Who has the time or patience to scout for kids TV shows these days when there are bottles of wine to open and bon bons to eat? When it’s “stop jumping on the couch while rapid firing questions before mommy’s head explodes” time and you’ve got a bottle of wine in one hand and a roll of duct-tape in the other, you need to know exactly what you’re in for. Here’s what you need to know to prepare yourself for a much-needed mommy (or daddy) break before you stab your eyes out with a pacifier that’s just been fished out of a clogged toilet.
Sofia the First
Sofia is a freakishly kind princess with a larger than normal head who quietly runs an entire kingdom while her family stumbles over themselves in a pathetic heap around her. In each episode, her step-father, King Roland, brushes off Sofia’s reasonable solutions to problems everyone but the royal family can see coming a mile away. Eventually, the King and the rest of the royal family admit that they should have listened to her all along. Her mother, Queen Miranda, must have been fairly self-sufficient as a single mother before marrying the King, but has casually settled in to being King Roland’s arm candy and a minor character with a head a fraction the size of her daughter’s.
Most of Sofia’s interactions are with animals, especially her favorite, a grumpy bunny named Clover who (despite his binge-eating habits and bad attitude) is the most helpful soul in Sofia’s life. You see, she can talk to animals since her clueless step-father gave her a highly-valuable magical amulet that puts her life in jeopardy on a regular basis as she is not allowed to take it off. The King’s clumsy & trusted sorcerer, Cedric, is after Sofia’s amulet at all costs including jeopardizing the lives of the Royal family, yet he redeems himself by setting aside his “Pinky & the Brain”-style mission long enough for random selfless acts that contradict his mission but save the day (way to commit, Cedric). Sofia’s over-privileged step-sister, Amber, learns to not be such a pretentious snob in every episode in a highly annoying and predictable way. Amber’s twin brother, James, is kind but a complete nit-wit like his father, and although he’s much more interested in fun & games (as boys often are) than any of Sofia’s world-saving antics, he is much more supportive of his step-sister than the rest of the family.
While chaos ensues much to the bewilderment of everyone around Sofia, the “Castle Steward” (he’s actually a butler) by the completely common name of Baileywick single-handedly keeps the castle in one piece while protecting everyone from themselves and each other. Other minor characters include Sofia’s pleasantly plain peasant friends Jade & Ruby, an obnoxious dragon with uncontrollable fire breath appropriately named Crackle, Whatnaught the squirrel, birds Mia & Robin, a handful of royal classmates, and oh, yeah… Fauna, Flora, & Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty plus random cameos from Disney Princesses like Belle, Rapunzel, and Cinderella. Even Ariel makes an appearance the day Sofia becomes a mermaid and saves both an entire community of mer-people and her own family & staff while hardly anyone even notices that the youngest princess has been missing from a family vacation on a boat all day long (totally norma, everyday stuff here). Because that’s how Sofia rolls.
I can get behind a kind-hearted girl who puts her big girl panties on and gets shit done in spite of the lazy resistance around her. Sure, it’s a princess show, but you go girl. Keeps kids entertained while teaching them to stay true to yourself and do the right thing even if you find yourself in an unfair world full of morons.
Jake and the Neverland Pirates
Good natured kid-pirate Jake, along with pirate pals Izzy, Cubby, and parrot Scully (who’s names your kids probably won’t remember) live a casual life in the land of Never Land (not to be confused with Neverland) where they have a rockin’ hideout and a spirited ship/pal named Buddy. Jake & crew always find themselves in an opportunity to save the day on a grand adventure, solving a series of “pirate problems” along the way. Pirate Problems can be anything they encounter along the way, from saving a Pirate Princess to finding Cubby’s baby’s-first-(un)treasure.
Pirate/child predator Captain Hook goes to great lengths to stalk the pirate children, determined to cash in on treasured booty. Golden booty. Hook enlists the help of his left-hand man (he has no right hand), Mr. Smee and the other two misfits in harassing and entrapping the children. Despite their obvious lack of intelligence, Hook’s crew can see (or have possibly learned from experience) that things won’t end well, yet they proceed with Hook’s orders to the end (hello, Daddy issues).
