This is one for the parents or soon-to-be parents.Or babysitters. Whatever.
Kids, for lack of a better word, obsess over shows. This means that you're going to watch the same shows again, and again...and again. So, to help you maintain your sanity, here are the top five shows as I see them. I used subjective criteria like educational value, music, humor, and adult rewatchability, among others. You've probably heard of at least three of them, and there's one that everybody knows. Here we go:
5. The Wiggles
The hook: Four adult men dancing and singing against an entirely animated background. Not as creepy as it sounds.
The scoop: The Wiggles are four Australian fathers who wear different colors and sing and dance to silly songs along with supporting characters who have names like Captain Feathersword. This is surprisingly watchable, because you'll spend most of the time watching your kid zip around like an electron.
4.Mickey Mouse Clubhouse
The hook: Duh.
The scoop: This animated show scores high because it has instantly recognizable characters, emphasizes counting and colors, and is interactive in the sense that it breaks the fourth wall to talk to kids and wait for them to answer.
3. Sesame Street
The hook: Again, duh.
The scoop: The granddaddy of them all. This show has been around forever and has introduced new characters and retired others to change with the times. It covers everything from letters and numbers to music and social lessons. Kids love it, and its nostalgic value for parents is off the charts. We all watched Sesame Street when we were kids, and there's something about passing a show we remember so fondly on to our kids
2. The Backyardigans
The hook: Pablo the penguin, Tasha the hippo, Tyrone the moose, Uniqua the bug (I think), and Austin the kangaroo (again, I think) are five friends with a shared backyard. It's kind of like “Big Love” without the polygamy.
The scoop: This is the first show that separates itself and goes from tolerable to enjoyable. These five friends have adventures using nothing but their imaginations. Their exploits range from prehistoric to modern times to futuristic space fun. Two things really put this show high up on the list: the music and the dancing. The music because most of the songs are actually pretty good, and the dancing because, if you pay attention, they're doing actual dance steps that fit the music. For example, in one show set in a museum, Tyrone is dancing a paso doble. What The Backyardigans lacks in educational value, it more than makes up for in creativity and emphasis on imagination. At some point, you'll probably end up watching to the end of the show even though your kid is already asleep.
The hook: All of the denizens (and most of the objects) are made up of letters. Simple, right?
The scoop: Let me start with a personal story. The other day, I was taking my 2-year-old son home from daycare. I heard him say, “Daddy! Letters!” And then he started to rip some off rapid fire...I caught an O, R, and a D. Then I saw the Ford I was driving behind. Not only did this answer any questions that I may have had about his eyesight, it illustrated how much he's learned from WordWorld in a little less than a year of watching. He altogether skipped past learning the alphabet by rote in “The Alphabet Song.” Instead, he recognizes all 26 letters, and isn't shy about showing off. This is due in no small part to this award-winning show that almost no one's heard of.
Dog, Duck, Pig, Sheep, Frog, and Bear make up the core of WordWorld characters, but the show consistently introduces new regulars, which keeps the show fresh. Like The Backyardigans, the songs are very entertaining. The characters are likeable, there are a variety of settings, there is occasional interaction between the characters and the narrator, and it doesn't shy away from puns, complete with rimshots. There are some genuinely funny moments.
Each show focuses on a letter (maybe a set of letters like “et”), or even concepts like rhyming or breaking down bigger words into smaller words to make it easier to spell them. It also mixes in some lessons about sharing, teamwork, etc. WordWorld is, mercifully, eminently rewatchable. We have 33 episodes on DVR: that's two 12-13 minute stories, and one 4-5 minute vignette in between, per episode. We've watched each one of them, at a minimum, five times each (some a lot more). Even better, there are no commercials, so there's no scrambling for the remote at a break.
I have to give credit where credit is due, here: if Thomas the Tank Engine wasn't such an abysmally bad show (my slam-dunk #1 if I ever do a worst children's shows list), I never would have been searching high and low to find something better, and I never would have stumbled upon the best kid's show on TV. Look for it on PBS, and you're welcome.