Friday, June 10, 2011

PBS Kids TV Shows and their Not-So-Heartwarming New Characters

If you are a 90's kid like me, then you have probably become attached to certain TV shows that you have grown up with as a child. When these shows go off the air it can be a depressing time, but then you become nostalgic when you see them again and normally it's a heartwarming experience.

I personally grew up with PBS Kids, and luckily, there are certain kids shows from this program that have lasted after all these years. However, I am noticing an unpleasant trend in these shows that needs addressing. For some reason, the producers of these shows feel the need to add unnecessary brand new characters that contribute absolutely nothing to the show and can quite possibly make them unlikeable. The addition of these new characters causes us 90's kids to lose connection with these shows and ultimately our childhoods because they aren't how they once were. It's not the same show anymore. New characters bring a new feel to a show and I'm not exactly sure if that's a good thing. Why change the few shows that actually stick around?

Abby Cadabby from "Sesame Street"
Let me start with my favorite of the new characters: Abby Cadabby from "Sesame Street." She's adorable! Just look at her! She also showcases my favorite color combination, which is pink and blue. However, she might gain a lot of hate from people because she PRACTICALLY TOOK OVER THE WHOLE ENTIRE SHOW! Seriously, if you were to ever turn on "Sesame Street," you'll most likely see her in some scene. She's a fairy and so therefore a lot of her segments have something to do with her causing some minor magical disturbance and then correcting her faults with her wand. Oh. And here's a fun fact. Abby's wand is actually her cell phone as well. She uses it to call her Mommy for advice when she messes up or cannot remember exactly how a spell goes. She even has a CGI cartoon segment called "Abby's Fairy School" (yes, apparently she owns her own school now) in which she attends a fairy school with two other male fairies. Granted, a lot of other characters get special treatment and personal segments as well, such as Elmo, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Grover, etc., but that's a different case entirely. These guys are veterans of the show and deserve this. Nobody gave the Abby the right to just show up recently and takeover! She needs to work her way up just like everybody else has.

The cast of "Abby's Fairy School"
From what I hear Abby was created to connect with the female demographic (and what better way to do that that with a PINK character -__-). Anyhow, we already had Zoe, who now sports a PINK tu-tu after so many years of not wearing one, and Rosita, the resident Spanish-speaking monster of Sesame Street, so what was the need for Abby? A suggested idea is that the producers felt that the female Muppets were outnumbered by the male Muppets, but as a child growing up with this show I don't recall this being an issue for me and scarring me for life. I mean, Elmo pretty much relates to either gender. So do the other Muppets for that matter. The Muppets of "Sesame Street" never really focused on anything that was gender based from what I can remember so therefore creating characters for this purpose just deems unnecessary.

Eh, regardless, you can't argue with the fact that she's a cutie-pie!

The dinosaurs from "Barney and Friends": Barney, BJ, Baby Bop, and Riff
Then there is the orange abomination who is placed front and center of the "Barney and Friends" crew to your right. The dinosaurs of "Barney and Friends" are annoying to begin with, but the producers decided to contribute more to the annoyance by adding a brand new character for no reason whatsoever. His name is Riff. Already you should probably know why I hate the addition of this character so much. Riff? They couldn't name him "Biff" or something? He totally messes up the continuity of names starting with the letter "B" now, which is part of what made Barney, BJ, and Baby Bop (three B's in that one!) a trio in the first place!

But why was he created? I honestly cannot think of any good reason. You have Barney, the lead dinosaur and possibly the oldest who can connect with the slightly older children in the audience. Then you have BJ and Baby Bop (Oh, look at that. Baby Bop is wearing PINK, too.) who can connect with younger boys and girls respectively. There was absolutely no need for an additional male character. In fact, I could create a whole gender argument right here. Why isn't the new character a female? Baby Bop was already outnumbered two to one, so if they were going to create a new character why not create a female to even it out? Apparently this was an issue with "Sesame Street" but not an issue here.

However, after ranting about him, I'll say one thing I do like about him. He seems to me to be the least annoying of the four. I know, I can't believe I'm saying this either, but he's the only one who to me is relatable to an everyday kid. He isn't a showoff like BJ, nor is he babyish like Baby Bop, and we all know how irritating the big purple guy can be, and Riff is nothing like him either. He also seems to showcase a fairly decent singing voice, which is something the other three lack. I'm not entirely defending Riff, but I felt this needed to be said.

