Archive for the ‘TV Show Reviews’ Category

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5 Best TV Shows on Netflix for Toddlers and Preschoolers

August 28, 2015

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My two oldest children are 4 and 3, and have sampled many of the children’s TV shows on Netflix.  Here are my five favorites of the shows currently available (as of August 2015).

1. Octonauts

This is hands-down my favorite kids show on Netflix right now.  It reminds me of an undersea children’s Star Trek – a team of cute animated animals live together in an underwater station/submarine, and travel around helping marine creatures.  There are two stories in each half-hour episode, and each story features a new sea creature or fish.

I love that the show is NOT centered around interpersonal conflict.  The characters care about each other, help each other, and rescue each other.  Each has a distinct role and personality, too, such as Peso – a Mexican penguin medic who is fearful of everything, but always summons up his courage once he realizes that someone needs help.  There are some moments of (very tame) peril, but even scary sea creatures like sharks are animated in a cute, harmless way and their voracious hunger is played for humor rather than fright.

And at the end of every episode is an adorable, fun theme song called the “Creature Report” which recaps everything they learned about the featured sea creature (along with a photo or video clip of the real-life animal).  My son, especially, has retained a lot of what he’s learned from this show.

Potential cons for some parents may be: occasional use of burps for humor’s sake, and some talk of “ghosts” and “monsters” (which of course always turn out to be perfectly normal sea creatures).

2. The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That

This is essentially The Magic School Bus for the toddler set!  In each story, two neighbor kids named Sally and Mick find a new conundrum to solve, and the Cat in the Hat shows up to whisk them away in his “Thing-A-Ma-Wigger,” a contraption that – like the Magic School Bus – can transform itself in all kinds of ways.  (They always get their mothers’ permission before leaving, too, which is a nice change from the Dr. Seuss books where things are done behind the mom’s back.)  They learn about animals, habitats, insects, and sometimes processes like how chocolate is made.  At the end of each episode is a random collection of animal facts and songs.

Potential cons: I can’t even think of any, except for the extreme catchiness of the theme song, which can be a bit annoying at times! 😛

3. Curious George

The Curious George show is very different from the books.  I have a major beef with the books – he always disobeys and makes all kinds of trouble, but never gets any consequences and is portrayed as a hero by the end!  But the TV show is NOT like this.  George still gets into mischief, but we see him try to right his mistakes and get reprimanded for them, and he always realizes that what he did comes with consequences to the other people around him.  By the end of each story things are made right again, and rather than learning he can get away scot-free, George has actually learned the importance of listening and staying out of trouble.  The result is that the show is a just a sweet, cute romp through an adventuresome monkey’s life as he learns new facts about the world around him.  It’s all about learning and exploration.

Potential cons: sometimes George imagines people crying in response to whatever trouble he made.  These “thought bubble” scenes (and other scenes where George or side characters are afraid) are disturbing to my son, who is rather sensitive to characters’ emotions.  I doubt most children would have a problem with it, but it’s a con for me.

4. Stella and Sam

This show wins the prize for “sweetest!”  It’s about a big sister who leads her brother in fun imaginary adventures, using ordinary, everyday things like leaf piles, sweaters, chairs, and rainbows.  It’s a very gentle, happy show that portrays and models kindness and affection toward your siblings, which I greatly appreciate.

Potential cons: unless you are opposed to discussion of imagination and pretend “magic,” I really can’t think of any!

5. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

There is a lot to like in this show.  It’s modeled after Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, except it’s about an animated tiger and his family and friends.  It’s like Mr. Rogers meets Blue’s Clues (which is not on Netflix – but it is free for streaming on Amazon Prime, if you’re looking for another great kids’ show and you are a Prime member!).

Every episode follows Daniel through a new experience, situation, or adventure…picking strawberries, going to the doctor, first day of school, trying new foods, first sleepover, etc.  One of my favorite things is that each episode teaches a short, simple song to help kids remember things like saying please, keeping your temper, or what to do when you’re afraid.  These are simple, helpful ditties that might actually help kids cope with new situations or unpleasant emotions.  There are also frequent interludes about using your imagination, in which Daniel imagines inanimate objects coming alive to sing with him.  At the end of every segment is a live-action portion with a child experiencing whatever Daniel did during the story.

