PBS Kids in Retrospect

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     The year is 2010. You sit in front of your box television, juice box in hand, as it flickers on and off every couple of minutes, dying a slow death. You play with the several misshapen Silly Bandz you have wrapped around your arm. Several inches of snowfall outside of your window, a sure sign that tomorrow will be a snow day. Another episode of Arthur flares to life in front of your naive little eyes. Life is good. 

     Cable, even in those days, was simply not worth the price. To pay for the luxury of watching ads for five minutes of content is an outdated concept, even when nearly everybody and their mother had cable. Luckily for the kids who had no access to cable, there was another, better option: PBS Kids. Created one fateful, warm summer night in 1994, PBS Kids started out as PTV. PTV consisted of shows that had characters that looked like the logo (see Dash and Dot) exploring their fictional world and providing educational content to kids. For older kids, there were music videos and live-action shows. It was a far cry from what PBS Kids would soon become. In 1999, it was rebranded as the PBS Kids Channel, and it began to look like the programming which would be the forefront of our childhoods. As it was established as a part of the “Ready to Learn” initiative, all of the shows that aired were required to provide early educational content to kids regardless of financial status. 

     But with the advent of a new decade and the culmination of the 2010s, it’s finally time to take a look at this beloved childhood channel. In order to make this as accurate as possible, I watched an episode from each one of these series in their prime. This is my documented experience. 

Arthur: 

     A terrifying cast of anthropomorphic creatures that also has normal non-speaking animals as pets is supposedly the key to creating a successful TV show. Consider Arthur, the longest-running children’s animated series in the United States. This is surprising information. However, what is even more surprising is that Arthur is the second longest-running animated series in the U.S., second only to The Simpsons. The show follows Arthur Read, an aardvark, and his family and friends as they interact with each other in the fictional town of Elwood City.  It was initially made for four to eight-year-olds, however, I’ve found that it’s also made for sixteen-year-olds whose nostalgia causes them to constantly pontificate the past. In total honesty, Arthur was hilarious and still is today. There is a surprising amount of comedic value within this children’s animated television series. I seriously recommend watching the old episodes. 

     But all good things must come to an end eventually. Sadly, Arthur is airing its final season in the winter of 2022, which is right now. Though, you might find those episodes unwatchable as animation quality has considerably decreased. 

Dragon Tales: 

     I had genuinely forgotten about this show until I was asking around about what favorite shows people had. Basically, two siblings have a dragon scale that allows them to have adventures with dragons, and because the show is documenting their experiences, the show is called Dragon Tales. 

     This show is pretty early era PBS Kids. I did not realize it as a kid, but the proportions for the siblings are slightly off. It’s not as unsettling as Sid the Science Kid, however it is slightly off putting. Dragon Tales is one of the older shows on this list and is targeted towards the younger half of the target audience, perhaps the proportions can be excused. 

WordGirl: 

     Apparently, PBS Kids really liked the dynamic of a human and a monkey being friends. Wordgirl—secret identity 5th grader Becky Botsford—and her sidekick Captain Huggy Face— secret identity Bob—fight crime in their fictional city. I enjoy the secret identity plot greatly. Nobody in the city seems to make the assumption that the only girl in the entire city with a monkey might be the superhero with a monkey. This show is genius. For being a vocabulary learning show, it’s incredibly entertaining. 

     As a child, this was my introduction to satire. The Narrator held nothing back and the characters felt real (as real as characters in kid’s cartoons can be). The villain’s character designs are iconic. There’s a villain that looks like a sandwich who does sandwich related crimes, a mad scientist who is fused with a mouse that does mouse related crimes, a butcher who does butcher related crimes and a fellow 5th grader who builds giant robots that can destroy whole buildings. There is a surprising amount of emotional depth to Dr. Two-Brains’ (the mouse villain) villainy, as he used to be Becky’s mentor. The final unaired episode of WordGirl depicts a very plausible fight between two friends. This show truly rivals that of most mainstream blockbuster movies these days, which is certainly saying something about the content being produced today. 

Curious George: 

     This show attempts to answer the ultimate question: what would happen if man’s best friend was a monkey? Curious George follows the life and times of George, a curious monkey as the title suggests, and his companion The Man in the Yellow Hat as they interact with the very interesting characters within their city. As monkey sees, monkey does, with Curious George getting involved with various hijinks and antics. Curious George seems to be a fan favorite. It’s a simple, sweet, and wholesome show. Self-explanatory and solid. 

Sid the Science Kid 

     There is only one reason I have included and name dropped this series as a part of this list: I do not like this show. Not for the plot, theme song or educational content, but for one reason and one reason only: the animation. Everything about the way the characters are drawn and the way they move and interact is unsettling. The character design is abysmal. This is no one’s favorite show. 

Martha Speaks

     Martha was an average dog; then, she drank some alphabet soup, and the letters traveled to her brain instead of her stomach—at least, according to the theme song. Now, she talks and has not stopped talking since. The animation is very nice and easy on the eyes (especially compared to Sid the Science Kid) and the theme song is absolutely flawless. The plot is pretty well done for a children’s television show. I find that I enjoy the pets a lot more than the people on the show. Some episodes are better than others. 

Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman 

     Ruff Ruffman is a strange dog. Back in the good old late 2000s and 2010s, Ruff Ruffman was the host of a game show that ran for five seasons. After the show’s untimely end, Ruff Ruffman is fired. The spinoff is Ruff’s new life as a janitor. I choose to ignore this development. As a result, this article will only focus on the reality television show. 

     It’s actually a pretty okay show. I enjoy the character of Blossom, Ruff Ruffman’s boss, and some of the challenges are entertaining. There are good aspects, however I now realize that a lot of this show’s appeal came from the idea that any kid could be a contestant. Unfortunately, I have recently found that a kid had to live in the Boston area to even audition for the show. This officially ended my dream of ever being on the show, regardless of being far above the cut-off age (13 for anyone wondering).

     This article was made possible by contributions to your Spartana staff from readers like you. Thank you!