#REVIEW: Ada Twist, Scientist

61pu8UIQ+kL._SX406_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSomething a little different tonight, if you don’t mind (and it’s my blog, so I’m doing it anyway whether you mind or not): I need to make sure you’re aware of a certain children’s book I just read to my son.  I was considering making this part of my Creepy Children’s Programming Reviews series, but decided not to.

So here’s the deal: if you have kids under, say, 12 or so, or if you teach science to any kids of any age, or really if you teach at all, you need to acquire a copy of Ada Twist, Scientist and make reading it out loud to said children a part of your mission in life for the near future.  Educators will already be aware of this: it’s occasionally a great idea to read out loud to kids, regardless of their age, and it’s also occasionally a good idea to read what are ostensibly children’s books to kids who are on paper too old to be reading those books.  You should all find your kids and then find this book (in that order, preferably) and then read it to them.

Here’s why: Ada Twist, Scientist does a great idea of breaking down how science works and how the scientific process works and how scientists think in 32 pages of simple, rhyming prose.  The fact that the titular scientist is a young black woman is just icing on the cake.  Representation is important, and young women of any race need to see themselves as scientists.  So do black children of either gender.  And my white male son needs to see scientists who don’t look like him.  Plus, again: it taught my five-year-old the word hypothesis.  Which he’ll be using in sentences by the end of the week.

Go check it out.

Creepy Children’s Programming Reviews: ZIG & SHARKO

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So.  ZIG & SHARKO.  See if you can figure out the premise of the show from that top image there; it ain’t complicated.  Getting a strong Wile E. Coyote vibe?  Yeah, that’s not too far off.

There is a mermaid.  Her name is Marina.  There is a shark named Sharko.  There is a… hell, I have no idea what Zig is supposed to be.  Some sort of canine variant?  A hyena?  A Tasmanian devil?  I dunno, but he lives on a volcanic island in the middle of nowhere, and the volcanic island is host to basically every animal that exists when the show calls for it, including– in the episode currently airing on my TV right now, a cheetah (or maybe a leopard?) which is an animal also not generally expected on volcanic islands.

Anyway, Zig wants to eat Marina.  Sharko is Marina’s protector and doesn’t want him to.  Marina is either extraordinarily bubbleheaded or actually special needs in some way and doesn’t generally notice the competition for her bloody death that takes place around her in every episode.

The hermit crab is named Bernie, and he is generally irrelevant.

The show is French, but that doesn’t really matter as there is never any actual speech, just lots of grunting and giggles and random noises.  Much like the aforementioned Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons, here’s the plot of every episode: Zig wants to eat Marina.  He concocts some complicated plan to do so.  Sharko stops him, generally administering a vicious beating along the way.  But it’s way more creepy than RR/WEC ever got, because Marina looks human— well, mostly– and plus she dresses like a mermaid, and is therefore half naked all the time, with bouncy girl parts and such, and… yeah, it makes it weird.  Generally harmless, but definitely a bit weird.

Oh, and then there’s that one super racist episode.  In one episode, shark hunters find Sharko.  They’re Chinese.  They wanna make shark fin soup out of him.  When they see him, they look like this:

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And this happens:

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This show aired in 2011, and not, say, 1943.  I had to take pictures of the TV screen, because I couldn’t find any screencaps online.  How in the fuck?  This is some 1870’s-level Yellow Peril shit right here, with a nice dose of “they all look the same” mixed in for good measure.  The six fishermen in the red literally all move and act exactly the same for the entire episode, and the only noises they make are creepy giggling.

Maybe lose this episode, Netflix.  I doubt anyone will notice.

Creepy Children’s Programming Reviews: SARAH & DUCK

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Sarah & Duck has been on constantly at my house for… oh, ten years?  Fifteen?  A hundred and twelve?  How old am I?  What year is this?  What century?  Did we elect a plant President yet?  A real long damn time.

Sarah & Duck’s theme song plays four times an episode, since each episode is broken into two little mini-episodes and we get the theme song played at the beginning and the end of each, meaning that in the middle you get to hear it two times in a row.  Picture these words chanted in a charming middle-aged British accent over gentle guitar music:

Sarah and duck.  (quack!)
Sarah and duck.  (quack!)
Sarah and duck.  (quack!)
Sarahandduck.  (quack.)

