Thursday, July 28, 2011

Yo Gabba Gabba

My first post by reader request! Yo Gabba Gabba... I don't even really know where to start. Parents on Yo Gabba Gabba can be divided into two categories: "Love it" (for whatever reason), and "Hate it because it's a toddler acid trip". Now, for me, I think the 70's "H.R. Pufnstuf" was way worse on the latter claim. This is just the 2000's version of that. Really. People in big costumes singing songs in styles popular in the day. It's that simple. I'll admit, initially, I was in the "this is too weird and it creeps me out" category, but after I gave it a chance (with prodding from an awesome set of parent friends of mine, they know who they are), I learned to love it. I'm a huge fan of DJ Lance now.

If you've never seen this show before, let me introduce you to the cast of characters. First, DJ Lance Rock, the guy in the orange furry hat. He's the emcee of Gabba Land. That boom box he carries also houses the figures of the five other critters, who come to life with his imagination. (Stay with me here, I promise, I'm not smoking anything!) The intro song introduces each characters... Muno, "He's tall and friendly" (who you may recognize from those car commercials where the kid's toys borrow the SUV), Foofa "She's pink and happy", Brobee, "The little green one", Toodee "She likes to have fun" (interjection: she's the blue cat thing... I think she gets the short end of the stick as far as the song goes), Plex "A magic robot". Easy enough. Still with me? Okay, good. Take another sip of coffee.The characters reside in "Gabba Land" and each have their own realm. Well, except for Plex. He has a charging station in between Foofa's and Brobee's realms.

The best part of Yo Gabba Gabba is definitely the guest stars. There are some regulars, and then a list dozens of celebrities long for the "Dancey-Dance" portion. The regulars include Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, who teaches kids to draw random things that then animate themselves to life, Biz Markie, who does "Biz's beat of the day" and teaches kids a fun beat-box noise, and Jack McBrayer who often appears with Paul Scheer to tell the "Knock-knock joke of the day". Jack Black and Weird Al Yankovic have both had entire episodes.  Amy Sedaris (of "Strangers With Candy" fame) was the tooth fairy for Muno in an episode. Other notable guests for "Dancey-Dance" segments have been Andy Sandberg, Rachael Dratch, Melora Hardin (Jan on The Office), Tony Hawk (who cheated and didn't actually dance at all, but skateboarded... a bone of contention for me), and Sarah Silverman, among others. There are also musical guests for the "Super Music Friend Show" portion, where DJ Lance gives the Gabba crew a giant TV to play a song, and they all dance around to it in between snippets of a YGG special music video. Musical guests include (but are not limited to!) The Shins (see the Super Music link above!), The Aquabats, Weezer (dressed as large bugs), The Ting Tings, and The Roots. Needless to say, all of this involvement is more for the parents, and it really does make the show way more awesome.

The show jumps around in small segments, between little stories with the YGG gang learning a lesson about being patient, cleaning up or sharing, musical interludes, segments I've already mentioned, and fun 8-bit animations featuring real kids who "like to dance!" (think original Nintendo or even Atari). There are also segments such as "Cool Tricks", where a real kid shows off a fun hidden talent like playing the piano, doing a hula, or even just balancing a spoon on their nose. The whole thing is wrapped up with DJ Lance reviewing what was done on the show that day, and then dancing to a remix of all the songs they sang.

I can't do this post without some video fun... here is my favorite song from Yo Gabba Gabba, where Muno raps about why he likes bugs so much (sorry for the poor quality, it's the best I could find that was able to be embedded):

Come on, that song is hardcore awesome. Admit it.

Yo Gabba Gabba plays on Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. at various times throughout the day and night. Both channels are only available by subscription to a cable or satellite provider, please check local listings. There are also tons of CDs, DVDs, and toys to expand your YGG experience. And recently, there has been a world wide live tour (attended and very highly spoken of by a friend of mine in Australia at the Sydney Opera House)!

Age appeal is pretty broad ranging, in my opinion. The music is fun for all ages, child and adult alike. The lessons might be best suited to preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school kids, but the coolness factor lasts long beyond those years. There are also fun tunes and bright happy colors for the younger viewers. My son enjoyed it from quite a young age.

