The Questions Around Arthur

ArthurI like to think of myself as a connoisseur around a few highly important topics.

Certain books and authors, sure. The Beatles, definitely. Classic jazz, I’ve taken the classes. Nerd films like Star Wars? I have three lightsabers in my house, thank you very much.

But here is the thing- over the last few years I feel like I’ve added a new one to my list.

PBS Kids.

Yes, I am now an expert on PBS Kids and I feel I have the power (nah, not just the power, but the knowledge) to back it up, to say what is working and what is not on the lineup of shows PBS gives to our little ones.

There are the shows I love (Wild Kratts [which I wrote an entire post about here], The Odd Squad, Word Girl, and Daniel Tiger [a post here]); there are shows I like (Curious George, Peep and the Big Wide World); there are shows I think that need a lot of help (Sesame Street, I’ve written a few posts about them, but I would like the writers to stop and consider this: parodies don’t work when the audience doesn’t know the reference; all you are doing is negatively impacted their future enjoyment of the work being parodied- mind blown, eh?); and finally shows I think are awful (Clifford and Caillou). I’ve seen them all. I’ve been to the mountain, climbed it and returned with my tale.

Yet, there is one show I truly cannot put my finger on. My opinion changes every time I watch it. Sometimes I feel love for it (real love), and others I shake my head wondering what the writers were thinking.

It’s like leftover night for dinner, when sometimes things taste great and other times you just wish you ordered pizza.

I’m talking about Arthur, based on the books by Marc Brown, one of the great mainstays of PBS Kids, airing now for over 20 years. A show that has grown so vast since it started—with characters, subplots, etc.—that an encyclopedia around the world would not be unheard of. That is the show Arthur, and honestly, I have no idea how I feel about the residents of Elwood City.

Yes, It is my television broccoli. Continue reading

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Five Things I Am Into Right Now, November 2014

BoredI am suffering the case of the blahs. Oh, this is not a bad thing related to my life or anything, this is related to books. I’ve done the book reviews for my local NPR station now for over a year and half. That is over 30 books. (You can listen and read my reviews via the links on this page of my site.)

See, I’m struggling through a book review by a very popular author. Some people will love the book, I am certain; others will hate it. Me, I’m just mildly disappointed and that is what gives me the blahs.

Let me start this over… I love writing a good book review. There is nothing more fun for me as a reviewer than breaking down a good book, introducing it to a listener/reader and discussing why the high points are the high points. Talking about good books is my soapbox and I like being on it, thank you very much!

I am not Dorothy Parker. She used to take a glee in writing a bad review. Me, I find it disappointing. I can do it certainly, and they are easy to do, but they do not give me pleasure. Also, I like to say more than simply “I don’t like it.” I go out of my way to explain why something doesn’t work. Okay, this could be argued as a second soapbox, but not as big or important as the other one.

But there are no soapboxes when the book is a blah, middle-of-the road, half-a-shoulder-shrug. In a way, I see this blah around me in the environment too, as all the days are gray and getting colder. Of course, the review will be written in a week or so and my life will go on. I can’t guarantee anything regarding the weather.

Let’s move on to happier thoughts! Here are the five things I think are awesome right now. Continue reading

Growing Up in the Neighborhood: Mr. Rogers to Daniel Tiger

Mr Rogers and DanielThe Then

I had a spare grandparent. And this grandparent visited me every day, was interested in what I was doing, asked me questions, talked to me about my feelings and told me the coolest stories that involved a land of make-believe…

He also taught me how crayons were made.

For many, it was always easy to make fun of Mr. Rogers and his show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, but I never could. Even as an adult, I look back on it fondly. Yes, I loved Sesame Street, Saturday morning cartoons, Donald Duck, Looney Toons, but Mr. Rogers spoke to me… directly to me.

I think one of the reasons I felt so close to the show is that my grandmother was a very popular kindergarten teacher. No, popular doesn’t do it justice, she was a celebrity in her hometown. When we would visit stores together we would have grownups of all ages approach her to say hi and give a hug. And my grandmother, with a skill I cannot imagine having, could always see the child behind the older eyes. She never got a name wrong, never.

When I think back on conversations with my grandmother, it always feels a lot like how Mr. Rogers speaks during the show. That patience. That unblinking interest. That humor that seems to hide behind the wink and smile. Continue reading

The Best Intentions in Starfleet: Rewatching the Lesser Star Trek TV Shows

StarfleetThe world of entertainment is filled with missed opportunities.

We have all heard stories about the great “What If’s.”

Great unproduced scripts for shows or movies. Unfinished books. Actors that could have played legendary parts but for some reason lost their chance.

(My favorite missed acting story is a lesser known one actually. It was the idea of Gene Kelly playing the villain in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Just imagine that! All of the charisma behind an evil grin. That original script of the story was never produced, but it generated the novel version that Ray lovingly dedicated to Mr. Kelly.)

Television is a graveyard of missed opportunities, from shows never produced to shows cancelled way too soon (I still mourn Cupid and Northern Exposure). Of course, sometimes those missed opportunities can be found in the actual execution of the series, turning a fun idea with a good cast until a mediocre yawn (How I Met Your Mother) .

After writing a post a few weeks ago on my rediscovered love of Star Trek: The Next Generation (you can read that post here), it made me wonder about the other Star Trek shows… the ones we have all forgotten, some sadly and some for very good reasons.

So, I checked them out again. (Please note, I didn’t say beamed aboard, that would have just been too cheesy, even for me.) Continue reading

Downton Abbey as Art: Some Thoughts on the Great Series

Television is rarely art.

A big part of that is because of how it is made, this is especially true in America.

