Summer reading TV time!
It’s almost summer. What the heck to do with all that time? Fear not! There are lots of exciting adventures to be had all around San Antonio—until about 10:00 A.M., when it gets to be over 100 degrees and the idea of loading and unloading, hydrating, feeding, and slathering in sunscreen two small children becomes a little overwhelming for me. Oh, we’ll do it, and we will have great fun, and I will probably post the highlights on Facebook (editing out the tantrums and missteps, obviously). However, there are bound to be a few days here and there when we hunker down and enjoy our air conditioner and the frivolity of cold, filtered water coming right out of the fridge. And while we are enjoying the great indoors we will paint, sculpt, glue, play music, sing, dance, build, deconstruct, read, bake, dress up, dress down, and snack. We will make play-dough, salt dough, and cloud dough; we will squish putty and gak and goo. And then we will look at the clock and, like Disney’s Rapunzel, it will only be 7:15.
So then what?
Chances are, our family will enjoy some screen time this summer. Sick days, rainy days, and those days when I just need everyone out of the kitchen for 30 minutes have squashed my once-solid resolve against flipping on the TV for a while. I don’t let my girls watch Desperate Housewives or anything like that (and I won’t judge too harshly if you do), and I like to think that they might be learning something while they watch, or at the very least, not learning something they shouldn’t.
Our current family television default setting is the Disney Junior channel. Before I get comments telling me about the evil Disney Empire, or how cartoons are just chewing gum for the brain, allow me to explain:
With the arrival of my first child I was extremely cognizant of her exposure to, well, everything. From the pollutants in the air to the kind of music she listened to in the car, I was totally aware of what she was soaking in. Screen time was no different. It is recommended that no screen time is appropriate for children under the age of two, or something like that, a guideline written by people who obviously have no children.
I tried PBS. I tried a few of the Nick Jr. shows. But, despite the incredibly annoying content, the Disney Junior channel has become our default programming in our house. Why, you may ask? Because if I’m going to risk my children becoming TV zombies and developing diabetes and not getting into ivy league colleges, then at least I need the television to actually do what I need it to do: keep their attention without adding anything too evil to their brains.
I ended up letting the Disney Junior play on, mostly because of its lack of commercials. The channel seems to only have self-promoting ads, and is arguably a 24-hour-a-day infomercial aimed at selling toys, tee shirts, and toothbrushes. I accept this as the lesser of the TV evils out there. At the end of the day my kids might want to tune in to the next episode of Sofia the First or take a trip to Disney Land, but they won’t be asking me to get a reverse mortgage on the house or invest in gold or try a new birth control option. I began to feel confident enough to look away and do the dishes for a moment or even go and pee.
This is not a comprehensive list, but here is an annotated breakdown of some of the shows that distract my children while I cook/clean/pee/check Facebook (or any combination of those):
This was my gateway Disney Junior cartoon. It sounds educational, and my daughter seemed to like it, so I gave it a try. A group of kids with performing arts tendencies fly around in a rocket powered by the green energy source of knee-patting. Lots of music words, like crescendo and allegro, are explained. Famous classical composers and a wide range of art and artists are highlighted. Great! Educational programming sounds really, really great. However, the enthusiasm of these characters makes it rather hard to watch. Seriously, extra sugar on your Frosty-O’s, kids? “BLAST-OFF!!!” The script must be loaded with exclamation points.
This show takes our traditional social norms and turns them on their head. A stay-at-home dad? A working mom who is a doctor? A little girl who is fascinated by medical science and wants to become a doctor like her mother? Terrific! How innovative and modern! But let’s make sure everything in the show is pink and purple, mmmkay?
In this show, broken toys are “treated” by Doc, who presumably never actually went to med school. I expect the “malpractice” episode to air sometime over the summer. The “patient” is surrounded by talking dolls and forced to listen to the McStuffins chant of terror: “It’s time for your check-up, time for your check-up, time for your check-up! IT’S TIME FOR YOUR CHECK-UP!!! IT’S TIIIIIIIIME FOR YOUR CHECK-UUUUUP!!!!!!!!” AAAAAAAAAAAAGHGHHH!
Jake and the Never Land Pirates
OK, so the premise of this show confused me at first. Obviously a Peter Pan spin-off, but wait, is Jake a pirate? Are pirates good or bad, because historically they’ve been pretty bad, but here they seem harmless. I think the deal is this: Jake is that super charismatic kid whom the others follow around. He’s a bit of a smart-ass to the adults, which makes him even cooler to his “crew.” They go around Never Land doing things in exchange for gold coins, which they eventually have to forfeit to the “house” by putting them into Jake’s treasure chest.
Things get a little more Mafioso when the Big Boss, Peter, comes to check up on one of his captains (Jake) and his crew (Izzy and Cubby). Captain Hook, who has a crew of his own, is obviously trying to make a move for more territory and thinks he can push out Jake and his friends by being meddlesome. Jake et al. do a lot of moving pixie dust and coconuts and enjoy an occasional visit to the ladies in Mermaid Cove. I think Disney could transition this show into an HBO original. I like the episodes with Josh Duhamel. What? He’s a good voice-over actor…
Kate and Mim Mim
Clearly the creators of this show were under deadline for a new idea and decided to go enjoy themselves at Coachella to try and shake off their writer’s block. They somehow stumbled upon this idea wherein a little girl’s toy bunny turns into her giant imaginary friend that takes her to some kind of fictitious place with weird friendly monsters. Don’t do drugs, kids.