What your child learns:
  • Social and Emotional Development: Emotions, patience, sharing, kindness, caring for the earth, empathy, cultivating friendships, eating healthy, jokes, hidden talents.
  • Mathematics: Patterns, counting, colors, shapes.
  • Music and Dance: Different kinds of music, dance moves, fun in movement, singing, different kinds of instruments, beat patterns.
  • Pre-Reading Skills: Story telling, remembering what happened in a story, reading encouragement.
As a parent watching, there are tons of things to get you interested, including your favorite bands and celebrities. If you grew up in the 80's or 90's, there is also a bit nostalgia factor between the 8-bit animation and random references like Plex playing a keytar. The voices might be a little annoying (Muno is kind of high pitched, and Brobee and Toodie are kind of whiny), but there is so much more to like than just the basic five characters. I implore you to give it a chance. Yes, it's weird for a kids show, but remember that kids like weird. Take it for what it's worth and I bet you'll really like it.

In fact, here's the official Yo Gabba Gabba YouTube channel... go and waste some time watching the awesome :) You can tell your co-workers that you're just listening to your iPod. Our little secret.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ni-Hao Kai Lan

Today we're going to check out "Ni-Hao, Kai Lan!", or as I like to call it, Chinese Dora. Kai Lan is another animated young girl, this time of Asian decent, who has anthropomorphic animal friends: Rintoo the tiger, Hoho the little white monkey, Tolee the panda-obsessed koala, and Lulu the rhino who flies around by a balloon tied to her horn (not pictured). Kai Lan lives with her grandfather, Yeye (which I'm guessing means Grandpa in Chinese). There is no mention of her parents. Kai Lan's format is similar to that of Dora the Explorer in that it has the character pause and ask your child for a response several times throughout the program, as well as repetitive catchy songs.

Kai Lan has a focus on Chinese language lessons. I'm not a huge fan of how they teach the Chinese. As an adult, it's hard for me to figure out what they're actually even trying to say. Dora at least says "(Spanish word) means (English equivalent)" or "the Spanish word for (thing) is (word)", so you at least have a chance to figure out some equivalencies. Kai Lan doesn't offer quite the same courtesy. There are sometimes whole sentences spoken in Chinese, and we the viewer are left to guess what was said. I've learned quite a bit of Spanish from the likes of Dora and Handy Manny, but as far as Chinese goes from Kai Lan, all I've picked up really is how to say hi ("ni-hao", it's in the title), the color red (sounds like "hong-suh"), how to say thank you (sounds like "shay shay"), how to say listen ("ting"), and numbers 1-3 ("Ee", "are", "sun"). If that's all a college-educated adult can pick up, I can only imagine how confusing the show is to someone who is still trying to get his head around saying words that start with S in his own native language.

There is also a big focus on emotions in this program. Kai Lan's friends tend to have problems dealing with their emotions, and usually it's a lesson from either Yeye or their little ant friends that helps them figure out (clap clap clap) what to do. (It's a song in the show, in case you were wondering.) Now this part, I like. Toddlers and preschoolers, heck, even adults, all have hard times realizing what their emotions are and how to deal with them. Sadness, anger, jealousy, etc. are all dealt with in easy to understand ways. They also focus on teaching about helping, sharing, and cleaning up after yourself.

Ni-Hao Kai Lan is shown on Nick and Nick Jr. channels, which are cable and satellite subscription channels only. Check your local listings for times and channels. There are also lots of Kai Lan DVDs, toys, and books available for purchase.

Kai Lan's appeal may be rather limited to toddlers and preschoolers. The animation is bright and happy, so easy for the younger crowd to be interested in, and there are catchy tunes to sing and clap along with. I think Kindergarteners may enjoy the program for the Chinese lessons, but only minimally for the actual story lines.

What your child learns:
  • Cultural Education: Chinese language and culture, including festivals and celebrations.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Caring for friends, dealing with emotions, empathy, taking care of your planet and toys, sharing, helping.
  • Mathematics: Counting in both English and Chinese, putting things in order, patterns, shapes, colors.
  • Music: Singing, clapping, rhythm games.
  • Pre-Reading Skills: Rhyming, remembering story details. 
As a parent watching, there's not going to be much that is enjoyable for you. The characters are kind of shrill and "yell-y", similar to Dora. The Chinese is hard to catch on to. There is no parental role model other than Yeye, and even he is only present sparingly. The language is simplistic, and the stories are clearly aimed at the youngest viewers. You're going to be bored and probably annoyed with this program. I know I am. Of course, that usually means my son adores the program, and Kai Lan is no exception to this rule. He loves shouting answers at the television when they're requested of him, and clapping along to the songs. Plus, I think he's starting to develop a thing for foreign chicks. At least it has some educational value, otherwise I'd probably not let him watch it. It's up there on the "hokey, fake" scale. Good luck.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Another old stand-by, Barney the big purple dinosaur. Barney is one of those shows you either love or hate. (And by hate, I mean WOW do people hate this show. I had no idea a show for children could be so vehemently disliked in my LIFE. Barney is apparently quite polarizing!) Believe it or not, next year Barney's show turns 20 years old, although the Barney character is even older than that, as initially Barney was a straight-to-VHS program. After the success of the video series, the show was produced for television and aired in 1992. 

