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Kids will find a lot to like in this fall's new TV shows
Seattle Times staff reporter
Parents fed up with the schlock passed off as children's TV shows — especially when kids get past the "Dora" and "Sesame Street" stage — will be pleased to check out NBC's new Saturday morning cartoon block.
The always-charming "VeggieTales" moves into a regular series, joined by a sweet blue "Dragon," a feisty medieval heroine in "Jane and the Dragon" and space-going penguins in "3-2-1 Penguins!" While none is educational in "Sesame" style, morals come in the form of "Don't cut in line" and "Do what's right." That message certainly can't hurt, especially when it's wrapped in clever writing and high production quality.
The other standout this season is PBS' "Curious George," with a character so adorable, you'll be ready to adopt a monkey. William H. Macy's deadpan narration is perfectly suited to the often-dry humor (which helps make it entertaining for parents, too).
A renewed focus on the elementary-school crowd brings 16 new shows targeted to 6- to 11-year-olds, compared with eight last year. Viewers will find grrl power with CBS' new Secret Slumber Party block and PBS' girls-and-horses drama "The Saddle Club ."
Here's what else to expect on the tube (and computer and video games and toys) this fall:
Three shows will premiere later this fall; none was available for early screening.
"Class of 3000," premiere not set. Ages 6-11. André Benjamin (André 3000 of OutKast) created this animated series and lends his voice as a teacher at an Atlanta performing-arts school for musical prodigies.
"Ellen's Acres," premieres Oct. 16. Preschool. In this cartoon, a 5-year-old girl creates imaginary friends to entertain herself.
"HTDT," premiere not set. Ages 6-11. A bio-nuclear scientist succeeds in putting Humpty Dumpty back together again in this anime-inspired action comedy. The radiation realigns Humpty's molecular structure, turning him into HTDT, a weightless superhero with extreme mass. (Got that?)
Three shows premiere Sept. 16 as part of the new KOL's Secret Slumber Party, a three-hour Saturday block geared to girls and tweens ages 6 to 12 (these are for 8 and up).
"Horseland," 9:30 a.m. (No review copy.) In a unique stable, horses and other animals talk to each other — often about the kids who ride and compete with them.
"Cake," 10 a.m. Fortunately, teenager Cake has charm and charisma to spare because otherwise this live-action show is total cheese, complete with corny jokes and a canned laugh track. And what's with the 7-year-old wearing eye shadow?
"Dance Revolution," 10:30 a.m. If you can get past the short shorts and wriggling hips of "house band" the Slumber Party Girls, this show may inspire some family-room boogie-ing. The teens/tweens who compete — it's a mix of the video game "Dance Dance Revolution" and "So You Think You Can Dance" — are really good, challenged to incorporate new moves into their choreography. Celebrity judges pick the winners, but don't expect any Simon Cowell-style bite; it's all constructive.
The CW (Kids' WB)
Keeping the Kids' WB moniker, the merged channel will add four new shows to its Saturday lineup, continuing its "update" of well-known characters. All target ages 6 to 11 and premiere Sept. 23. None was available for preview.
"Monster Allergy," 8 a.m. A 12-year-old discovers, "I see monsters." Allergies give him the ability to perceive the invisible creatures in this show, based on a comic book.
"Tom and Jerry Tales," 8:30 a.m. The cat and mouse return with slapstick gags in their first new U.S. cartoon series in more than a decade.
"Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!," 9 a.m. Scooby snacks now come infused with nano technology that gives Scooby superhero powers such as flying or turning into a giant magnet. Not to be outdone, the Mystery Machine also morphs.
"Legion of Super Heroes," 10 a.m. Teen superheroes travel back in time to recruit Superman for their 31st-century fight against evil. They go too far and end up with Superboy.
"Handy Manny," premieres 10 a.m. Sept. 16, Disney Channel. Preschool. Trying to snag some "Dora" fans, Disney introduces Manny Garcia (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama) and his singing and talking tools, who throw in Spanish words as they fix problems. The tools are chipper and the tunes are catchy (Los Lobos performs the theme), but with Valderrama's "That '70s Show" slimy charm neutralized, his voice is surprisingly bland.
"Yin Yang Yo!," 7:30 weeknights, Toon Disney. Ages 6-11. The review episode was mostly incoherent, but apparently a "hyper-kinetic" brother-sister team of tween rabbits uses a magical martial art called "Woo Foo" to fight "evil yet idiotic creatures." Emphasis on hyper and idiotic.
"The Replacements," 8 tonight, Disney Channel; 9:30 a.m. Saturdays starting Sept. 25, ABC. Ages 8 to 11. Trying for "The Simpsons' " attitude (sample dialogue: "I'm kicking your butt, old-school"), "The Replacements" lacks that show's depth but offers some laughs. A mysterious company lets orphaned siblings Riley (a girl) and Todd replace any adult in their lives. They opt for a spy mom and a daredevil dad. The voice cast includes Bart him-, er, herself, Nancy Cartwright.
