The new television season for kids really begins with the new school season. Is there something just a tad odd about that?
And in this new season, like the last, there's lots of action. Whatever happened to the understanding that children can handle ideas? For the little ones, though, there are some cool surprises that won't upset parents. Check local listings for times.
Take Disney's paean to the joys of school, Teacher's Pet. The Saturday morning animated show on ABC concerns a fourth-grader, Leonard, whose dog, Spot, decides to go to school with his master. But Spot is no ordinary dog - he can talk and he loves to learn. So he disguises himself, changes his name, and vies for the teacher's approval - Leonard's mother. Clever and buoyant, the show features Nathan Lane as the voice of Spot. And what other kids' show uses opera on the soundtrack?
Then there's Disney/Pixar's Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (premires Oct. 14 on ABC; check local listings), another clever animated adventure. This is the TV show that all the characters from "Toy Story" watch together - the show for which Buzz is the companion toy. In space, Buzz is one dandy hero, fighting the evil Zurg with blaster and wit. There's much action, witty dialogue, and a dynamic blue princess for the girls in the audience - and no one ever gets hurt except for the robots. Best of all, Patrick Warburton (Puddy on "Seinfeld") stars as the voice of Buzz.
CBS's Saturday morning block is all borrowed from Nickelodeon. Little ones will go for the adorable Dora The Explorer, a seven-year-old Latina, who lives inside a computer, speaks and understands Spanish, and then translates for her furry friends. She started online, and youngsters can interact with her at www.nickjr.com. Its pro-reading and pro-social messages are charming.
Books are everywhere - just check out PBS's Bookworm Bunch. Then there's Little Bill created by Bill Cosby from his kids' books. The gentle, animated story about a clever five-year-old African-American child is loving and supportive of little children. Kipper, based on the award-winning books by Mick Inkpen, is another cartoon featuring a good little dog with a big imagination. And Little Bear is based on the popular books illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
NBC is confining its new kid programming to a reality series for teens - Just Deal. It's a charming "dramedy" about two teens from different backgrounds forming a friendship and forging their way through the challenges of high school. Not quite "Freaks and Geeks," but close in spirit.
The WB, teen-central, offers Generation O! for the teen wannabes, 6 to 11. Molly O! is an eight-year-old rock wonder who rides in a limo and can find life in the spotlight a challenge. It's a little brash - but often funny. Jackie Chan Adventures features martial-arts expert Jackie, as an archaeologist, and his 11-year-old niece, Jade, in an animated quest for magical talismans. Mr. Chan himself appears in live-action segments - he has always wanted to be a cartoon, he says. The humor is engaging, and all the action fairly mild.
The WB also presents Static Shock featuring the first African-American teen superhero based on the Milestone/DC Comic books. Virgil Hawkins can scramble eggs with a look and frizzle bad guys who disrupt the neighborhood. And one more child heroine appears in Cardcaptors, Japanese anime featuring large-eyed Sakura and her friends, whose quest includes defeating magical villains.
Action is the name of the game on Fox Kids, too. Action Man has a cool, computer-animation look, but though the premise about a super-fast athlete is complex, the action is nonstop and the villains creepy.
Combining sci-fi and dinosaurs, Dinozaurs has the giant creatures battling aliens with dinosaur characteristics. Nothing too new here, but the hero, Kaito, is a sweet kid. A bit more depressing is the brooding Cybersix, about a female superhero (a machine with human feelings) who is in constant danger from an evil scientist. It's not clear who this curvaceous heroine is supposed to appeal to.
But there's more new programming than animation for children. Here's just a sampling: Fox Family's The Zack Files is a charming drama for kids 6 to 12 about a young boy whose life is turned upside-down by odd occurrences - like the time he kept "Alice In Wonderland" out of the library too long, and the characters came after him.
Diving into reality TV is Discovery Channel's sterling series called Outward Bound: The Land Down Under. Young teens from across the US go on an adventure to Australia. It's a little like "Real World" but without any of the nastiness. In Australia, they are joined by Aussie teens, and they all live in the bush together, challenging one another and learning about the environment. It's a breath of fresh air.
Literature is underscored in HBO's marvelous series The Royal Diaries, in which great events in history are witnessed through the eyes of young girls who were there. The first, Cleopatra: Daughter of the Nile, would please any young woman in her "tweens" and early teens.
And speaking of literate - HBO continues one of the worthiest children's shows on TV: Animated Epics. This fall, look for "Don Quixote," a fabulous and accurate claymation version of the classic.
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