The original format of the program was focused around a group of kids at school, whose stuffed dinosaur friend magically came to life to play with them. The ages of the children ranged from kindergarten to around fifth grade, and even an 8th grader came in from time to time (one of the younger girls' sister). Usually the kids were playing together after school, albeit without any adult supervision until Barney shows up. Then songs would be sung, lessons about bugs, homes, friends, and family would be learned, and Barney would become a stuffed toy once again when it was time for them to all go home. Some latch-key program, huh? The show is always closed with a singing of the "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family...." song we all know.

Later on in the series, the location shifts from the school itself to a tree house, which is supposedly outside of the school, and then to a local park and rec center shaped like a train caboose. In more recent episodes (although according to online sources, the show has not been produced new since 2009), the kids are even mostly phased out and Barney's dino friends take center stage. 

Barney's friends have been added slowly over the years. Baby Bop, the green dino, is a three year old girl, and has been around mostly since the start of the series. She also had some appearances on the original video series. She is known for having a yellow blanket that she adores and sings about, and wearing ballet shoes all the time. BJ the yellow dino is added about 6 years into the series. He is the seven year old brother of Baby Bop, which is interesting because he's obviously a different breed of dinosaur. (I know, minor detail, gotta suspend disbelief, yadda yadda yadda...) BJ is noted for pretending to be a superhero called Captain Pickle. Finally, towards the end of the series, Riff the orange dino is added. He is apparently a 5-6 year old cousin of BJ and Baby Bop, and loves to play music (I'm assuming the reason for his name). Towards the end of the series, the three friends of Barney become the focus of the series, with only occasional interaction with real children, and as a parent, I am not a fan. Originally, it was the imaginations of the children who brought Barney to life, and without them it's just another cheesy show with people in costumes.

Many of the songs from the Barney catalog have remained throughout the series. Baby Bop's "My Yellow Blanket" song, BJ's "I'm Captain Pickle", the "A Home is a Place to Live In" song, and of course the "I Love You" song are all standards that you will recognize from early on. 

The show is more of an educational program as well. It focuses on various topics, such as shapes, bugs, art, music, reading, and so forth. Sometimes, due to the fact that there are kid actors, the lessons come off a little preachy, and your child may get bored with those parts of the program. However, the characters break into song, and attention is once again grabbed.

Barney also still tours live, most recently with Sprout's Sunny Side Up Show mall tour, which we got to see come through Cincinnati late last summer. 

I think I was more excited than my son was, although he did shake Barney's hand (second picture). By the way, just for the record, I have lost 15 pounds since then. Thankfully.

Barney can be seen on your local PBS channel as well as on PBS Sprout. PBS itself is a free over-the-air channel while Sprout is a channel that is only available through a cable or satellite provider. As always, be sure to check your local listings for times and channels. There are hundreds of Barney videos and DVDs available as well, and I'm sure CDs. In fact, the Barney merchandising was quite feverish in the 90's for those who may have been too young to notice/remember/care. There are toys and accessories galore available for purchase by parents.

What your child learns:
  • Mathematics: Shapes, counting, simple addition and subtraction.
  • Art: Colors, how to use various art materials, how to make costumes and toys out of household materials.
  • Social and Emotional Development: How to be a good friend, empathy, feelings and emotions, how families are different and the same.
  • Reading: Alphabet, small sight words, Mother Goose rhymes, rhyming words, spelling.
  • Science: Bugs and their life cycles, animals, various simple experiements.
  • Music: Different instruments and their sounds, songs to sing along with.
  • Movement: Exercise ideas, dance.
  • Cultural Education: Spanish language and culture (more in earlier episodes when two of the girls were Mexican), countries around the world and their languages, cultures, and traditions (more in the later episodes).
Barney is a diverse show, and they make a point to make sure that many different cultures, ethnicities, and family styles are represented. It's a show that also teaches children to love one another and treat each other the way they want to be treated. Even if Barney bugs the crap out of you, that's a lesson I'm sure we all want our kids to learn.