Fox (4Kids TV)
"Viva Piñata," premieres 9:30 a.m. today. Ages 6-11. The adventures of colorful computer-generated piñata animals mark Microsoft's first venture into kid TV (an Xbox 360 game arrives in November, natch). Note to Bill: Don't give up your day job. The characters are annoying, especially Franklin Fizzlybear's surfer dude.
"Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monsters," 10 a.m. Ages 6-11. In a 12-episode series with the same characters, Yugi trades in his Duel Disk for a Capsule Shooter (can you say, "New merchandise opportunity?"). As with Pokémon, expect some weird and endearing creatures. As a boy tells a girl, "You're supposed to play your strongest monster, not the cutest one."
"Chaotic," premieres 10:30 a.m. Sept. 30. Ages 6-11. (No review copy.) The show sets up a trading-card game, coming this spring, where codes allow online battles and trades.
NBC introduces a new children's Saturday-morning block, dubbed "qubo," including four U.S. premieres this morning. The programs will also run weekends in Spanish on Telemundo. NBC says they're all targeted to ages 4-8; I disagree, so the ages included are mine.
"VeggieTales," 10 a.m. NBC; 8 a.m. Telemundo. Ages 3-6. The Christian fave goes mainstream with moral-based tales and trademark silly songs. Even if you're not particularly religious, the show will win you over. Three words: Baby singing peas.
"Dragon," 10:30 a.m. NBC; 8:30 a.m. Telemundo. Ages 3-5. The clay stop-motion show is based on the "Dragon Tales" series by Dav Pilkey. Good-natured but slightly dim Dragon explores common childhood themes with a silly bent, such as making friends with a rock. Just hope kids don't want to model his food choices, which include a meal of cookies, ketchup and orange juice.
"VeggieTales Presents: 3-2-1 Penguins! and LarryBoy Adventures," 11 a.m. NBC; 9 a.m. Telemundo. Ages 5-8. A brother and sister, accompanied by four penguins with attitude ("Great schools of halibut!" exclaims one), explore the galaxy in "Penguins." "LarryBoy" stars the caped cucumber from "VeggieTales," but it's a traditional cartoon with a slightly older skew (scary villains).
"Jane and the Dragon," noon NBC; 8:30 a.m. Sunday Telemundo. Ages 6-8. With unusually detailed computer-generated illustration, the lifelike characters include a medieval girl training as a knight in the King's Guard and her best friend, a giant green dragon. The stories are more sophisticated and slower-paced for an older age group.
"Mr. Meaty," premieres 8:30 p.m. Sept. 22, Nickelodeon. (No review copy.) Targeting the older crowd, the buddy comedy-adventure-puppet show (that's Nick's description) started as a series of shorts on TurboNick. Two teens work at a burger joint, trying to save money to produce a sci-fi horror movie, "Ninja Zombies."
"The Upside Down Show," premieres Oct. 2, Noggin. Preschool. (No review copy.) Starring the Australian comedy team The Umbilical Brothers, the "fantastical" show features a sidekick named Puppet, an invisible pet fly named Fido and rhyming fluff balls dubbed The Schmuzzies. The audience is encouraged to join the antics.
"Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!," 11:30 a.m. weekdays, Nick Jr. Preschool. Wubbzy and his friends Widget and Walden live in Wuzzleburg. If that isn't enough alliteration, Wubbzy (a square cartoon creature with a tail) says things like, "Let's play kickety kick ball." One hopes the writers soon realize that "Wow!" (used at least 15 times in one brief episode) shouldn't count as dialogue.
"Curious George," 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Preschool. "This is so cute!" enthused my 5-year-old as she laughed at George's antics. It's narrated with wit by Macy, who delivers such lines as, "George wondered what scientists would do if they were a monkey without cannoli."
"Franny's Feet," 8 a.m. Saturdays, premiering today. Suggested ages 4-7 (I'd say preschool). If you can get past the ewww factor — Franny steps in used shoes customers bring to be fixed at her Grandpa's shop — the show emphasizes problem-solving. The shoes transport Franny to an adventure, such as hiking boots to Africa. Unfortunately, she favors expressions such as "Frantabulous!" and "Frantastic!" Even my 5-year-old asked, "Why does she keep saying that?"
"Nanalan'," 7:30 a.m. Sundays, premieres tomorrow. Suggested preschool, but really more ages 2-3. Familiar to those with cable and the Canadian Broadcasting Channel (CBC), this simple puppet show follows 3-year-old Mona and her dog and their adventures at Nana's house. I had a hard time understanding Mona's toddler-speak, but maybe it makes more sense to tots.
"The Saddle Club," 9 a.m. Sundays, premieres tomorrow. Suggested ages 5-12 (I'd say 8-12 for name-calling and flirting). A hit in Australia and Canada, and already airing on cable channel Discovery Kids, the live-action drama focuses on 12-year-old girls, their horses and friendship (or fights). Characters are shallow (and some are mean — parents might want to watch and talk about behavior), but did we mention the horses?
Stephanie Dunnewind: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2091
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