Tuesday, June 21, 2011

PBS Kids TV Shows and their New Characters that are Actually Worth our While

In my last post about PBS Kids shows, I ranted about how I really disliked the new characters that were included in "Sesame Street," "Barney and Friends," "Dragon Tales," and, in a way, "Between the Lions." However, I concluded that piece by saying that there have been suitable additions to PBS Kids shows and that I would honor them in another post. This is that post. ;)

One problem I had most with the new additions was that I felt they weren't done correctly, and I expressed my qualms in-depth. However, I have begun to realize that if a show were to continuously add characters, it never bothered me. They didn't just randomly show up but was something that normally happened. Also, it wasn't just one new character but rather a whole mass of new characters. I think my problem too was how just one new character was included, thus messing up the whole dynamic of the show. If new characters are always going to be included in every episode, then it is not much of a shock. And plus, sometimes these new characters aren't in every episode. They just show up when needed, thus serving actual purposes. Unlike the other random new characters, they aren't regarded as part of the main cast as if they were always there in the first place. They are a supporting cast who don't try to outshine the originals, and are thus enjoyable to watch.

The cast of "Arthur" (There are plenty more where this came from)
Of course, what other show could I possibly be talking about but "Arthur," based on the book series by Marc Brown. Now here is a PBS Kids show that caters to both children and adults. I still tune in every time I see it playing. In fact, if you can believe it, there was an episode in which words were bleeped out to teach the importance of not cursing, so you know just how advanced this show is. Plus, it is so diverse. Each and every one of the characters has a different background, and because of these differences, children are able to get a taste of all forms of life. Pretty much every episode you meet someone new and this time the new character makes the show interesting because you know they are there to initiate some kind of plot line or have a lesson to teach. In other words, they are there for a reason. In "Arthur," certain characters are used depending on the theme of the episode.

However, I would like to point out that there is one character that has been created for the "Arthur" series and I'm not entirely sure I like her purpose. Her name is Vicita Molina, and she is a recent new character whose family moved next door to Arthur and his family. What I don't like about her is that I feel she was created to be the "toddler" of the group, totally overstepping the role of D.W., Arthur's younger sister. D.W. was the youngest out of the whole cast, next to Kate, her infant sister, but when Vicita showed up all of a sudden D.W. matured. She is now a mentor to Vicita and in certain episodes shares her wisdom with her, being the older one. I don't understand why the producers felt the need to create this character to connect with the younger audiences and have D.W. age while the other characters stay the same. This is the type of show where the characters don't age, and now since the addition of Vicita D.W. kind of has to because then the two characters would serve the same purpose.

Then again, I don't necessarily dislike her either because she is apart of D.W.'s group of friends just like Arthur has his own gang. Also, she is D.W.'s counterpart just like Alberto, her thirteen-year-old brother, is Arthur's counterpart and mentor, so it's all good because it's evened out.

The "Cyber Squad": Jackie, Inez, Matt, and Digit
Another PBS Kids show that incorporates new characters well is "Cyberchase." First of all, as someone who struggled with math in school, I would like to express my gratitude for the existence of this show. Mostly my childhood consisted of shows teaching children reading and science, but there were never an mathematics based shows. Because math seems to be a subject that causes a lot of children grief, a show like "Cyberchase" is needed.

This all being said, in every episode the "Cyber Squad," which consists of human kids who are virtually transported to "Cyberspace" from their homes on Earth, or "earthlings" as Digit often refers to them as, Matt, Jackie, and Inez, and Digit, a "cyboid," run into new characters on different sites in "Cyberspace." These characters are each associated with some kind of branch in mathematics pertaining to the theme of the episode and sometimes return in other episodes.

Here is a perfect example of a decent cast. You have the central cast, but then you have the additional supporting cast who doesn't necessarily invade the turf of the original cast and yet serves a purpose.