The pirate kids solve a great many of their problems using a bit of pixie dust to gain the power of flight. This pixie dust was entrusted to the only girl of the bunch (for obvious reasons) by fairies with strict instructions to be used “only in emergencies” in order to preserve their supposedly limited supply. When Jake & crew solve a Pirate Problem, any number of magical floating gold coins appear in neat rows, giving the kids both on-screen and off the opportunity to practice counting together. At the end of each adventure, the kids re-count and stash their treasure in a chest hidden completely inconspicuously by moving a large shovel placed in plain sight completely upright in the middle of a large beach. Scully eats crackers. Disney Junior starts it’s loop of 3 shows over again.
Points for getting in counting practice that we may have missed today, but not for making it seem okay for kids to get involved in “adventures” a creepy grown man and his friends. Keeps kids entertained long enough to hide in the pantry with your chocolate stash, but may teach them to throw out the phrase “it’s an emergency” for inappropriate things, like a piece of your chocolate stash.
Doc McStuffins is a young girl who is actually named “Doc McStuffins” –– as in her parents call her “Doc” and share the last name “McStuffins”. Disney gets plenty of crap for political incorrectness with a lineup of blond bombshell princesses and many ethnic characters with thick accents. Doc McStuffins is where Disney has cached all of it’s politically correctness. She’s a dark-skinned (presumable African-American) girl doctor who’s cute (but no bombshell), has a mother who is a successful actual Doctor, and a father who can both take care of the house and whip up a meal in the kitchen when he’s not doting over Doc’s toddler little brother as a classic “Mr. Mom”.
Although the show has some great things going for it with catchy songs, imaginative play, an ambitious young girl, and cute lessons, it’s difficult to get over Doc’s Stewie-from-Family-Guy-like head. Disney made her smart, independent, and calm, but they didn’t do her any favors in the not-looking-like-a-football department. Here’s more proof that you really can’t have it all, gals, compliments of our beloved Disney.
Although the show has inspired many a young-girl of any skin color to become a doctor, it is not without it’s faults. Early episodes may leave you interpreting the show as a girl’s make-believe world where her toys are alive in her imagination (just as I have always imagined Stewie Griffin’s antics are 95% in his misshapen head). Recent episodes show that instead, Doc’s toys magically come to life at the touch of her magical stethoscope –– a secret which she keeps from friends and family alike. If my daughter’s toys were magically coming to life, she had better let me know instead of sneaking off to play doctor in her plastic playhouse (that again, is clearly much larger in Doc’s world than the outside world). Seriously, kids. If you or any of your toys have magical powers, I want in on that action.
Good for her for being a caring, kind-hearted toy doctor who works complete pro-bono who has taught my kids the difference between an otoscope and stethoscope. But I’m watching you, “Doc”, because when your devious nature spills into my world, I’m pulling your cord. At least they aren’t watching Teletubbies or Barney.
Sheriff Callie’s Wild West
Sheriff Callie is an adorably kind-hearted calico cat-sheriff single-paw-edly running an entire town of baffoons. In each episode, her walking, talking completely nescient cactus friend Toby destroys the town of “Nice n Friendly Corners”. On a daily basis, Sheriff Callie must save the day on the back of her trusty blue steed, Sparky, using her magic “noodle lasso” (obviously) –– all while friends Deputy Peck, Governor Groundhog, Uncle Bun, Priscilla Skunk, Farmer Stinky, Dirty Dan, Dusty, and others do their best to get in the way. What else would you expect of a town where the most active and responsive resident is a cat? “Holy Jalapeños!”
…am I right?
Kids will learn that cacti truly have a knack for ruining everyone’s day no matter what their intentions and that having a woodpecker as a best friends is about as useful as you’d expect. The wild west is full of crazy, dirty, rotten animals, after all.