Quack isn’t actually a word; that’d be Duck quacking.  The only difference is the cadence; the fourth Sarah and duck is faster than the other three.

So, yeah.  Sarah & Duck.  Here they are.  Try to guess which one is which:

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The artwork might remind you of South Park.  I doubt that’s intentional, as it would be impossible for any animated program to be farther from South Park in tone and execution as Sarah & Duck.  Sarah is a girl.  Duck is a duck.  They’re both very, very, very British.  There’s also a nameless, disembodied narrator, who not only narrates but talks to both of the characters.  They talk back.  He’s very British too, and says things like well done and have a go and Tuesday and Bobber-clobber, which is probably an ethnic slur, all the time.

Sarah appears to have no parents, but she lives in a nice house with Duck, who has his own bedroom.  Adults are occasionally present as side characters, and then there’s the narrator, but he doesn’t have a body so he doesn’t really count.  Other things talk, but not all of them.  Duck only quacks.  This is Plate Girl:

Picture Shows: Plate Girl squeaks her plate to speak to the lost plates.
Picture Shows: Plate Girl squeaks her plate to speak to the lost plates.

I want it noted for the record that I didn’t know that picture had a caption until uploading it, and I’m keeping it there, because that’s the kind of show this is. Plate Girl has a plate with her all the time. The plate doesn’t talk.  There was an episode where she lost it in the fog, and she was very sad, and eventually Sarah figured out that she accidentally set it on top of a giant tortoise who happened to be walking by when Plate Girl set her plate down so that she could open the gate into Sarah’s “garden,” which is British for “front yard.”  I have not seen this “lost plates” episode yet, somehow.

This is Scarf Lady, who seems mis-named:

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You will note that Scarf Lady’s handbag has a face, and talks, and generally seems to not actually like Scarf Lady very much, which I would think would be a more salient characteristic than her everpresent scarf.  But no, she’s not Talking Handbag Lady.  She’s also not Keeps a Cthulhoid Sentient Pile of Immobile Yarn Captive in Her Horrifying Knitting Abbatoir Lady, but she does that too:

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Oh, and there are talking shallots in Sarah’s garden.  By which I mean an American garden-garden, not a British lawn-garden.  The shallots are the only thing growing in the garden, and the British pronunciation of “shallots” is different enough from American pronunciation that it took forever for me to figure out what he was saying.  They talk too:

imagesAnyway, Sarah has adventures, and they’re whimsical and British– did I mention this show was British?– and fun, and occasionally slightly entertaining, and the way she has to sound out long words can be really cute at times, and the show’s harmless and sweet and actually not very annoying at all.

Until the Pink Episode.  Which starts off typically, but then goes off the rails completely for a moment, in a way that will have you questioning your own sanity and the show’s entire premise.  Watch this to the 1:49 mark and then pause it:

You see what I mean here?  The weird look on Duck’s face, the creepy bells, the sudden horrified silence of the narrator as the show implies that Sarah is about to  carve her own heart out to make sure she’s as pink on the inside as she is on the outside?  It’s the most WTF moment of any kids’ TV show I’ve ever seen.

The show is, uh, not normally like that.  But that’s what got it reviewed.  Because it ain’t a kids’ show until somebody’s threatening to disembowel themselves, right?

Two thumbs up, but one of them is severed.

Creepy Children’s Programming Reviews: DINO SQUAD

vlcsnap-2011-08-29-23h37m58s59Oh, Dino Squad.  How much do I hate thee?   I hate thee a whole damn lot.  In general, I am very much pro-dinosaur and pro-dinosaur programming, but this show is edging closer and closer to the “Oh, sorry, Netflix is broken” level of I can’t watch this shit anymore right now.  It’s getting the kid interested in dinosaurs, and he’s learning a few things, but it’s making me insane, and it’s all about me and we can’t have that.