Furthermore, I do realize that there were other animal characters besides the dinosaurs throughout the years. I recall the squirrel Scooter and bird Miss Etta of seasons 4-6, both of whom I was okay with at the time probably because I was still young and liked them and plus they seemed to be secondary characters who didn't intrude on the resident trio. At least there were still THREE dinosaurs.

Unlike my thoughts about Riff, I have a fairly good idea why Enrique from "Dragon Tales" was created. All of a sudden now there are Spanish versions starring Enrique of the English songs in the "Dragon Tunes" segment, and the Spanish language is used more frequently in the episodes, so it's safe to say that Enrique was included in the "Dragon Tales" cast to connect with the Spanish-speaking demographic and help today's children learn the Spanish language.

Enrique (in the yellow) and original characters Emmy and Max wish on a dragon scale on "Dragon Tales"

Regardless, I really can't stand this kid! First of all, when he was first introduced, I don't recall them ever giving him a background story. Where did he come from? He just randomly shows up out of nowhere. Does he live with Emmy and Max, who are siblings and the original human kids of the show? Is he an exchange student of some kind? I would appreciate him more if he was their cousin so it shows that it's a family affair, but from what I gather, he is a "friend" of theirs. Um...okay.

The cast of "Dragon Tales"
Second of all, Emmy and Max are both Hispanic children who proved in episodes that they are bilingual, so why was there a need to create a third one who has nothing to do with them to serve this purpose? The original kids had everything covered. 

Well, maybe he was created to compliment a dragon (or rather, a pair of dragons) who didn't have a human counterpart up until now. Allow me to backtrack a bit to give you some background. When Emmy and Max were first transported to Dragon Land, they befriended a total of four dragons who remained main characters throughout the series: Ord, Cassie, Zak, and Wheezie. Ord is BLUE so therefore it is suggested that he identifies with little boys and Cassie is PINK so therefore it is suggested that she identifies with little girls. Naturally, Max becomes Ord's human counterpart and Emmy becomes Cassie's. But then there is the two-headed dragon Zak and Wheezie, whose green and purple coloring isn't necessarily gender-based. These dragons fly and the kids ride on their backs, Max with Ord and Emmy with Cassie, so therefore the introduction of Enrique pleased Zak and Wheezie because they haven't had a human child to ride with them up until this point, because it is rare that Max and Emmy ride with them. They even said this in the episode when they first meet him. Well, okay, if that's the case and Enrique was created to be Zak and Wheezie's counterpart, then I have the following argument: Why didn't they give Enrique a fraternal twin sister? Zak and Wheezie are fraternal twins, so why shouldn't their human counterpart be the same? I could make a whole gender argument here now about how Emmy is outnumbered.

I think the main reason why I dislike Enrique so much is the fact that I feel like he is intruding on the relationship Emmy and Max have with Dragon Land. In the pilot episode, they move into their new house and are homesick, so finding the dragon scale to transport them to Dragon Land gave them a sense of feeling comfortable with their new surroundings. For a time, they were the only humans to even know of its existence. Now this other kid waltzes in and I feel like he totally takes that secret bond away. It is THEIR special place. What gives Enrique the right to go there?

From what I see on "Between the Lions," where a family of lions runs a library, there haven't been any annoying character additions, but there have been changes since the premiere in 2000. One that really peeves me is the change of Leona's voice. Leona is the 4-year-old lion cub with the ponytail who has an innocence with which one can identify. Her voice was pitchy, the cute kind, and she sounded like what she was supposed to be, which is a baby cub.

The lion family from "Between the Lions": Lionel, Cleo, Theo, and Leona
Then, after a while, all of a sudden she got this whole new mature, soft spoken voice and now sounds like a young woman, not a little girl. Why did they feel the need to age her? She still carries around her stuffed animal "Lovey," so what's the point? Lionel, her older brother, already caters to the preteen/teenage demographic, so why do this to the young Leona? In fact, they need a young character like her because around four is when kids begin to learn how to read, which is the whole point of the show! Leona is the character who connects to kids learning how to read because she matches their age and there are episodes in which she herself tries to read and also shows some struggle.