Fortunately, kids will most likely identify with the good, honest, hard-workin’ heroine who always has a cute catch-phrase ready: “Sweet sassafras”, “Leapin’ lassos!”, and “What in the whiskers?” could be next out of your toddler’s mouth. Just don’t be surprise if you catch a bit of Deputy Peck-inspired back-talk “on account of I’m the deputy!” Now can we just teach them that you shouldn’t be responsible for dragging a town-full of helpless free-loaders around with you everywhere you go? That’s such a serious drain on the soul, and who’s going to pay for my retirement if the kids are wasting time on a menagerie of uninspired hicks?
Mostly fluff. Adorable enough for occasional watch, just be sure to have some background nose because those whiney western voices are annoying. Warning: kids may bore quickly, before you’ve finished your Pino Noir & back of doritos.
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse
Here, Disney had turned a classic into a bright and colorful imaginary world that looks utterly obnoxious to adults, but magically inviting to young children. I’m fairly certain that kids actually believe they have a direct line with Mickey because (unlike Dora) when he asks “Say, do you wanna come inside my Clubhouse?”, they all scream “YES!!!” right on cue. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t sound so seductive if they ever hear it from a grown man.
This show is everything that all other attempts at an interactive pre-school show have tried to be. When Mickey says that it’s time to Mousekersize, kids magically get up out of their seats and start moving. If he asks a math problem, they answer. It’s downright creepy to have your kids talking with such an obnoxious rendering of Mickey Mouse in your living room, but hey… they are solving problems at every corner with the help of a magical, floating assistant called “Toodles” who happens to be carrying a random assortment of “Mouseketools” that also happen to be perfect for the tasks along the way. Most impressively, kids truly have no idea that they are learning the same things that bore them to death in a workbook. They now cheer our neighbors on for “Mousekersizing” as they jog up the block, but you’ve had your kids shout much more embarrassing things at unsuspecting strangers like that time when your mini-you shouted “Look, Mom, that lady’s white shirt matches her hair!”.
Although the primary-colored graphics may be assaulting to our grown minds that crave a dimly-lit evening drama and the Clubhouse Pals are rendered in a way that threatens our cherished memories of “classic Mickey”, the content is truly the perfect low-guilt programing you need to refill your wine and cook a healthy meal.
You can trust Mickey & Pals Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, Pete, and Toodles to fill your kids’ minds with educational entertainment while you re-group. You might even be able to sneak away to the bathroom BY YOURSELF! You will likely find them up on the feet often, and no pre-schooler can resist dancing to “Hot Dog!” by They Might Be Giants at the end of the show (that’s your cue that a lesser show is about to come on). A full 5-glass rating because I have no idea how they do it episode after episode and seriously, it even gave me breathing room to blow-dry my hair this morning.
Miles From Tomorrowland
In case you haven’t guessed, Miles and his family are from Tomorrowland. What you likely haven’t guessed, is that he is almost never in Tomorrowland because he lives and works on a spaceship with his family, the Callistos. Although it’s refreshing that a main character actually interacts with his family on a regular basis (and they aren’t completely senseless), it basically lacks substance.
Miles mucks about with his, get this, pet robot ostrich while his family is completing missions for their job at the local interstellar Transit Authority. There is not way that this kid would survive without his precious M.E.R.C. (Mechanical Emotionally Responsive Creature), but I as you may know, I have serious issues with shows where the hero/heroine is technically completely helpless.
The theme song is catchy and easy for kids to remember since it only has three words, and they are the name of the show. Way to challenge the kids, y’all. The New York Times has called the show “enjoyable” which is about the most kind thing you can say about this wannabe Jetson family. Supposedly there are real, actual science facts strewn about the show, but they are completely lost in the science fiction of run-away jetpack surfboards and a family who doesn’t hate each other despite being confined in a small spaceship indefinitely.
One glass because I’m still hopeful that season 2 will have more to it than a space-cadet family who seems to aimlessly float about (how have they not been fired?) and a second only because George Takei voices a recurring character, Spectryx (love you, George).