You may have your America Idle. You may have your House, your Lost, your 24. You may even have your CSI.
For my money, the best show on television right now is The Backyardigans.
Yes, it's a kid show. But it's a kid show that is done right. It doesn't play down to kids. It doesn't go for flashy visuals and loud doings and quick cuts and exagerrated movements. It has things that appeal to everyone - good stories, interesting characters, imagination, intelligence, and damn good music. I mean these songs stick in your head and not in a bad way.
The premise is that you have these five kids - Tasha the hippo, Tyrone the moose, Pablo the penguin, Uniqua the ladybug, and Austin the kangaroo. They are a group of culturally-diverse youngsters living in the burbs in a sort of reverse cove. Their houses face outward, and their backyards join together to form a sort of round park. Austin's yard has a fence, but the rest of it is open. This giant backyard is their world, in which they use their imaginations to explore the jungle as Tarzans (plural, in his many manifestations), dig for dinosaurs and gold, race around the world, sail as Vikings, anything they want to do.
The stories are interspersed with music. The music has a theme for each episode, and it's usually not what you expect. The Texas cowboy episode is hip-hop and has probably their most memorable song - Riding the Range. The Tarzan episode is a hilarious take on Mozart opera. The Yukon episode is countryish. The world race episode is zydeco, for God's sake! All of it is great, and none of it sounds canned or synthesized. Those are real drums, real clarinets and guitars. Listen to the words, watch them dance, and boy can these kids dance their cartoon butts off!
The Backyardigans is what all kids shows should strive for. Remember Bugs Bunny and how great he was when you were a kid? You watch Bugs now and he's still funny, but for completely different reasons. That's the way Backyardigans is. It's great for kids - my boys love it. When it comes on, they jump up and dance and sing along. They watch the same episodes over and over (ah, the joys of Tivo), and the thing is, I watch them over and over with them.
The shows are not dummed down to appeal to kids. They are smart and sophisticated and silly, and they let kids be smart, sophisticated and silly. Because that's the way kids really are, if you just let them be. Kids aren't monkies compulsively pushing the button to get a food pellet, unless that's the only kind of interaction you offer them. George Lucas knew this when he made Star Wars. He forgot it when he made Phantom Menace.
The Backyardigans is the way television should be. It's on Noggin and Nick Jr, and CBS on Saturday mornings. Watch it even if you don't have kids. But if you do, you're missing out if you aren't sharing this with your offspring.