Potential cons: again, unless you are opposed to the hefty use of imagination, there’s not much to critique here.  There are some episodes about fear, which might be something to consider if you have a sensitive child like my son.

A few short reviews of other shows you might check out:

Chuggington – This show follows a team of anthropomorphic trains who are “trainees” (get it?) learning to do their jobs.  There are lots of episode themes like responsibility, following directions, including others, and so forth.  Recommended!

 

Magic School Bus – This show is great, but it’s better for the older set, who will get more out of it.  There are also a few episodes I prefer to skip at this point because they focus on haunted houses or I’m concerned about other aspects of the content.  When my kids are a little older I’ll love it for them!  If you have a more advanced or older preschooler, this is still a great show to check out for them.

Mighty Machines – This is a cool show that just uses live footage of construction vehicles and adds voice-over vocals to make them talk about what they do.  A new type of machine is featured in each episode.  I’ve found my son adores this show but my daughters are disinterested.

Thomas the Tank Engine – I suppose most of us are familiar with Thomas.  It’s not a bad show!  Aside from some grumpy or ill-tempered characters, and the occasional supposed “ghost” (which isn’t real) I don’t know of many cons for it, but my kids don’t find it incredibly engaging.  They rarely ask for it.  Worth checking out especially for a younger toddler boy who loves trains.

Kipper – This animated show about a dog and his friends is very, very tame and quiet.  It’s visually minimalist, with quiet British voices.  I would like it more if it were not for the strange obsession with aliens…  For some reason every other episode is about Kipper encountering something that came from space, with spooky music.  Also, I’m pretty sure there are some episodes with a ghost.  I’m not a huge fan.  (Also, Netflix lumps the episodes into hour-long collections, rather than bite-size episodes by themselves.)

Clifford – My daughter asks to watch this occasionally. The characters can be so catty, and all the lessons it teaches are about doing the right thing – which, of course, means that they show the characters doing the wrong thing first, a concept that can be great for older viewers but for toddlers just seems like a great way to teach them bad behavior.  It’s not my favorite show.

Sofia the First – I saw a few episodes of this at a car dealership once.  They’re cute stories, but like Clifford, characters can be very catty and mean to each other (no need for my kids to learn that sort of behavior), and there was also an evil magician who was portrayed in a way I wasn’t comfortable with.

Trotro – The first time I saw an episode of this, the donkey was hiding his food under his napkin so he could go outside to play faster. Thanks for teaching my kids that cool new trick, Trotro!  Bye forever. *clicks back to main menu* 😛 There are so many cute shows for kids – I don’t want to spend time on TV that teaches my children new ways to misbehave.

Bob the Builder – Cute animated show about an architect/builder and his team of anthropomorphic construction vehicles.  Some shows have live-action segments with real builders, explaining how they construct homes, train tracks, or other structures.  Most of these on Netflix are “collections” of episodes, so they are over an hour long each, but definitely worth checking out, especially if your child is into construction vehicles.

LeapFrog educational videos – There are several of these short movies on Netflix, so it’s kind of like a short TV show season and worth including here.  They teach skills like counting, math, letters, and phonics.  The older ones are a bit annoying (terribly corny dialogue and music), but the newer ones with the digital animation style are much better.

Do you know of any other good shows for toddlers and preschoolers that can be streamed online?  Let us know in the comments!

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Three More Favorite Science Fiction TV Shows

April 26, 2014

This is a follow-up to an archival post I put up when I was blogging previously, Five Favorite Science Fiction TV Shows.  Read that one first if you haven’t seen it before!  Listed in that posting were: Warehouse 13, Eureka, Doctor Who, Firefly/Serenity, and Battlestar Galactica (2oo4).  In hindsight I have to say Firefly takes the award for my favorite sci-fi show ever.  But here are three more of my husband’s and my favorite science-fiction shows!

As with the last list, I have to issue the disclaimer that these are shows written for adults, and some may have inappropriate material, bad language, or violence.  Please don’t simply trust my recommendation – use your own judgment and keep a remote handy in case you need to skip a scene.  I recommend things based on my personal opinion of their merit, not their flaws, but every show does have flaws.  🙂

I’m starting with 6 since the other article listed 5!