We will start with the theme song:

You didn’t click that, so here are the lyrics:

I’m in
I’m in
I’m in
in the dino squad
on a beautiful beach not far away
I went to visit for a day
got covered with some gooey ooze
that changed my DNA
Now I’m trying to act normal
Keep my cool
While other kids play after school
I turn into a prehistoric hero
I’m in
I’m in
I’m in
in the Dino Squad!

Okay.

I understand that complaining about suspension of disbelief and scientific inaccuracy in a kids’ show is a mug’s game.  I’m a superhero guy.  There are expensive superhero statues in the room with me and action figures on my desk.  My disbelief is suspended from the firmament itself most of the time, but this show still breaks the hell out of it.  So let me just lay this show out for you, and you tell me exactly when it gets to be too much.  Here is what Dino Squad is about:

  • A bunch of kids (high school students, old enough to drive motorcycles) go to the beach and get covered in ooze.  They discover it has given them the ability to turn into dinosaurs.  So far, I’m OK!  This is basically Daredevil’s origin, right?  Spider-Man got bitten by a radioactive spider.  Gooey ooze.  I’m good.
  • They meet this old lady, whose name I can never remember, and she tells them they can turn into dinosaurs.  She’s in this picture:

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So, all right, still okay.

  • The lady tells them that she is, herself, a dinosaur.  She is, in fact, a velociraptor!  A velociraptor who somehow avoided dying in the Chicxulub impact and “evolved” to be able to turn into a human being.  You literally see the two velociraptors diving into a cave during the meteor strike.
  • This is not how evolution works.
  • Velociraptors were the size of turkeys and had feathers.  If you saw one today, you’d think “Ooh, what a weird-looking bird!”.  Cassowaries are considerably scarier-looking.
  • Velociraptors died out ten million years before the Chicxulub impact.
  • This means that she was already somehow ten million years old before that explosion, and therefore the oldest living thing on Earth, exceeded possibly only by the other immortal velociraptor, and is therefore…
  • …currently 75 million years old.

But that’s Science Luther talking.  Shut up, Science Luther!  It’s a kid’s show!  Okay. Like I said, eventually that line gets crossed.  Maybe this is what does it:

  • The other velociraptor is also still around, and is therefore also 75 million years old.  He calls himself… wait for it… Victor Veloci.
  • Victor Veloci’s evil plan is to occasionally turn rodents and fish into dinosaurs, but only a couple at a time.  He’s insanely incompetent for a 75 million year old immortal dino-person.  The two of them should literally rule the planet by now.
  • You turn Victor Veloci’s dino-rodents or whatever back into regular rodents via a two-step process:  1) shooting them with a sprayer that causes the “dino DNA” to be sweated out of their skin, and 2) then– I am not joking– sucking the dino DNA up with a vacuum cleaner.  This makes them better.

Has the suspension of disbelief gotten harder yet?  Still need more?  Okay.  Here’s the kicker, then.  This is Victor Veloci’s hair:

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And, lest you think “Oh, he’s just long-haired, what’s the big deal?” let me show you another picture of Victor Veloci:

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No, he only has long hair on one side.  And that is an honest-to-God red streak dyed into his hair.  His haircut, somehow, is the most ridiculous thing about the show.

Note also his minions, who are dressed like COBRA applicants who got rejected for dressing too ridiculously.

So, yeah.  The show is about how this 75-million year old supervillain is routinely outwitted by a bunch of teenagers who can turn into dinosaurs.  Note that Veloci himself can regain his velociraptor form at any time.  (So can the old lady, presumably, although I don’t know if I’ve seen an episode where she does.)  

And those teenagers?  They’re… weird.  Especially this one:

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Now, again, these kids are in late high school, because they’re driving, but this one particularly– he turns into a pteranodon– keeps getting storylines that imply he is nine.  This particular image is from an episode where he’s having problems with bullies.  The bully’s name is McFinn, which is somehow much more ridiculous than it should be; it sounds really dumb anytime anyone says “McFinn” on the show, especially when they imply that this “McFinn” person is scary or tough.  He’s just not.  Plus, dude, you’re a dinosaur.  Drop him off a cliff.  There’s one right there by that lighthouse y’all are based in for some reason.

