Children’s Television Survival Guide: SuperWhy

It’s time for another installment in our Children’s Television Survival Guide. Now, the last show, Sid the Science Kid, is one of my faves. This next one? Well, let’s just say I enjoy it on an ironic level. And I actually have come to enjoy watching it a lot more since The Boy got old enough to see the flaws in the show that I see, so we can snark about it together.

Without further ado, I bring you SuperWhy.

Let me explain the show for those who haven’t seen it: Wyatt is a kid who lives in a storybook land, and his friends are Red Riding Hood, Princess Pea, and one of the little pigs. Each episode starts out with a problem that never seems like a serious one to me (or The Boy) but is dubbed by Wyatt as a “Super Big Problem.” So Wyatt and his pals transform into super heroes, each with a different literacy-related superpower, and they fly into a book whose story will show them the answer to whatever the “Super Big Problem” is.

So, the upside to SuperWhy: it’s clearly super educational, what with all the spelling and reading and letter identification. It’s also one of those call and response shows–as in the characters ask the audience to talk, wait politely for an answer, and then move forward. Kids of a certain age get really engrossed in that crap, which is handy when I want to pee alone for a few minutes.

But what I really love about this show, is how bad it is. As a friend of mine pointed out, it’s incredibly repetitive–I’m sure it saves them a lot of money that they recycle the same songs on every episode, so they don’t have to record a ton of dialogue. Also, although I’m a defender of complainers generally, the “Super Big Problems” on the show are really, really dumb. The problem on the most recent episode I saw was that Princess Pea and her friend, a spider, couldn’t agree on what game to play. I turned to the boy and said, “Is that a Super Big Problem? Would you take that one to a teacher?” And he cracked up and said “Hahaha no hahahaha!” So I said, “What do you think the answer’s gonna be?” And he said “Take turns.” I said, “Good call. Or, you know, they could play apart.” And he said, “Yes, they could.”

We continued riffing on the dumb stuff the characters were doing throughout the episode. Pig fished some thing out of a pond with a fishing pole; The Boy and I commented that we might have used a fishing net instead, since that would be faster than removing each letter individually. The story they flew into was The Frog Prince, except for most of the episode, there was no talk of kissing, leaving me saying, “Why aren’t they kissing? This story is about her kissing him, not playing a game called ‘wands.'” (Snicker, wands–I kept that one to myself.) And when she did kiss the frog, he turned into such a douchey prince (the Boy said “he’s annoying”) that Princess Pea turned him back into a frog. At one point the frog jumped into a tree and Red Riding Hood went through a shtick about jump being an “ump” word and what are some other “ump” words? Alas, The Boy isn’t quite old enough to know “hump” as verb, only as a noun meaning a small hill, but I was laughing on the inside so much that I had to leave the room for a moment to let it out.

The Boy and I watched as the letters that make up the answer (revealed slowly a la Wheel of Fortune, also an inane show) were collected, and we figured out what letters were left to make up the words “Take Turns.” And I’ll be darned, we guessed the answer correctly! The Boy and I totally high-fived.

I used to think that SuperWhy must have been written by some focus group of education professors and that’s why it sucks. Like, The Boy is 6. If he can see through your plot, seriously, you’ve fucked up in the story department. But I have come to believe that SuperWhy is COMIC GENIUS. I think it’s that bad on purpose. They wrote it so horribly that it’s awesome. Like Howard the Duck, or Bernard’s on Seneca with its RC Cola. I mean, “ump” words? I dream of one day being ale to pull off that kind of humor while still teaching kids about reading.

And that is why I don’t mind watching SuperWhy with my kids. Embrace the craptasticness!

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