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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Good TV for Powerful Girls

We're working on Healthier Choices at Chez Gamers' Babes in the New Year. One of these is all-veggies-must-be-eaten-before-second-helpings-of-anything-else, one is homework-and-active-stuff-first-and-TV-later, and one is no-TV-while-eating. In the past five days, even before they went back to school yesterday, this cut down on our screen time a lot. And I had a little fairly-quiet time to think on what Abby (9) has been watching. I've come to a conclusion, and it's this:

While there is good American TV for "tween" children, Australian, UK, or Canadian TV is consistently better as a class.

At least with those choices available on Netflix. I'm not talking about what we call "baby shows" here; the preschool TV we watch is usually pretty good. I'm talking about shows that are clever while not being nasty, are actually appropriate for the age group at which they are marketed, and while funny are also decently respectful - without too many off-color jokes or suggestive gestures or graphic violence.

We started this tween TV thing with the Nickelodeon show iCarly, which is aimed at girls ages 7-14, although the characters are between 14 and 17 as the show progresses. iCarly is fine (at least in the seasons we've watched - the first three); the suggestive jokes go right over the kids' heads, there's never anything more sexual than kissing, and the violence is very slapstick (and even my little one gets that). However, the Adults Are Useless trope is in full effect, except in very few episodes. And iCarly led us to Fred: The Movie, which is not acceptable in our household. At all.

It also led us to assorted shows from Disney. Disney is interesting. As a rule, the animated choices (at least those available on Netflix) from the House of Mouse are acceptable; our favorite is Phineas and Ferb. It's clever and cute, and the violence is both cartoonish and slapstick. And it's Disney, so at least one catchy tune per episode. But every single Disney live action TV show we've seen (not so much in the TV movies we've seen), there is no respect shown by anyone to anyone (although because it's Disney there is usually an "Awww" lesson at the end of an arc). The adults in our house do not like this.

Now, on to the good stuff. I'm mostly talking about Abby's age/interest group here; Leanna is the next group up and interested in different things, and Lizzy is still in the preschool demographic.
  • Avatar the Last Airbender, Jackie Chan Adventures, Ruby Gloom, Teen Titans, Powerpuff Girls
    • They all have very strong - and varied - female characters - Katara and Toph, Jade, Ruby, Raven and Starfire, and the titular Powerpuff Girls.
    • They are either shaped like regular human beings (as opposed to Barbie dolls) or are so cartoonish that it's obvious even to the 4yo that they are not "real people shapes".
    • They have either real-life lessons that do not (generally) seem too forced, or the stories are told in such a way that a child of the intended demographic can extrapolate the lesson or theme (teamwork, equality, friendship, love, etc)
  • Anything from Australian producer Jonathan M Schiff - we've seen H20 Just Add Water, The Elephant Princess, Wicked Science, and Ocean Girl
    • These are more teenage shows, as in some of those shown above, with a whiff of the arcane/magical. They have the usual high-school kinds of plots, with the mermaid/teen genius/magical princess twists that make them more interesting. 
    • Even though there are plenty of the Mean Girl or Pop Star plots (and a lot of bared midriffs), they are somehow more wholesome than most of the offerings from Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel. It may be simply an intrinsic difference between Australian and American TV.
    • Strong female characters, good and bad, with believable motivations
    • Australian shows of this type don't seem to be as obsessed with body shape as American shows do. Some of these teenage girls actually have hips, for instance.
  • Classic Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror Comedy
    • Star Trek (original and animated). Sure, they're sexist as hell, but they made for good discussion fodder. And they were pretty obvious as far as other prejudices go. Most of the newer stuff is too mature for Abby
    • The Addams Family - suits my Perky Goth down to the ground. They are a loving and supportive family in spite of their weirdness.
    • The Sarah Jane Adventures - this one is newer, but it's a family-friendlier take on the Whoniverse, which is older than Star Trek. Strong female characters. Older-but-still-lovely-and-competent female characters even. And we may be able to watch some OldWho, but she's too young for NewWho's darkness.
So there you have it, folks, a review of What's Good on TV. Have fun with the links