6.  Heroes

Some individuals, it is true, are more special. This is natural selection. It begins as a single individual born or hatched like every other member of their species. Anonymous. Seemingly ordinary. Except they’re not. – Mohinder

As the quote indicates, the superhero theory in this show is deeply rooted in macroevolution.  But you don’t have to believe in evolution to enjoy the story!  It’s the tale of superheroes discovering their powers, much like X-Men and other superhero tales.  And they all react to their newfound abilities differently.  Some use it for personal fun or scientific discovery.  Some, like the lovable Hiro, are convinced of their destiny to better the world.  Some use it for horrid, self-serving evil.

This show has some great pros to me and some cons.  The pros: riveting story, humor, realistic, compelling characters.  The cons: the last season or two took a big nosedive, in my opinion.  The writing went rapidly downhill, and what once was fantastic character development slid into a sludge of “characters doing whatever the writers need to keep the story interesting”.  They start doing weird things.  They flip-flop between good and evil erratically.  And the ending was…kind of lame.  So, I’d say – definitely try out this show!  But if you start getting bored or unconvinced, don’t be ashamed to get out while the getting’s good.  Writing this is making me want to watch it again, though…

7.  Fringe

Olivia: “Have you done this before?”
Walter: “I have used this technique to extricate information from a corpse once. You can do that if they haven’t been dead longer than six hours.”
Peter (sarcastically):  “Right, ’cause after six hours, that’s when they’re really dead.”

Whew, this show runs the gamut.  It’s a detective show.  It’s a show about parallel universes.  It’s a show about weird pseudo-science.  It’s a dystopian show.  It has romance.  It has horror.  It has humor.  It’s brilliant and bizarre and just plain weird!  It follows an FBI agent as she works with a (sort of insane) scientist to investigate unexplainable phenomena.  Most of their cases are based in actual pseudo-science, just taken to an extreme sci-fi level.  As the series continues the universe sort of unravels, multiple parallel universes open up, and they end up in the future, fighting world domination by a mysterious group of bald, spiffily-dressed men.  It sounds completely bizarre, because it is.  It’s also gripping and very addictive!

Disclaimers: I have not seen every single episode myself, and some were a little darker and closer to the horror genre than I like…icky murders, etc.  Don’t watch it if you’re sensitive to disturbing images or creepy stuff.  Christopher was the bigger fan of this one, but after I got hooked on it I insisted on watching it with him.  He keeps trying to find shows he can watch on his own when I’m busy, but I always glom onto them – sorry, dear. 😀

Continuing in the category of “Shows my Husband Tried and Then I Wouldn’t Let Him Watch Them Alone”, we also have…

8.  Continuum

2077. My time, my city, my family. When terrorists killed thousands of innocents, they were condemned to die. They had other plans. A time travel device sent us all back 65 years. I want to get home, but I can’t be sure what I will return to if history is changed. Their plan? To corrupt and control the present in order to win the future. What they didn’t plan on…was me. – Kiera’s voiceover in the opening sequence

That voiceover provides a nice summary of the show’s plot!  (“Sent us all back” refers to the terrorists and Kiera, not the entire world.  That confused me the first time I watched it!)

This is a fantastic show.  Christopher and I gobbled up the first two seasons we could stream online for free (we don’t have cable), and we are anxiously awaiting more.  Continuum has some interesting social and cultural commentary going on, and a strong protagonist who grapples with fascinating moral dilemmas (like, “If I may never get back to my future time, and my husband’s not even born yet here, am I still married?” and “What if I endanger the future by my actions to save the world in the present?”).  It has a fast-paced, gripping plot that makes it hard to watch just one or two episodes at a time.  It’s full of neat futuristic technology and time-travel theory – always a plus in our books!  It’s also very clean, although, as soon as I said aloud, “Hey, this show is so clean!” there was an inappropriate scene in the next episode we watched.  Of course.  😛  I could be remembering wrong, but I don’t believe there were many more like it.

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Fringe and Heroes are complete shows (although Heroes may have a sequel in production, I hear – yay!), and all their seasons can be streamed for free online with Netflix or Amazon Prime, if you subscribe to those services.  The two completed seasons of Continuum can be found on Netflix streaming, also.  Happy science-fiction discovery!

