Now, while a majority of my blog posts tend to be grounded fairly in the present, I want the opportunity to today go out on a bit of a retrospective. You see, while I’m now “grown up,” I have a certain affinity for children’s television. During those after school hours of four to six every weekday, it was easy to find a TV show that wasn’t too deep, too dramatic, or too boring. Instead, it was about shows that were fun, light-hearted and helped expunge the feeling of learning right out of you.
In watching these shows, however, I realized that they weren’t just fun, but that they were also smart. This distinction, one that took me quite long to accomplish, opened my eyes to one of the harsh realities to anyone’s childhood. You see, in retrospect, I realized that a large majority of the cartoons that I enjoyed as a kid…I don’t remember them being this smart. I remember much more mindless television, television that I entertained me without stimulating my mind in any fashion.
This is not to say there isn’t a place for that kind of television, I would argue that it still exists today in some forms. Perhaps the most apt example would be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who will be seen in just a month on the big screen with TMNT. The show was so simple, so based on action and humour, that it never really did anything on multiple levels. Power Rangers was much the same (Although far inferior to the beloved Turtles) in that nothing it did feels like smart television in retrospect. When I look back and realize that these are the shows that are most remembered from my childhood, I’m not entirely sure I’m happy with that.
As a result, it is my belief that I have spent a great deal of my late teenage and adult years searching for shows that perhaps provide what I now believe I should have desired while watching Jason turn into the Green Ranger with his crazy Godzilla flute. And, in doing so, the funny thing is I’m remembering shows that I did kind of like that were, in fact, working on higher levels. Maybe it’s a defect of my memory, but while my younger years were no doubt lacking in such stimuli some of my later childhood memories actually involve shows that better fit into my formula.
And so begins “Smarter Kids’ TV Shows for Smarter Kids,” a series devoted to bringing to light some of these shows for a new generation of kids (as well as, since I’m doubting that my readership is made up of a lot of parents or small children, a trip down nostalgia lane for the rest of us). With the advent of DVD making these shows available, and even the introduction of YouTube providing a platform for some of these programs, now is the time to perhaps make up for some of the deficiencies in today’s Kids’ TV landscape (High School Musical, I’m looking in your sugary direction) and make sure that the defining TV shows (Because, like it or not, it will happen) in kids’ lives are smart, witty and still a whole lot of fun.
Smarter Kids TV Show for Smarter Kids #1:
Disney’s ‘The Weekenders’
In Bahia Bay, there is a Pizza place. This is no ordinary pizza place, as every so often it changes itself entirely. One moment is it Sherlock Pizza where you must follow clues to find your pepperoni and cheese hidden in a briefcase. The next week you might find that it has changed into Deep Dish 9, or Slice Capades. This constant revolving door of pizza places is normal, expected in the world of Disney’s The Weekenders, and is just one of its quirks that make it perhaps one of the best designed Kids’ TV shows I’ve ever seen.
It revolves around a group of four friends in the early stages of Middle School. Tino is our sarcastic narrator, and the general leader of the group despite his paranoia. Carver is the closet to transcending into the cool kid zone with his shoes, his style and his attitude. Tish has an eccentric family history, and can be most aptly classed as the smart one. Lor is athletic, sometimes a bit slow to pick up on things, but is tough to the end. See how these sound like general stereotypes? Well, they’re not.
Tino may be paranoid and sarcastic, but he’s also quite human and his relationship with his mother is complicated and engaging. Carver isn’t actually cool, really quite panicky, and he never ends up abandoning his friends over it. Tish may be smart, sometimes too smart, but that family history grounds her in something real, makes her a real person. Lor may be athletic, and a bit dull, but her difficulties in anything but sports is something she’s aware of, and she’s willing to work on.
There are complexities to these characters that, honestly, boggle my mind for a show of this nature. They each have families, personalities, emotions, feelings, and a sense of friendship that transcends almost all of them. It’s a show about how, from Friday to Sunday, their school lives are put on hold and their time as friends begins. And yet, it’s not just them partying it up, or performing huge musicals. Sometimes it’s a larger set piece, but mostly it’s just drama and conflict which they must solve in human ways, not through the magic of television.
And yet, outside of the main characters there is plenty to watch and see. The revolving pizza gag, the wisdom of Tino’s Mom, Mrs. Dwong and “Helpers Helping the Helplessm,” Bluke and Frances (The “slower” kids who are actually not slow at all…well, Frances kind of is), Tino’s monologues, Hey Yowza…there is just so much there that is engaging and interesting every time it pops up. While some kids’ shows never step out of a formula, the formula for the Weekenders is defined by its ability to engage witty material with diverse characters. It relies on running gags, but they somehow all seem fresh. When they got to the museum, there’s always a food station, and they always try it, and it’s always gross. And yet, it works because the characters are so “real” that…it just works.
Through the show’s four seasons, it managed to work within the standard formulaic style of the show and engage at a level that isn’t sugary or contrived. It’s a perfect show for kids because, while introducing them to witty language and sarcasm (Two principles I’m totally in favour of), it also shows real kids dealing with real issues: friendship, family, heritage, balancing athletics and school work, and pretty much anything else you could think of. It’s a show that never took the easy road, never broke out into song to prove a point, and despite being off the air has never stopped entertaining me when I’ve found it while flipping through the channels.
Unfortunately for everyone, however, that’s really the only good way to see the Weekenders these days. There are currently no plans to place the show on DVD (Although they really should), and it’s not in rerun circulation in the US anymore as far as I am aware. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a chance to see what I’m talking about. Due to the joys of YouTube (And it honestly is quite joyous) you can check out many 10-minute episodes of the show right from the comfort of your computer. Is it legal? Probably not, but I don’t really care. People need to discover this show for new generations, and there’s no better way of doing it available.
To Be or Not to Be – Tish spends time away from her friends performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Peasblossom, and it’s a battle between her inflated sense of self and her friends’ lack of support.
The Sitters – After Carver is tasked with babysitting his terrifying little brother, the friends decide to split shifts in order to not ruin Carver’s entire weekend.
Grow Up – Tino has some serious identity issues, deciding to act like an adult and skip the rest of his childhood to avoid embarassment.
Channels featuring Weekenders Videos: