Pikachu Will Be Killed Tomorrow
10:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. weekdays
the Disney Channel
Tuesday through Thursday at 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
7:00 a.m. Sundays
If you're over the mental age of 11 and avoid hallucinogens, you probably regard children's television programming as something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Those of us who are parents and guardians are intimately acquainted with the epilepsy-triggering aesthetic of kids' TV; for some reason, there's nothing like an anthropomorphic pig-robot hybrid firing laser beams into the stratosphere to lull the kiddies into sedation. The cartoons of the '70s and '80s were a comparatively low-grade drug. If Scooby-Doo was a mellow ale for kids at rest, The Power Puff Girls is pure pink cocaine for today's frothing ADHD tot.
Thanks to computer animation, lines are bolder and transitions are more fluid and frenetic; new episodes pop out of the production machine like fastballs. Where previous generations had to wait until Saturday morning to get their Frankenberry-and-Jabberjaw fix, cable channels ensure that kids' waning attention spans are hyperstimulated at all hours. And when TV grows tiresome, nearly every animated show boasts a website with sophisticated games ("Polly Pocket Makeover!"), personality quizzes ("Which Rugrat Are You?"), and, of course, prominent product tie-ins that no budding material girl or boy could resist ("Barbie Fairytopia: Not Affiliated with the Writings of William Blake.")
Unlike my husband, who races downstairs so he won't miss the theme song for Justice League Unlimited, I rarely watch modern children's fare. My assumption has been that this programming is loud and crass--not nearly as charming as the shows I enjoyed as a kid (such as My Little Pony, which, come to think of it, was solely created to sell plastic equines with broke-ass weaves). I've successfully avoided the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and anything that airs prior to 11:00 p.m. on Cartoon Network despite having a tiny TV enthusiast in the house. If I so much as hear the plaintive squeaks of Pikachu and his ilk, I'm off for a mani-pedi and a shot of Maker's Mark.
So it was with great trepidation that I settled in to watch The Wiggles, possibly the cuddliest Aussie-flavored concept since the release of Xanadu. The Wiggles are a band, but not the kind of band you want to party with (though I wouldn't toss the yellow Wiggle out of bed for eating Weetabix). They're four milquetoast guys who perform the kind of music that makes '60s sunshine pop sound like Cannibal Corpse.
Their live-action shtick says more about Mom than it does about the kids: The Wiggles as a unit are a blatant manifestation of female longing. They're textbook metrosexual suitors without the claws or hang-ups, and the implied otherness lent by their sexy accents must surely titillate isolated, xenophobic housewives. The Wiggles write in diaries and they pack picnic lunches; their manners are impeccable. In one episode I watched, the Wigglemobile tragically breaks down. Rather than pulling out wrenches and digging in, the Wiggles sit and fret until a grease-daubed female mechanic named Ginger shows up to bail them out. The Wiggles are even more sensitive than a certain other W-named band, though it's hard to imagine Rivers Cuomo dancing with a man-sized purple octopus.
Krypto the Superdog is a fairly new offering from Cartoon Network, which is known for the subversive, grownup-friendly tone of many of its juggernauts. That's why I was surprised by the straightforward, fairly sedate Krypto vibe. The titular mutt is a classic talking dog; he reminded me of a more articulate, less drug-dependent Scooby. Upon further viewing, I realized that Krypto is more than an archetypal cape-wearing, adventure-conjuring alien pet. He's a symbol for exhausted parents everywhere.
See, poor Krypto is constantly being ridden (both literally and figuratively) by a little human bastard named Kevin. We see Krypto's weary eyes plead for the sweet release of death as the sadistic boychild harangues him repeatedly. At one point, after concluding a particularly awesome romp, Krypto says, "Can't we just take it easy now?"
"Take it easy? I thought you were a super dog," Kevin pouts.
Krypto's pained expression should be familiar to any caretaker who's been asked "Now what are we going to play?" after three hours in the backyard trenches. The show is sweet and winningly non-cynical, but parents who shudder beneath the weight of their superhero capes might want to tune out.
Zoey 101 is aimed toward an older crowd: The status-conscious tween siblings of Wiggles fans. It takes place at a coed seaside boarding school; call Zoey a seven-figure Saved by the Bell in both aesthetics and plausibility. This live-action kids' dramedy generated a lot of buzz upon its inception thanks to star Jamie Lynn Spears, younger sister to Britney Federline. Spears, age 14, is a surprisingly natural actress, and her physical similarity to her once fresh-faced sister is admittedly fascinating. The supporting cast members have that eerie manufactured-to-spec quality that most of the kids on Nickelodeon's roster share (have you seen the little androids on All That?) but they're certainly capable young actors. Plus, the show doesn't moralize excessively or condescend to preadolescents. No one's tweaking on meth, binging on Phen-Fen, or being chastised for anything heavy. Degrassi it ain't.
Kids' shows aren't as gagworthy as I assumed they'd be, nor were they as baldly commercial. In fact, the level of quality appears to have skyrocketed since the static backgrounds and limited voice talent of the Hanna-Barbera era. Even the shows aimed at the youngest demos were suitable for adult palates, though none were particularly sly. Zoey 101 in particular has guilty-pleasure potential, and the Wiggles could be the ideal antidote to VH1's Metalmania Weekend.
Of course, these shows were primarily designed to baby-sit--uh, entertain--children, and I imagine they do so successfully. The "Hey, kids!" triggers are all there. Most rugrats would sit still for Wall Street Week if it had animated credits, a bubbly theme song, and a friendly costumed character named Dow Jones. But this stuff is safe for cynics too. No longer will I flip past Cartoon Network as if trying to avoid an oncoming Mack truck full of rainbows and giggles.
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