Creepy Children’s Programming Review: OCTONAUTS

6630bc3207651991e913e0e48d119eeeaa360e59So here’s the new hotness:  Octonauts, a show about British (mostly) animals (mostly) who live underwater in a giant octopus and Do Science.  Most of them, as I said, are various flavors of British, and their accents are region-specific.  Then there is the one with the southern accent (and by “southern accent,” I mean “southern US”) and what might be an attempt at a Mexican accent, maybe, since the character’s name is Peso?  Only they’re all done by British voice actors, and they are perhaps done by British voice actors who have never met southerners or Mexicans, because the southerner (“Tweak,” the rabbit) sounds like the worst stereotype of a toothless Mississippi white-trash hick you’ve ever heard and the Mexican accent sounds so un-Mexican that I thought the character was supposed to be Asian at first.

Here are the Octonauts.  They are so, so, so British, even the ones who aren’t British.

587d105778baebb5135df748f2f31a2d.jpgYou’ll recall I said they were mostly animals.  Note the plant on the right.  His name is Tunip, but I thought it was Turnip until seeing it in print just now.  The rest of the characters have personality and agency; Tunip and his other plant-based lifeforms appear to be either vegetable-based Oompa Loompas or actual slaves, and they really don’t fit into the rest of the show very well.  It’s bizarre.

At any rate: Every episode involves the Octopod tooling around in the ocean and dealing with some sort of sea animal’s problem, or sometimes the sea animals are the problem.  The animation is kind of cool and the ocean backgrounds are really neat even without the massive, Thomas the Train-level Britishness.

So goddamn British.

There’s a weird colonialism thing going on here, too:  the white … polar bear? in the middle up there is Captain Barnacles, who has the Britishiest of the accents, and he’s in charge.  He’s supposed to come off as this nineteenth-century naval captain dude.  In practice, this means that he assumes in any situation that whoever he’s dealing with will understand and assume that he’s rightfully in charge and what he says is the best thing for everyone.  Even if it’s a indigenous culture species of animal they’ve never seen before, obviously everyone ought to just agree with what the white animal thinks.  He’s the Captain!  Don’t you understand what that means?

Then there’s always a song at the end.  It’s the Creature Report.  It lives in my brain now, and I hear it all the time, everywhere I go, no matter what, forever.  Let it be in your brain now:

I like the show.  It makes me crave crumpets, and I don’t know what crumpets are, but I like it.  That said, if I try to drift off to sleep one more night with the Creature Report running through my head, I will kill a substantial portion of the Midwest’s population.

No big deal.

Creepy Children’s Programming Review: BUSYTOWN MYSTERIES

335px-Busytown_Mysteries_Complete_Series_(2009)_-_Home_video_trailer_for_this_animated_seriesHaven’t done one of these in a while.  After the last few days?  IT’S TIME.

So the new hotness for the last few days has been BUSYTOWN MYSTERIES, which is a show based on characters from Richard Scarry’s popular Busytown series of books.

Before we get into this, can we take a second and appreciate the name Richard Scarry?  Because it’s an awesome thing to be named.

Anyway.  BUSYTOWN MYSTERIES is all about the anthropomorphic animals, right?  There are no humans in this show; everyone is some sort of animal made human-like to varying degrees of weirdness and they run around and do stuff.  The main character is a cat named Huckle who inexplicably dresses like a Bavarian rentboy.  He hangs out with his sister, whose name is Sally, a worm named Lowly, and two pigs named Pig Will and Pig Won’t for some reason.  I don’t know who the hippo is in the picture.  She’s not around that often.

Anyway, they solve mysteries.  Unlike the contrived bullshit of Super Why, the mysteries they solve are generally at least in the neighborhood of actual mysteries, even if sometimes they’re kind of silly.  The show genuinely emphasizes critical thinking and reasoning skills even if no one but Huckle ever really displays any, and it’s kind of fun to watch the cat work through how the goldfish ended up in the middle of the street or whatever.  There are a couple of songs and a weird bug who always shows up at the beginning and the end of every episode to interview Huckle about his mystery.  I don’t know what this bug’s deal is and I feel like it’s entirely possible that he might be a creepy pedophile of some sort.

But that’s not what got me writing about the show.  Let’s talk about their cars.

Every character on the show drives a car at some point or another.  Huckle and Sally, weirdly, drive a real car and a scooter.  Huckle’s car has a picture of him on the hood.  They’re always careful to show people putting proper protective gear on when they start driving, too– Sally always wears her helmet and Huckle always belts himself in.  The weird thing?  Almost all of the rest of the characters drive cars that look like food they like to eat. The worm drives an apple car.  Somebody’s a pickle, or a doughnut, or an ear of corn, or something like that.

And then there’s Pig Will and Pig Won’t.


That, folks, is a sausage, being driven by two pigs, and just in case it didn’t drive home the idea that the pigs eat sausage, they’re hauling a bunch of sausage with them too.  What is sausage made of?  Pig.  So we’ve got this whole weird Easter Eggy-style subplot where two of the main characters are cannibals.  Also, the alligator character we see every now and again?  Drives an alligator car.  

Also, there are anthropomorphized goat characters, but there are also real goats who are kept as livestock.  I don’t know what the deal is with that.

So: outwardly sweet and simple, but this show hides a creepy little bolus of insanity and horror in its midst.  So two thumbs up, obviously.

In which my kid is weird as hell

1379633287_5Netflix recently made Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest available for streaming, and it has quickly become the show du jour around here.

I’m going to compress the plot into a couple sentences, because it’s not like it will make more sense if I go into more detail: there is a haunted, or maybe a ghost, scarecrow.  He lacks a head (that’s him in the background there) and he is therefore known as No-Noggin.

No-Noggin dislikes hats.

If you walk past No-Noggin’s tree on Halloween (because No-Noggin’s not there, or you can’t see him, or something) and you are wearing a hat, he will kick your hat off.  And then steal it.

My son has insisted on us putting a scarecrow in the front yard, and his favorite game now is to go outside and stand under the tree next to where we put the scarecrow.  My wife and I are supposed to walk past him, at which point he kicks our hats off.  Note that we have never actually been wearing hats when we do this, and I don’t know what he would actually do if I was wearing a hat while he was being No-Noggin and kicking hats.

He has been able to turn every conversation into a talk about kicking hats, and whether one should kick hats, and whether one is kicking hats or not, for at least a week.  Today at day care, when I picked him up, I was told that he’d hit another kid.  I’m pretty sure that what he actually did was kicked him.

He wants to be No-Noggin for Halloween, which means the wife and I get to find a way to jury-rig a costume.

Th’boy’s too young for cosplay, methinks.


Creepy Children’s Programming Review: Peg + Cat

Blog-Qustodio-PBS-KidsSo there’s a new hotness in town, as there tends to be, and the flavor of the current month is PBS Kids’ Peg + Cat.  Make sure you’re saying it right; that’s “Peg plus Cat,” not “Peg and Cat,” and it’s certainly not “Peg vs. Cat,” which is what I can’t stop myself from calling it because I’m an idiot.  Although if each episode ended in some sort of deathmatch between Peg and Cat (his name is actually Cat) that would be really cool and maybe they ought to think about doing that.

In some ways, I really like Peg + Cat, and I wish that the show’s shortcomings didn’t kill it so thoroughly for me.  Most kids’ shows are either about nothing in particular or they are about reading.  Peg + Cat is literally the only show that I can think of that is explicitly about math, and I think that’s a good thing.  You can see from the image there that all the animation is set against a graph-paper background, and you might notice that clouds are rendered as infinity signs.  The really cool bit is the calculus and algebra equations that are written into the background.  They’re never commented on, but they’re always there and I think they’re cool.  Also, smart female main character, and Cat’s personality and voice acting is entertaining.  All of these are positives.

Here is the problem, and I will freely admit that this is as much a problem with my parenting as it is with the show: my kid tends to watch multiple episodes of shit in a row, right?  So repetitiveness can kill a show really quickly for me, and of everything that he’s watched, with the possible exception of Color Crew, Peg + Cat is easily the most intensely repetitive show he’s ever liked.  The following things happen in every episode, and keep in mind there are two episodes per show:

  • Peg encounters a minor problem.  She declares, Super Why style, that they have a biiiiig problem!
  • Cat solves this minor problem immediately.  Like, this immediately:  PEG:  I’ve lost my shoe!  This is a biiiiig problem!  CAT:  Your shoe’s right there!  I’m not exaggerating.  Solved immediately.
  • Peg sings the “Problem Solved” song.  Here it is:
  • Peg and Cat encounter a second, larger problem, which Peg also declares to be a biig problem. 
  • Peg encounters difficulties solving the problem and has a moment where she is “totally freaking out!” which Cat fixes by wordlessly offering to punch her face.  Peg, oddly, always misinterprets Cat’s desire to punch her by suggesting that he has told her to count backwards from five to calm down.  This is clearly not what Cat just did.  Cat wanted to punch her.
  • Peg calms down, and Peg and Cat eventually solve the problem.  Peg sings the goddamn Problem Solved song again, except this time with an extra line where they state that everything is awesome.  Episode ends.