Children of many ages will likely enjoy Barney as well. He is brightly colored and an upbeat, happy dinosaur, as are his other dino friends, so even the youngest children will be attracted to him. There is also a lot of music, which is fun for the little ones as well. However, even though older children are often depicted on the show, I don't see it being of much interest beyond the first years of grade school, if even that old. Barney has a somewhat childish reputation, so your older child may feel like it's more "for babies".

As a parent watching, I'll admit, there isn't much for us to like. The kid actors are remedial at best for most of the series, and there's very little if any adult supervision shown for us to relate to or interact with. The premise of the show is one of the more fanciful ones as well, so it might be tough for parents to get on board. You either have to have grown up with Barney, or have a very high tolerance for mundane children's songs and situations. If you fall into neither category, then I suggest you skip it, although it is one of the more educational programs. I, for one, like the older versions of the show much better than the more recent ones, but I can tolerate it for the most part if I tune it out. As you can see from the pictures above, I'm also not above giving a hug to a happy six and a half foot purple dinosaur either.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Olivia is about a young girl... er, pig... and her life. She is a high energy girl who loves the color red and is very annoyed by her "little bother" of a little brother, Ian. She has a baby brother, William, as well, and they all live with their two parents. The mother is a party planner, who apparently works from home, which makes for great parent-child interactions, and provides an outlet for some more parental-aimed humor.

Olivia seems quite worldly for a child, and at least once an episode, she spouts a "rule of life, number...", such as "headbands make you feel faster." (For more Olivia Rules of Life, visit the unofficial Facebook page.) Olivia has a best friend, Julian, who is a dark skinned, heavy set boy pig, and a friend/foe (she fluctuates between the two), Francine. Olivia prides herself on being a life expert, and often imagines herself in various situations... a fashion designer, a ballerina, a famous singer, a magician, a doctor, etc. depending on what is going on in the episode.

I'm unsure what age Olivia is "supposed" to be, but she at least attends school with a teacher, Mrs. Hoggenmuller. I'm guessing it's either kindergarten or first grade. Her brother Ian appears to be only a year or so younger. Her appeal ranges from older infants to probably kindergarten or first graders. And, while the show is about a girl pig, she does have appeal for boys too (as evidenced by my son's infatuation with her). I think having the range of characters helps.

The series is based on a series of books by Ian Falconer, who describes her as "Eloise, if she were a pig." There are also books based on the TV series available. I like when series' come from books, because then you have a separate medium of entertainment for your child with characters they already know and love.

This show airs on Nick Jr. at various times during the day and night. Nick Jr. is a channel available only through cable or satellite providers, so please check your local listings for times and channels. There are also DVDs available for purchase, as well as on Netflix on-demand.

What your child learns:
  • Social and Emotional Development: Caring for friends, neighbors, and belongings, being a good friend, empathy.
  • Imaginative Play: Pretending to be someone else, dress up (there are Olivia dress up toys available for purchase)
Needless to say, it isn't the most educational show. Your child probably won't learn much from it directly, in fact. They will probably, however, find it quite enjoyable and hilarious.

As a parent watching, you may notice that the parents on the show are some of the least aloof kids television parents out there, and that they speak quite frankly with their children. That's something I, personally, really enjoy. The voices aren't too obnoxious either, another oddity in children's programming. Olivia, as a character, is pretty even keeled and doesn't yell much, if at all. Olivia's Rules of Life may even remind you of something adorable and off-the-wall your own child has said. Basically, you're not going to be too annoyed with the show, or how the characters act. Even the "annoying" little brother is pretty tolerable.

If you're looking for highly educational television, this sure isn't it. If you're looking for something calm that may keep your kid entertained long enough for you to shower or get dinner started, Olivia may just be perfect. Additionally, if you want a show that has lots of real-world accessories, this is a great show as well. The library of books along with the Olivia Dress Up Chest that is available (although only for girls, unless you're cool with your son sporting jewelry and red skirts), this is a great program for you as well.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Blue's Clues

Today we will look at Blue's Clues. I'm actually a little ashamed of myself that I don't have this in my header. What was I thinking? Blue's Clues is another one of those children's television staples. It's been around for 15 years. Yeah, you read that number right. FIFTEEN. Feel old yet? No? The first preschoolers introduced to Blue's Clues are in college now... yeah, time to apply for your AARP card now, huh?

