers features a set of talking bath toys (I think??). I’d be pretty hamstrung coming up with story lines for that one too. The dads on the other side of the pond must be drinking fairly heavily to sit through these offerings.
Thomas the Train is a favorite though. It seems like it was written by a Swiss schoolteacher in the 1890’s and hidden in a windmill only to be unearthed by a modern day marketing executive. The figurines are relatively crude and shot in still frames but the kids just love to hear about these hard-working (yet sometimes cheeky!) trains. George Carlin served as the narrator for many of the episodes and after him Alec Baldwin did a stint. I give this show a lot of credit because I’m a reasonably educated adult and I have absolutely no idea what is going on here. I do find visits to the Island of Sodor to be very soothing though.
Sometimes I worry that Elliott can get so caught up in a TV show that he looks like something between an unemployed roommate and a Moonie… But we do strictly limit the amount he watches. He still enjoys his books and oodles of free play. Lately that has entailed wearing his football outfit and repeatedly sacking daddy, hoping for a fumble. What he really loves more than anything though, and I find this so endearing, is for us to just tell him stories as he readies for bedtime. I’m often embarrassed at how dreadfully corny the tales are that I come up with.