This has destroyed my mind, folks; that’s four biiig problems and four problem solveds per show, and I cannot tolerate that much.  The trouble is that literally everything else about the show, I like.  I like the math, I like the other songs that show up in the show (Peg plays the ukulele, and most shows involve at least one other song someplace.)  I like the fact that the show occasionally brings in science and history; Beethoven is a recurring character, and Cleopatra has shown up at least once.  Peg herself entertains me.  I like the intro theme, and the fact that they’ll mix up the song and the animation for it rather than it being exactly the same every episode.  I like the math integration.  There’s a lot of good stuff about this show.

Just don’t try to marathon it.  Because it will kill you.

On social media and kids’ shows

You may find this a useful post, or you may find it to be an excellent reminder of why thinking about, much less stressing out over, social media is an incredible waste of your time.  We’ll see.

Twitter has recently sort of upgraded its Analytics page.  They did it in a sort of annoying way, giving us a lot more granular data on how individual Tweets do, but removing the only feature I actually used Analytics for, which was to track day-by-day follows and unfollows.  They still haven’t put that back, which sorta pisses me off.

(Also: immaturity moment, because I need one: hurr durr he said anal.  That is all.)

Anyway.  I have, at this exact second, 1143 followers on the Twittermachine.  One of the things that the new Analytics page keeps track of is impressions for each Tweet.  An impression means that at some point your Tweet scrolled across the screen of somebody who was looking at Twitter.  It doesn’t mean that they read it, or clicked, or really did anything at all– it literally just means that it is at least theoretically possible that someone saw it.

With 1143 followers, after five or six hours most of my Tweets reliably have in between 60 and 80 impressions, assuming that they haven’t been retweeted by someone. This means that about six percent of my followers are going to see any given Tweet.  (Unknown: whether someone seeing a Tweet multiple times counts more than once.  I’m assuming that it does not.)

That is not very many.  You can increase the number of people who are going to see a Tweet with hashtags, which means that anyone who searches for that hashtag in the, oh, five minutes or so after you send it will see it, maybe.  In general, until yesterday, adding a hashtag or two would generally add thirty or forty impressions to a Tweet, and also seems to slightly elevate the chance that a Tweet will be favorited or retweeted.

This will seem like a change of subject; it’s not.  Bear with me.  I posited the following in the comments of my post about Curious George the other day:

Siler’s Law: as any discussion of children’s programming continues, the chance of someone making a disparaging comment about Caillou very rapidly approaches 1.

This genuinely is a law, guys.  It’s amazing how much people seem to hate Caillou, and you absolutely cannot talk about children’s programming without someone at some point mentioning what a terrible goddamn show it is.  It’s nearly impossible.

And my son has never displayed the slightest interest in watching it, so my wife and I have been spared this particular terror in our childrearing.  So, two nights ago, we decided that after we put him to bed we would deliberately expose ourselves to this terrible thing.  What the hell, I thought, maybe it’ll make for a blog post.


Short version, because this isn’t actually the point: early Caillou is, indeed, completely unbearable.   Later seasons eliminate some of the stuff that makes the early episodes bad, but oh man are the early episodes bad.

While we were watching, I posted the following two Tweets:

As of this morning, with– and this is important– not a single retweet– these two posts have 1,707 and 1,714 views, respectively.

Not one retweet.

I posted this last night, when I discovered this phenomenon:

That Tweet currently has 1,039 impressions, with no retweets, and has only been online for about eleven and a half hours– most of which in the dead of night in the continental US.

What this implies is that there are an extraordinary number of people who, for some reason, are searching Twitter for the #caillou hashtag.

So searched Twitter for the #caillou hashtag.  Something’s going on here, right?

Go ahead; try it yourself.  Long story short: shit still don’t make no sense.

And that’s why no one should waste time worrying about social media.