Now, I know, high school kids do have problems with bullies, and I’m not trying to minimize that.  But the way they handle it is weirdly infantilizing, especially since they really do try to treat pteranodude like he’s a lot younger than the rest of them.  He also gets an episode where Victor Veloci pretends to be a pretty girl in an MMORPG (75 million years old, people) and tries to get him to “break Internet safety rules” and tell her where he is so that Veloci can… do… something.  I dunno.  Underpants gnomes, profit.  The high school students have technology sophisticated enough to detect two mutated dinosaurs three states over and this dude is trynna catfish over Xbox Live.  I don’t get it.  And mohawk dude is the only one who gets these storylines.

(Oh, and remember that “play after school” line from the theme song?  Is that what high school kids do after school?  They play?)

Here’s the transformation video.  It plays six times an episode.  If your kid watches this show, expect him to spend a lot of time yelling “65 million years back!” and “going into dino mode” when you need him to put on his shoes:

One (1) point is awarded to the show because the big black kid, who would be a football player on any other program, is actually the computer nerd.  Other than that, I hate this show.

Creepy Children’s Programming Reviews: SLUGTERRA

imagesI’m actually pretty sure I… like this one?  We have a new hotness in the Siler household, the latest of any number of new hotnesses, and this time he’s plucked a thing called SLUGTERRA out of the Netflix queue to mildly obsess over for a few weeks.  SLUGTERRA is interesting; it’s the first show he’s ever really liked that I thought “Oh, this show is designed to sell kids a bunch of dumb shit,” except since we watch it on Netflix we don’t see any commercials and so– ha!– we evade Disney X D’s(*) capitalist clutches.  That said, before I realized the show was designed to sell kids shit, I’ll freely admit that I thought Man, this would make a fun turn-based video game.

So there’s that.

Anyway!  The premise.  It’s weird.  The show is set… underground, I think?  Maybe under the real world?  And there are people, but also trolls (they’re blue!) and whatever the mole dude is:

Our heroes.
Our heroes.

They’re called “slugslingers.” They shoot at bad guys with guns.

The ammunition for their guns is slugs.  These dudes:

UnknownWhen the slugs get shot out of guns, they twirl a little bit and then they can spin a web, or set themselves on fire, or freeze stuff, or turn into spinning blades, or any bit of nonsense you can imagine, and sometimes they punch each other out of the way, and sometimes they just explode, which seems kinda lazy, and they’ve only got one of each kind of slug that they have and so once they’re shot I guess they just wander back to their owners for some reason.  There’s probably something complicated behind it because this show has a Goddamn wiki but my kid is four so he’s not too into the details.  Oh, and also they ride around on mechanical animals.  There was this one episode where a dude was riding a robo-snake.  I approve of robo-snakes.

The sound design, believe it or not, is the coolest thing about the show.  The little slugs make cool noises when they’re being fired at each other.  I like the sounds they make.

There are bad guys.  This is Dr. Blakk.  Yeah.  Blakk.

Your name is a stupid name.
Your name is a stupid name.

Ooh, scary.  This is Dr. Blakk’s henchman.  His name is– I am not making this up– El Diablos Nacho.

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Your name is a REALLY stupid name.

He’s actually scarier-looking than Dr. Blakk, but his name is Nacho and there’s a grammar error in the first two words of his name and plus there’s no Spanish in this world anyway so why the hell is his name El Diablos Nacho and I refuse to worry about it.

(See the little red canisters on his shirt?  And the blue ones on the good guys up above? They have to slam the slugs into those before shooting them, then put the canisters into the gun, then fire the shot.  It’s very 1800s.  I want to know how the hell this ecosystem evolved, and who realized you could shoot these things.)

It’s a fun show.  I like the characters, and the setting is pleasantly weird, and like I said the sound design is stellar.  I just can’t get behind calling a dude El Diablos Nacho, though.

(*) Why is that space in there?  Because if you take Disney X D’s name and you write it without a space, WordPress turns it into Disney XD, which isn’t a word, and wait, is that why it’s called Disney X D?  How do you say that?  And how do you turn off the substitution in WordPress?  OMG OLD.