My son and I rarely have the television on at home, except when it dips below 50 degrees and I need to check the news to see why the apocalypse is trying to ruin our beach day. Every Saturday, however, I let my son watch a little TV. Since he is an exceptionally perceptive toddler, I decided to do a general survey of the programs currently airing to get a feel for what is appropriate and enjoyable, and what is obnoxious and tiring. Dante helped me out on this one, giving his bubbly two cents for each of the shows we sampled. We’re no Siskel and Ebert, but if we were, Dante would be Ebert.
- 1. Zerby Derby (Sprout): This show is beyond awesome. Not only are all of the characters cars (and the occasional boat or dump truck), but Zack, Lily, Axle and Rex are also real-life remote-control cars — no animation or CGI. I like to imagine the set life of the crew as they operate the adorable little vehicles, solidifying the plots lines later through voiceover. This has got to be one of the cooler kids’ shows to work on. The cars putter around a forest, encountering various practical obstacles that require the typical problem solving skills that encourage social cooperation in young children. The best part? Lily is not some whiny, pink corvette, but a rowdy, tomboyish car that keeps up with the boys. Yeah, girl.
Dante Grade: Pretty cool, but a handful of spoons is still preferable.
Mom Grade: A++
- 2. Big Block SingSong (Disney Junior): These two-minute segments provide a perfect balance of toddler-meltdown distraction and psychedelic parental satisfaction. The show features colorful blocks singing about various aspects of life, including animals, body parts, and emotional states. The music is well-written and catchy, with shamelessly bizarre lyrics that don’t try to belabor some moral point: Some people call me octopus, some people call me Pete/some people call me that super fancy guy, with suction cupped feet. Obsessed.
Dante Grade: This had me transfixed and allowed mom to cuddle with me without any objections on my part.
Mom Grade: Rad.
- 3. The Good Night Show (Sprout): A decent program with little to worry about in terms of content. If teaching your child Spanish is on your agenda, then this is the show for you. The host introduces easy words in an engaging manner, and interacts with a stuffed star. My (and Dante’s) favorite part was the home video segment, which mostly features birthday well wishes for lucky young viewers.
Dante Grade: I don’t know why that star is talking, but I’m not mad at it.
Mom Grade: B
- LazyTown (Sprout): Originally from Iceland, this show has been around for at least six years. Intended for older children, it follows the usual formula of too many characters, too many colors, and too many lessons learned. The puppets are creepy, but the real-life actors are what eventually draw you in. Stephanie, the main character, is a cute little girl with natural talent and genuine heroine charm and I admit that I watched more than one episode. However, her adolescent spunk and Natalie Portman coquettishness manifest as slightly inappropriate. She herself is innocent and excessively helpful, but her interactions with both the hero and the villain — grown men in tight clothes, unnecessarily involved in the children’s social sphere — are questionable.
Dante Grade: Not really digging it. Plus, I pooped.
Mom Grade: If I were to wear Stephanie’s outfit for Halloween, would that be in any way acceptable? Also, B-.
5. Dora The Explorer: (Nick Jr.): Here’s the problem with interactive TV shows: I am tempted to retort with smart-ass and downright immoral remarks every time I am asked a question by some spirited little girl. I refuse to believe I am the only parent with this sentiment. All cynicism aside, this is a good show for kids. Dora is a spunky character with gender-equal appeal due to her love of adventure. It is heavy on vocabulary building, has fun characters and engaging animation, and features lots of music. This, however, brings us back to my original problem with the show: I just want it all to stop. I know what a map is and do not require repetitive jingles to remind me of the nature of this or any other familiar object.
Dante Grade: Enjoyable. I myself do not know what a map is, and find all of the jingles informative for this reason.
Mom Grade: Dora and friends, please stop staring at me. C-.
- 6. Caillou (Sprout): This is perhaps one of the more “normal” kids shows out there. Caillou (this concocted name is too close to “caribou” for my comfort) is a sweet little boy with everyday concerns and delights. Although I zoned out for most of the show, I can confidently say that nothing wacky really happens. This is a good one for sensitive children, and a bad choice for people like me who can handle only a minimal amount of wholesome.
Dante Grade: Take it or leave it. Not enough visual stimulation.
Mom Grade: C+
- 7. Lalaloopsy (Nick Jr.): The animation on this one is pretty out there. The cutesy inflections of the characters (girly-girls taken to a whole new level) is grating, and their beady eyes are just not okay. The episodes follow typical plots designed to hold the attention of tiny humans.
Dante Grade: For some reason, this one really got to me. No matter how much I scratched at the T.V., I couldn’t be directly involved with the program.
Mom Grade: D.
- 8. Looney Tunes (Cartoon Network): And then there’s Looney Tunes. I was glad to discover that with all of the politically correct and indefatigably fluorescent television shows for children, this mean-spirited classic is still around.
Dante Grade: N/A, wasn’t allowed to watch it.
Mom Grade: D.
Virginia Petrucci is a freelance fiction and non-fiction writer, and a former model and actress. She has a bachelor’s degree in Theatre and English, and is pursuing further education in Psychology. She has a one-year old son named Dante.