Blue's Clues is a cute little green-screen animated show about a puppy named Blue and her live-action friend Steve Joe. Blue will usually want her friend to figure something out, so she leaves paw print clues around the house to help him decipher what she wants. Then, Steve Joe will sit down in the "thinking chair" and consider the clues in various combinations until he gets the right one. Along the way, there are puzzles and problems galore to solve, and Steve Joe urges children to answer for themselves by asking questions and giving long pauses to give the children a chance to shout their answer at the television. The creators of the show said they were hoping for a game show sort of feel, but directed towards a preschool audience.

If you're not familiar with the program, you may be wondering why I seem to have a sort of Blue's Clues Turrets going on in this post. About halfway through the series, Steve (the character pictured at the start of the post with Blue the dog), played by Steven Burns, leaves the show. They did a nice transition from Steve to Joe (played by Donovan Patton and pictured just above in the orange shirt) for the kids, where Steve goes off to college and leaves his brother Joe to take care of Blue and his house. But us parents, we didn't want to let go nearly as easily. Some parents I know now actually were one of the Blue's Clues kids who grew up with the program. Blue will forever be Steve's dog to US.

Which team are YOU on?

Aside from the Steve/Joe issue, there are various other recurring characters on the show. Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper live in the kitchen, with children Paprika and Cinnamon (who were both added after Mrs. Pepper had a pregnancy, first Paprika and then Cinnamon, who remained a baby). There's Tickety the alarm clock, Side Table Drawer, who holds the "handy dandy notebook", Slippery the soap, Shovel and Pail who live outside in the backyard, and Mailbox who delivers the mail by stretching in on a scissor lift through the window after an awesome fanfare and a song from Steve/Joe. Periwinkle is a cat who lives next door to Blue, who used to live in the city. Blue also has friends from school, including Magenta (a pink dog), Green Puppy (take a guess), Purple Kangaroo, and Orange Kitten. I guess at some point in the naming process, they got tired of being creative.

Blue's Clues airs on Nick Jr. at various times throughout the day. Nick Jr. (formerly Noggin) is a cable/satellite channel, so check local listings for times and channels. There are also tons of DVD's (and VHS if anyone still has a functioning VCR and/or remembers what one is) available to rent or purchase, including a few full-length features. According to online sources, the show was officially ended in 2006, so all the episodes you see on television now are reruns. A spin off called "Blue's Room", where Blue is a puppet who actually talks instead of sing-song barks, was made briefly, but is also no longer being produced. (Thankfully, because as a Blue's Clues purist myself, talking Blue creeped me out.)

The lessons taught in this show are broad-ranging. Your child will likely never get bored with this program because there's a lot going on during each episode. As far as age ranges though, kindergarten is probably as far as this show will be interesting. Parents watching will likely either be bored out of their minds, or if you're like my husband or me, will be up doing the silly dances that Steve/Joe does and annoying your children.

What your child learns:
  • Mathematics: Shapes, counting, addition and subtraction, fractions, sorting, matching.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Caring for friends and neighbors, empathy, feelings, sharing, helping.
  • Art: How to draw specific objects, colors.
  • Critical Thinking: Problem solving, puzzles, finding clues and using them to figure something out.
  • Music: Fun songs, writing music (in the "Blue's Musical" episode), singing along.
Overall, it's a fun little educational show for preschoolers and kindergarteners. Parents may find their own reasons to love it, maybe they even grew up with it themselves, or they may just be glad it only has a 22 minute running time. If you need help loving it, here's a fun video of what Steven Burns is up to now (with Stephen Drozd of the Flaming Lips, from another Nick Jr. show "Jack's Big Music Show"), a song entitled "I Hog the Ground" about groundhogs.

Edited to add: I finally found an embed code again for Steve Burns' song! Score!

Steve Burns: I Hog the Ground

michelle | Myspace Video

(There was also a fun 19 minute podcast at The Moth back in October 2010 with Burns talking about being "fameish", which is like famous but not really... but apparently they don't archive more than seven months back, so it seems to have been erased from the internet. If anyone finds it, or has it downloaded somewhere, please feel free to share. It was epic.)

Edited to add: I FOUND THE MOTH INTERVIEW!!! (Insert Kermit The Frog flailing YAYYYY! here.)