American television is a business model made out of light entertainment, with the hope of reaching as much of the viewing population as possible.  While a creator may start with the spark of an idea, it is in the manufacturing of that idea where the art is lost; and business men take over, hoping to stretch an idea out for as long as possible, generating the highest quota of viewers and advertising sales. And through this process sadly creators can disappear (Consider Dan Harmon and Community, which I wrote about here), walking away (or forced away) from their own creations, their own babies.

To understand what I mean about art, consider one important element that makes a good novel art. It is not merely the initial idea, but the follow through from the beginning to the end, everything coming together to make a wonderful perfected whole, like a present with a bow on top. Television doesn’t have that, especially in America, and it is rare that any writer or even creator know what they are working towards. Don’t believe me? Remember when they gave an end date for the show Lost and everyone thought that was revolutionary?

So while a show might have a few great episodes, a few great seasons, it is rare you can step back and look at a complete package and say that is a well-told story from beginning to end. Continue reading

Reblogged: Red Dwarf Article

So a day, a DAY, after I list my most popular editorials (here), another emerges to ruin my list. Last night my editorial “Jesus or Red Dwarf? I Choose the Return of Red Dwarf” was shared by a producer of the show (‏ @RichardDGNaylor) as well as one of the cast members (@DannyJohnJules). I’m in smegging fan nerd heaven! Usually, I have a hard time understanding the point of Twitter, but sometimes it really is awesome.

The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

First and foremost, this is not a love letter to a TV show. Sane and mature adults do not write love letters to sitcoms, especially science-fiction ones with campy special effects and a man pretending to be a cat. No, not at all.

Red Dwarf as a concept should not work as a TV sitcom premise; let’s get that point out of the way as well. Sometimes I am floored it ever moved forward to filming in the first place. It could never have sold in America (and for those that know the failed American pilot of it, it didn’t!).  I am serious when I state it is probably the darkest, most bleak idea for a series, especially a comedy.

Breaking Bad? Game of Thrones? The Wire? Oz? No, Red Dwarf is darker. They can’t even compete against it.

View original post 1,088 more words

The Top of the Pile: The Found Blog Editorials

Pop culture rules.

I don’t know if that is sad or if it makes logical sense, but whenever I am inspired to write about a current event in the entertainment world, I get numbers that my personal editorials (on parenting or life in general as a thirty-something writing dude) only can dream about… and the fact is social media is a great way to build numbers. Seriously, if I share a piece on Facebook and my numbers find a nice home for the week.

So why does it make me feel all dirty? I mean, it’s not like I am writing about scandals, I wouldn’t even be writing on a topic unless I was inspired to give a unique take, something I didn’t read elsewhere.

The fact is I was raised Catholic so I feel easily guilty about most things. It is my excuse why I can be overwhelmingly overcome by guilt when I forget to even say thank you to someone for the slightest little thing. And here I am writing about something that really doesn’t involve me! And look at all of the people reading my opinion! And what if I write something that might hurt someone’s feelings? Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Here are my top five popular posts. Continue reading

The Playhouse Rationalization: Introducing My 4-Year Old to Pee-Wee Herman

“What is that?!”

I knew that accusatory tone too well. My 4-year old usually pulls it out of his arsenal when he catches me doing something secret in front of him, like taking bites of a cookie I have no desire to share with him (that weird conundrum parents get in when they want to set a good example, but, damn it, they also want a cookie).

This time the tone was related to something I was watching on Facebook. Jimmy Fallon had Pee-Wee Herman dub his voice into a The Dark Knight Rises trailer (You can see it here) and it was awesome.

I was having a hard time holding back my laugh, but watching that trailer was kind of off limits for the boy. While my son loves Batman, Christopher Nolan’s films are definitely out of his age bracket; hey, sometimes they feel out of my age bracket (I had a hard time getting near pencils for a week after seeing The Dark Knight). Continue reading

Dear Wild Kratts, You Guys Are Awesome

PBS Kids has always been a good idea in theory. It’s the follow through where things get a bit muddled.

Each of the shows seem to have their own agendas (besides the obvious of keeping the production company working), and many times I wonder if they do involve educating my children. Even Sesame Street has problems with its obsession around showcasing celebrities (that, let’s be honest, children don’t care about) and in the end only seems to teach kids the importance of pop culture. Wonderful. Thanks.

And who knows what Arthur teaches except how not to get along with your sister.

I’ve written about my issues with the shows before (I wrote about Thomas the tank Engine and Sesame Street for a parenting site), so I really don’t need to continue my rant here. There is just so much ranting you can do about kid shows until you come off sounding a bit, well… odd; even to your understanding family.

I don’t want to be that guy. No one wants to be that guy.

Which brings me to what I consider one of the highlights of the PBS Kids lineup, the stellar Wild Kratts.

Why do I like this show above all of the other ones on TV today? Simply, my four-year old son learns from the show and that is just wonderfully awesome. Continue reading

Jesus or Red Dwarf? I Choose the Return of Red Dwarf

First and foremost, this is not a love letter to a TV show. Sane and mature adults do not write love letters to sitcoms, especially science-fiction ones with campy special effects and a man pretending to be a cat. No, not at all.

Red Dwarf as a concept should not work as a TV sitcom premise; let’s get that point out of the way as well. Sometimes I am floored it ever moved forward to filming in the first place. It could never have sold in America (and for those that know the failed American pilot of it, it didn’t!).  I am serious when I state it is probably the darkest, most bleak idea for a series, especially a comedy.

Breaking Bad? Game of Thrones? The Wire? Oz? No, Red Dwarf is darker. They can’t even compete against it. Continue reading