After Isaac’s birth we had our share of idealistic parenting plans. Some went better than others, but most of it was just your standard mixed success. One thing that was pretty easy to maintain was a lack of screens in front of the baby. Though we got our new phones specifically because we wanted to upgrade and take quality photos of our boy, we’re not the type to have TV or laptops going in the background. (We waited till nap and bedtimes for that. Sunday nights of Downton and Sherlock, where went ye?)
Then: enter second pregnancy. For those of you who don’t know, pregnancy sucks. Some parts seem good but… yeah, it sucks. And I’m just the bystander. From what I can tell, it’s even worse than described. What all this comes down to is that having a 1.5 year-old around is a bit much. So what better time to introduce Isaac to the great American pastime: TV! Here are some of the shows that have filled our living room since the grand new chapter began.
When it’s your kid’s very first show ever, you get to pick. And who wouldn’t pick Dinosaur Train? It’s dinosaurs, sure, but with the quality of Henson studios backing it. The animation is serviceable, but the science is what makes it great. There are a boatload of creatures (plus peripheral concepts) explored throughout the series. And it has that golden criterion that matters most: it’s not annoying. If you find yourself singing along to the theme song joyfully and not suicidally, you know it’s worth a shot.
Thomas & Friends
Train motif, might as well. I never did Thomas as a kid, but Laura’s part British so we tend to check these things out. It’s a pretty cool show, if a bit repetitive. The fun part is going back and forth between the old and new episodes. The old ones are so old that the characters barely move their facial muscles. It’s little stop-motion sets where often the only motion is some smoke coming out of the ground. The new one is more slick but not obnoxious. Around this time Isaac was discovering his obsession with anything that has wheels, so he was a big fan.
After what seemed like the runaway success of Isaac enjoying the dinos and trains, we tried Super Why. This is a nifty show about reading superheroes, or, erm, superheroes reading. It features an even split of male and female characters (if I can assume the pig is male) and the plots are retellings of classic fairy tales. What we hadn’t considered is that, oh yeah, our guy was not quite two yet and this show is super-duper word heavy. When it came to Isaac losing interest, we didn’t have to ask why.
Special Agent Oso
God, this show. The concept isn’t bad: special agent bear uses technology to go on James Bond adventures in a preschool-centered world, with the missions named after puns of the Bond movies themselves (this last part is weird… the original Bond terminology is very much not kid-friendly). The mission and countdown aspects are kind of cool, as is the little camera bug that seeks out problems that need solving. But Oso himself is completely useless. Who’s employing this guy? The only way the missions get solved are because of his overly peppy AI watch. I guess the point is it’s supposed to make your kid feel better about being smarter than the dumb bear or something. All I learned is that some people don’t deserve to have the jobs they have.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
On the surface, this is easily the most “kiddie” of the shows in this list. Drenched in pastels and too-cuddly animals, it takes some getting used to. It’s a descendant of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, with several nods and no shortage of songs. The plots aren’t too bad, and mostly revolve around Daniel going to school or hanging with his family. Laura appreciates that there are episodes about his younger sibling (recently relevant for us). One part I can’t get my head around: the characters speak perfectly normal English, but then add a phonetic vocalization of the sound their real-world animal counterpart would make. For example, the cat girl says, “Thanks for coming over to my house, meow-meow.” No, she doesn’t meow at the end of the sentence. She says “meow-meow.” What is that?!
Curious George is king. This show is great, and I won’t hear anything to the contrary. It’s also Isaac’s favorite by leaps and bounds. Makes perfect sense: George is a monkey who can’t talk but who has a heckuva lot of fun discovering the world. And while the original George (from the book series) is just a nuisance, show George is a nuisance who at least tries to solve a problem in every episode. Believe it or not, it’s a really a nice intro to critical thinking and the scientific method. Plus, those drums that kick off the episode just get you moving. Alas, it was the removal of the standard episodes from Netflix that spurred this post. We are now just left with the six or so movies, which are fine, but we’ve already seen those a lot. All summer long we’ll be watching the Halloween and Christmas specials. (Which are great. You should see them. Curious George is the best.)
Mater’s Tall Tales
Isaac got his first haircut at one of those kid places where the seat was shaped like a car. And then during it got to watch Cars, which is the trick to get him to sit still. (Prepare for lots of gender rigidity in these places.) None of us had seen Cars before, and we only got through about the first 10 minutes. Seems like a good movie and I need to watch the whole thing someday. But now I know the story anyway, because man do we like Cars stuff at our house. This is mostly due to finding Mater’s Tall Tales not long after that haircut. Clocking in at around 45 minutes, it’s a blast. Quick and clever, there are lots of things to like about this spinoff. What I don’t like is pressing replay: take 45 minutes and multiply by about 1,000,000 and that’s how we spent our winter. But it’s fun and now we know to look for the Cars toys and books at the thrift stores. This has just amped up his obsession (see Thomas & Friends). Someday we’ll watch the actual movies.
Those are the ones we know best. For a long stretch it was just George and nothing but George, and that one is still the most requested. Our toddler has a comfort show… he’s pretty much a grown-up. Though he is finally branching out a bit. (Depends on how you look at it. He’s watching a larger number of titles voluntarily, but they usually tend to feature vehicles in one form or another. Gotta have a thing.) We’ll be interested to see how this all evolves, and until something changes it will center on the Netflix catalogue for better or worse. Probably for better. If we’re preparing our kids to be submerged in electric waves, the least we can do is spare them from ads. Commercials are the devil, and I can live with the theme songs if that’s the price to pay.