One character I would like to spotlight is Slider, a thirteen-year-old who resides in "Radopolis," one of Cyberspace's sites. He is a recurring character and in a way to me seems to be a member of the "Cyber Squad" along with Matt, Jackie, Inez, and Digit. Now, you might think that this is something that would bother me. Who does Slider think he is, intruding on the Cyber Squad? It was originally the three human kids and Digit and it should stay that way. Why ruin that dynamic, right? Well, the addition of Slider doesn't bother me at all but to me brings something interesting to the show. Here's why.

When we first meet Slider, he actually has his own storyline! His father has disappeared because he is on the run from The Hacker, the series villain, and Slider's goal is to find him one day. Unlike other PBS Kids storylines, Slider's story continues throughout the episodes so it is an impressive tactic to use to keep the audience's interest in the series.

He is also somebody to commend when it comes to gender equality, this time for the MALES. Before Slider's appearance, Matt was outnumbered two to one in the Cyber Squad. Now I know Digit is a male but he doesn't connect to any demographic and isn't human like the other characters, so therefore he doesn't necessarily count. He's more like their sidekick creature friend. Just consider him the "Pikachu" of the group. With Slider around, however, genders even out but also gives Matt some kind of competition when it comes to being the "man of the house," thus creating tension and making the storyline interesting enough to follow. Also, both female humans Jackie and Inez develop crushes on Slider, which is something to which girls their age can relate.

Sometimes you need a character to shake things up a bit and Slider is that character. Also, he does well staying in the sidelines, not outshining the main cast, so he is always a treat when he actually appears in an episode.

Now I am going to talk about a new character that I wish the producers incorporated into the main cast. This is a rarity, so obviously the character must be pretty special. Of course, I am talking about Kyle, the wheelchair kid from "The Puzzle Place." Don't remember him? That's not a surprise. From what I can remember he was only in two episodes and should've been in more.

The cast of "The Puzzle Place." I'm sorry but this is the only photo of Kyle I can find. Kyle is the boy dressed in orange in a wheelchair to the far right.

Let me give you a brief background of this show before I go on, because it is no longer on the air. Talk about gender equality and connecting with different demographics! You do not get more diverse than this! This show had everything! They discussed individual culture, bullying, racism, sexism (That's right, SEXISM!) and so much more!

Let me also break down the cast for you just to show you how much diversity this show covered. You couldn't get more gender even than the cast: 3 boys, 3 girls, a male dog, a female cat, 3 male Peace Police, 3 female Peace Police. The boys consisted of an African American (Leon), a NATIVE AMERICAN (Seriously, how often do you see that?) (Skye), and a Norwegian (Another uncommon demographic) (Ben). For the girls, you have a Jew (Jody), a Mexican (who also served as the resident bilingual character) (KiKi), and a Chinese (Julie).

All that was left to cover was a child with disabilities, and that's where Kyle comes in. Kyle shows up as Skye's friend in a wheelchair and his presence helps Ben learn more about what people in wheelchairs experience. He is a great character to connect with a whole demographic of disabled children. However, like I said, he didn't stick around for more episodes when he should have.

Plus, another reason why he should've been included in the main cast is that he was a puppet like the rest of them, which kind of makes him apart of their group. The other friendships the Puzzle Place kids formed were with actual human children, so therefore puppet kids were a minority, but still the lead characters. I just find it interesting how the producers went out of their way to create an additional puppet character, who would most likely be a lead because he is a puppet like the rest of the main cast and serves a purpose to connect with and represent a demographic just like the rest of the Puzzle Place kids do, and yet they don't use him as often. What was the point then? I understand their reasons for creating him, but if you are going to create him and he does a good job, let him stay. There was actually a reason for him to be there unlike other PBS Kids characters nowadays and yet he wasn't incorporated well.

But then you may say that if he was incorporated into the main cast, the boys will then outnumber the girls four to three. In this case, I say who cares? As opposed to other new characters, Kyle actually does something and is just as important as the main cast.

Well, there you have it. The counter-argument consisting of PBS Kids shows that include new characters and actually do it right. As long as the character does something to contribute to the show, you don't have to question why he or she is there, and he or she doesn't ruin the original feel of the show, it should be alright.

Can you think of other characters that I didn't mention in either post but you think fit the same descriptions? If so, who?

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