This video is from my favorite episode as a child called "A Peck of Peppers." Here you will be able to hear Leona's original voice.

Now check out this episode. Notice how her voice sounds way more mature here? I mean, it's still feminine, but still.

She sounds too old for her age! It annoys me! I don't even like Leona as much as I used to ever since this happened! I know that she's still the same cub but to me the change of her voice changes her personality and makes her a whole new character, an addition, like the other new characters, that wasn't needed.

My childhood consisted of three (not four) dinosaurs who hung out with kids on a playground, two (not three) human children who travelled by a magical force to a land inhabited by dragons, a baby female lion cub with a pitchy voice (not a soft spoken one), and a TV show that has lasted since the 1960s up to now without the help of a fairy that takes up way too much airtime! This is what I know. The children of today watching what these shows have to offer now don't know what I know and I feel sorry for them. They are going to grow up watching these shows with these changes very much intact and be deprived of how things were originally. The only thing I have left that is close to how it used to be is reruns. Bottom line is these shows were fine before these additions. Also, the producers probably had to spend a lot of money on them too to actually make the costumes and puppets and either get brand new voice actors or give their resident voice actors more work. Money that could've been saved if they just left well enough alone!

Oh well. I still want a stuffed Abby Cadabby and Leona for either my birthday or Christmas now. *hint hint* ;)

However, this all being said, as I was writing this I began to think about additional characters that actually do serve purposes in their respective shows, so I will write about them in another post.


  1. Stef thia was really interesting, and you made a alot of good points. The gender imbalance in these shows didn't really bother me as a kid, but now thinking about it, they should balance it out more, to cater for all audiences. I also liked how you analyzed each show, good job! :]

    If you want to check out something interesting (i've been reading about this lately) There is a show that has been out for a while called "My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic." It's on Discovery Sprout and from what I read, the same cartoon style used is the same as in Powerpuff Girls. I didn't watch it yet, but I saw a video on youtube of the ponies parodying California Girls by Katy Perry. From what I have been seeing online even though the show is made for little girls, it is apealling to an older audience as well. You should def check it out and share thoughts on it. It's really interesting how the shows that are out now are changing, especially kids shows. You are really on to something interesting Stef! :D

    Here is the video:

  2. Thank you so much, Bonnie! I appreciate your comments and insight! :D

    I'll definitely check out the little ponies! lol! Thanks for the suggestion. I'll see what I can do with it. ;)

  3. Hey Stef! I really enjoyed reading your essay. I never actually noticed the whole pink motif with female characters. I love looking back on the shows I watched as a kid and analyzing them, even the changes they've made over time. Some are good while others I will never understand. Sometimes I think it might just be the show getting a new executive or something, and whenever somebody new comes in they feel the need to change things or shake them up a bit.

    And oddly enough, I, like Bonnie, thought of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic as I was reading, especially when you talk about females being represented in these shows. I admit, I'm kind of in love with it right now. Its a revamping of the original cartoon, but I think its a lot smarter and funnier. It was created by a woman named Lauren Faust who worked on and who is coincidentally the wife of the creator of the Powerpuff Girls which was my favorite show growing up and she's very into feminism and girls being properly represented in children's shows. So yeah, I agree, you should check it out :)

  4. Wow, paragraphs worth of insight! I love it! Thank you for your comments, Abby! :D

    However, I must give credit to this video for the whole pink motif thing I pointed out: The Nostalgia Chick is actually the one who brought it to my attention and made me realize it more.

    As for the "My Little Pony" thing, I am actually researching the show now! lol you ladies got me interested! Haha!

  5. Nice article Stef! I came across it when I was searching Biff/Riff on Google. My three year old and I were watching one of his favorite shows, Barney, and I swear I heard them call him Riff. I always thought it was Biff! Turns out, I think they changed it. Quite a few websites call him Biff now and the two DVDs we own list him as Biff. Better they changed it in my opinion even if he is a superfluous character! :)
    Keep up the good work!
    ~Amy M

  6. Amy,

    So they changed it? Thank goodness! See, now I feel like he somewhat deserves lead character status. Maybe my essay on here caused some awareness lol. I also think it's interesting how I'm not the only one who noticed this about his name haha.

    I'm glad you like my article! Thank you so much for your comment and kind words! :)

    -Stef :)