 What are your favorite science-fiction (and other speculative genre!) shows?  Why?

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Five Favorite Science-Fiction TV Shows

May 3, 2012

Growing up, I was always more a lover of fantasy than science-fiction.  Although I liked science-fiction in theory, and wrote it, I never watched or read science-fiction movies or books (with the exception of a long Star Wars phase in my childhood).  However, since Christopher and I have been married – almost two years now! – I’ve found my taste for the genre has grown.  In fact, it’s probably my favorite genre these days!

Christopher doesn’t like most fantasy, so his taste for science-fiction TV shows and movies nudged me in that direction, and now one of our favorite things to do is watch a good science-fiction series together.  We don’t have cable, so we’re limited to what we can get online via Hulu, Syfy.com, or Netflix (which starts at $7.99 a month for instant streaming only – this is a great resource to see lots of movies and shows on the cheap).  Our lack of cable hasn’t yet stopped us from finding plenty of great shows to follow!

Here are some of our favorite science-fiction series.  If you like the genre, you might enjoy these…

I should note briefly that these series are mainly targeted at adult viewers, not children, and any of them sometimes show content that is sexual or otherwise inappropriate in nature.  Most also include science-fiction violence and some bad language.  So please watch with wisdom and discernment!

5.  Warehouse 13

Artie: “And that is exactly what we do here. We take the unexplained…and we just safely tuck it away in this super-sized Pandora’s Box.”
Pete: “Metaphorically speaking.”
Artie: “Well, actually, Pandora’s box is over in Aisle 989-B. Empty, of course.”

After encountering something they were not supposed to see, secret service agents Myka Bering and Pete Latimer are transferred to work at a giant warehouse in the middle of nowhere – a warehouse that houses a mammoth collection of mysterious and dangerous artifacts with special powers.  This show has more of a magical feel than scientific, but the idea is that “magic is science we don’t understand yet”.  Myka and Pete spend their days keeping tabs on the artifacts already in the Warehouse, and tracking down others all over the world that are causing trouble.

So far we have watched the first two seasons of Warehouse 13, and are waiting for the next one to come on Netflix with the others so we can continue following the show.  It’s a good one to watch when you want something light and entertaining, not too serious, and if you enjoy the fantasy or paranormal genres as well as science-fiction.

4.  Eureka

“I hate to interrupt, but we have bigger issues at hand. Time is unraveling. The laws of physics are breaking down. Correct me if I’m wrong but that’s the kind of thing that’s not gonna stop at the city limits, is it?” – Henry Deacon

This show follows the adventures (and misadventures) of a U.S. Marshall, Jack Carter, who becomes the sheriff of an unusual small town – Eureka, where all the citizens are geniuses developing new technology for the government.  Every scientific achievement of the past 30 years originated there, he finds, and every day of work he must fix hilarious problems and prevent new catastrophes.  Most of the science is “Hollywood science”, as they say, but it makes for a rollicking good time, especially with the quirky cast of characters.  This is another “light” show, but a bit more addicting than Warehouse 13, and some of the episodes are considerably more serious than others.

We’re completely up to date on this show because the older seasons are on Netflix and Syfy.com generously posts their new episodes online every week – hurray!  (Older episodes are available from Netflix, the first three on instant streaming and Season 4 by mail.)

From here on it gets much harder to number my favorites in order!  These final three are probably tied for my affections…

3.  Doctor Who

“He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And…he’s wonderful.” – Tim Latimer

“Doctor Who has never pretended to be hard science fiction … At best Doctor Who is a fairytale, with fairytale logic about this wonderful man in this big blue box who at the beginning of every story lands somewhere where there is a problem.” – Neil Gaiman

As the image and quotes might suggest, this show has a bit less science – and a lot more EPIC! – than the previous two in my list.  Doctor Who is the longest-running science-fiction TV series in history.  (The Doctor is capable of regenerating into a new man instead of dying, so the story can continue almost indefinitely.)  This is an unusual show, and it’s fairly safe to say that you will either adore it or hate it with a passion.  I thought I hated it – Christopher used to watch it while I was making dinner, and I’d stand there chopping vegetables and listening to all the cheesy special effects, and the tinny robot voices, and the electronic main theme, and think to myself, “Ugh.”  Then…along came the 11th incarnation of the Doctor (along with the better sound and special effects of the newer seasons).  I started hovering by the television.  Soon, I was sitting down to watch some of it.  It only took a few episodes, and I was hooked.

The Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, spends his time traveling through all of time and space in a time machine disguised as a British police box.  In almost every episode, he saves the world (or the universe!), usually with the help of a human companion or two he’s picked up on the way.  If that sounds boring, IT’S NOT.  It’s amazing.  But you really have to watch it to understand what makes it so awesome!  Even people who don’t normally like science-fiction might find Doctor Who appealing, as it’s almost more fantasy than anything else.

I must offer a disclaimer – I’ve only seen the newer series that have aired since the show was resurrected in 2005.  If you are completely unfamiliar with the Doctor (and especially if you are like me and hate cheesy special effects!) I’d personally recommend doing a little background research and then starting with the Eleventh Doctor, beginning at Series 5.  (Alternately, you can start at Series 1 of the newer shows; many would recommend this instead.)  Chances are, you’ll love what you see, and then you can go back and watch any older series you wish.  All of the recent seasons are currently available on Netflix’s instant streaming, although I don’t know how long that will last.

 2.  Firefly (and Serenity)

Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don’t care – I’m still free
You can’t take the sky from me
— the opening theme

How do I describe this show?  Sort of like Robin Hood meets the Old West meets space travel?  Something like that.  Firefly is a true Space Western, and it takes awhile to get used to the eclectic blend of bluegrass-style music and deep space escapades.  The show’s title comes from the name of a space vessel, and the story follows her crew as they evade the totalitarian government, help the helpless, and make money any way they can – often by smuggling or other petty crime.  In the beginning of the season they pick up a pair of passengers, who turn out to be fugitives on the run, and it makes their lives a lot more interesting and dangerous.

The best thing about this show?  The characters.  The wonderful characters and their wonderful, hilarious banter.  It has plenty of dark and gruesome moments, but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny!  Tragically, the show was abruptly cancelled after just one season, but there is a follow-up movie, Serenity, which sort of ties together the story’s end, although the feel is a bit different than that of the show because it was targeted to movie audiences who hadn’t watched Firefly.  Note: if you don’t want to deal with avoiding the sexual content in the show (as there is quite a bit, unfortunately) watching Serenity is a good way to encounter the story and characters without any scene-skipping.  You can watch the full show and the movie on Netflix streaming.

1.  Battlestar Galactica (2003)

“We decided to play God, create life. When that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn’t our fault, not really. You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you’ve created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done anymore.” – Admiral William Adama

Of all the shows I am listing, this is probably the most “classic” science-fiction represented.  Most descriptions of this show will say, simply, that it’s about a fleet of humans looking for a new world after cybernetic Cylons wipe out their home planet.  Booooring!  Fortunately, that’s not an entire description of the show.  It’s also an amazing saga of courage, determination, hope, leadership, love, justice and mercy, obedience and disobedience, betrayal and loyalty, and real people making real, tough, life-or-death decisions every day, all across a background of distant space and barren planets.  What I love most about this show is that the characters are all so human.  They all have their good qualities and bad.  Sometimes you root for them; sometimes you gape in astonishment at their actions.  The story is fast-paced as well, especially the earlier seasons, and the makers are constantly throwing in new mysteries to keep the viewers hooked.  As soon as one story starts to close up, another interesting one opens!  I’d like to review this show in full someday, but it seems like a mammoth task, as there is so much to analyze: the characters, the religious aspect, the plot…it’d be a big task to take on!

With this show, perhaps more than all the others, I have to warn that it is definitely an adult program, and there is a lot of brief sexual content (sometimes as often as every episode).  As Christopher and I often mourn, this is the only big downside to an otherwise amazing story.  We highly recommend it, but with a remote handy!

This is a long-running but completed series, all of which is available on Netflix Instant.  We have only 3 episodes left – the 3-part finale – and we are waiting very impatiently until Friday evening, when we can have a finale marathon.  Eeek!  We can’t wait!

Have you watched any of these shows?  Did you love them, hate them?  Do you have any other favorite science-fiction TV series to recommend?