Never having been a huge television-watcher (except CNN/MSNBC and I've given up on those for matters of principle), I'm pretty inflexible regarding the shows my kids watch. I absolutely deplore the Cartoon Network and The Disney Channel is a bore. Up to this point it's pretty much been a PBS Kids household. That is, until the other day.
Since Marni started pre-school our schedule has changed, including what we watch. "Arthur" just doesn't cut it, for my kids or for me; Arthur is whiny and all the adults in Arthur-world strike me as the kind of Volvo driving liberals who send money to PBS during those interminable fund-raising drives. As a mini-van anarchist, I think I can slam Volvo driving liberals with affection rather than a freeper sneer (as if a freeper would be caught dead watching PBS). Anyway, the characters on Arthur strike me as the type of people I see bitching about the hummus at a downtown coffee shop and I don't need to see them animated as aardvarks.
So sans Arthur, I decided to switch to Nick Jr. and check out the line-up. Previous experience on Nick Jr. has been pretty good, "Dora the Explorer" and "Blue's Clues" being favorites of the kids and truly excellent shows. As the father of two daughters whom I'm trying to raise as "womyn", I can't complain about grrls (Blue and Dora) who figure things out with the help of my three kids shouting and pointing at the TV screen.
In my early morning haze, I'd misread the show listings by a half-hour and would have turned the television off had I not stumbled upon something strange and wonderful and hallucinogenic: The Back Yardigans. I think I was in the kitchen making myself some coffee when the theme song got me, drew me out into the living room, the insistent and insidious melody burrowing deep into my psyche (it still echoes in my brain). It was the theme song that prevented me from turning the TV off and I am so glad that I didn't.
The basic premise is that 5 little animal friends gather in a back yard which then morphs into the episode's adventure land. The animation is good (not great) CGI and the story-lines are pretty much standard lesson-driven cartoon fare. What's truly outstanding is the music - it's incredible. TBY is packed with music, all of it good. Usually the songs on kid shows are phoned in but whoever is doing the music for TBY is going well over the top. In the first episode I watched, the one where Tasha, the little girly-girl hippo character, becomes the Queen of the Nile, Tasha's theme (something about being a princess) ran throughout the entire episode as a thematic foundation underpinning the other songs.
There's a variety of styles in the show ranging from Zydeco to hip/hop to Broadway show tune-ish (the song I just mentioned) to Afro-pop, all them good. Most songs on kid shows are disposable (Sesame Street probably being the notable exception), having the kind of embarassing inauthenticity of Christian Rock. TBY has the distinction of featuring truly outstanding, memorable music.
I'm not going to get into how good the characters and stories are on TBY, check it out for yourself. I'm just happy there's a show on that my kids love to watch and makes me want to listen. The Back Yardigans isn't just a great kid's show; it ROCKS!!!
* Prior to writing this, I did a little research and found a review of The Back Yardigans on Epinions.com by a member calling herself pippadaisy who wrote an excellent piece. Pippadaisy is bright, funny, and a pretty good writer (fairly prolific in the Epinions sphere). Turns out she also blogs on Homewreckers, a kind of Home & Gardening blog attended to by 20 or so H&G types. Alas, Pippa only had 2 entries there but I'm hoping she'll write more.
The gift of the internet: finding these hidden treasures in the most unexpected places.