Special Agent Oso
This show stars Sean Astin as a bumbling, James Bond-esqe yellow bear. Amazing. Oso helps kids around the world by turning simple tasks into even simpler ones. Step one: annoying theme song! Step two: annoying catch phrases (e.g., “Sounds like a plan!” “more or less,” etc.). Step three: annoying wrap-up song. Here’s a tip, Oso: A little whiskey in Mommy’s coffee makes everything better!
Giant, television-shaped faces that sing songs. Freaks me out, but the kids don’t seem phased. This is one of the short cartoons that fills the gaps between full-length shows. Better than commercials, yes, but when I see a big face singing, I know I gotta wrap up whatever I’m working on.
Hey, remember that show about trains that Ringo Starr was on for awhile? Yeah, it’s like that, but with no former rock stars. This is a show that says, “Suck it, Thomas the Tank Engine! We’ve got trains too, but we are totally more awesomer than the British version of trains. U-S-A! U-S-A!” Wait, this is a British show? I’m so confused…
This show teaches kids all about ocean creatures. It’s like the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, only reeeeally adorable. These little furry marine crusaders, each with his/her own diverse accent, are just too cute. I think I watched an episode where they saved a narwhal or something, but all the characters were so distractingly delightful I really don’t know for sure what happened. This show makes me want to go snuggle an octopus.
A bunch of animals with wheels for feet meet up at a tiki bar, throw back a few daiquiris, and then spend the rest of the episode driving around and being confused about road signs. Hmm, does MADD know about this show?
Manny is a handyman who has an enchanted tool set, probably acquired from the same vendor who sold the flatware to Beauty and the Beast. Handy Manny seems to be Disney Junior’s attempt at being bilingual, but I’m not sure how I feel about the stereotypes that are reinforced in this show. Watch out for an older guy with some serious mother issues who lives with his cat. He is probably the least compelling character to preschool children ever in the entire world.
Mickey Mouse Club House
Not to be confused with Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club, the show that somehow turns awkward pre-teens into adult triple threat/heartthrobs (I’m looking at y’all, J.T., Cristina, Britney, and Ryan), this is the cartoon show featuring the O.G.s of Walt Disney and his land. Mickey, Minnie, and their old-school friends try to indoctrinate the next generation of small children into Disney fandom. Lightly veiled with some educational problem solving, this show somehow convinces my children to respond to questions…with answers! This is a miracle in our house right now where, judging from my three-year-old’s inability to see or hear me when I ask her any question, I must unknowingly put on my Harry Potter-brand invisibility cloak every morning, making it impossible for my children to know when I am looking for a response. But, when TV Mickey asks if anyone knows which fish is red, my daughter immediately responds. WARNING: do not try to watch this show with your children. Do not even look at the screen. This is one of the most annoying shows on Disney if you are over the age of six. If you are in the room when something called “The Hot Dog Song” comes on, run for cover as fast as you can. Miska, Mouska, pass the martinis…
Sofia the First
Holy @#$%, where to begin…
I think the idea here is—must be—that being a princess is more than wearing a tiara and knowing how to curtsy but also involves being nice and not cheating at games and stuff. I’m a little vague on the details, AS IS THE SHOW.
In theory, this show has the potential to touch upon some very real and important issues that could help the audience grow and mature. Mixed families, stepparents, single parenting, and issues of class and wealth disparity: what lovely dinnertime conversation starters! However, most episodes seem to revolve around a magic accessory (a necklace that, by the way, Sofia’s stepdad gives her, passing over his own children, in what I assume is an attempt to buy her love) that facilitates princess “crossover” plots.
Sofia becomes a royal princess the old-fashioned way: by marrying up. Well, at least, her mother does. With Amber and boy-Amber, the step-siblings; Clover, a talking rabbit who excels in musical improv and game show-hosting; and Baileywick, a butler who moonlights as a fashion design critic, Sofia has adventures that always seem to have some kind of moral lesson.
And yet, you’ll find so much gray area in this show. For example, the trusted royal wizard, who has access to the innermost workings of the kingdom of Enchancia, is really a treacherous scoundrel who is allowed to continue on as a royal employee despite numerous attempts to purloin Sofia’s amulet. What kind of message does that send to our children? It’s like something out of House of Cards.
Miles from Tomorrowland
A newer addition to the Disney Junior lineup, this show picks up exactly where NASA left off. Like, exactly. It’s weird. A nuclear family, living in space and bossed around by an alien, flies around the universe and does stuff. What’s not to love?!? Oh, and there’s a bionic ostrich for some reason. Kids loooooove ostriches. Right?
For some reason, I feel comfortable walking a short distance away while my children watch these shows. Will our television be left on the entire summer? Of course not. Probably not. Not likely. I think. As previously mentioned, this is not a comprehensive list, but it does cover much of what my children will be watching and what will be haunting my dreams…assuming I sleep.
What will you and your family be watching this summer? It is summer vacation, after all…
**All images taken from the Disney Junior website.