When you don't have kids, you might have a list of things you swear you won't do when/if you become a parent. However, if you're lucky enough to birth a screaming lump of vernix caseosa, a long slow process of compromising that "never" list begins. Of course, you're not going to feed your kid fast food—until that one day where you're super tired and really overwhelmed and it turns out your nine-month-old will absolutely house some French fries. 

TV is a lot like that, in that you're really not supposed to let kids watch it, and certainly not for more than two hours a day. And just like that overwhelmed day where you broke down and held a box of fries out to your toddler with the most pleading "sir, this is a Wendy's" possible, you're one day going to think, "maybe they'll shut the hell up if they see a cartoon." I'm here to help with that process.

whiskey

Photostube/Pixabay

Hey, it's just TV, not whiskey. NO whiskey until they're five; that's the rule!

First, an aside on managing your kid's TV expectations in the age of streaming:

If you're a child-haver in 2021, chances are good that you grew up watching TV with commercials you couldn't skip and showtimes you couldn't miss unless you could tape it on a VHS. Or maybe you're slightly younger than my Crypt Keeper-esque 33 years, and you grew up with DVR—where you still had to fast-forward through commercials. 

Not so for today's toddlers. My TV has Netflix, HBOMax, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, all just hanging out on a Roku, ready to spit out whatever request pops into my three-year-old's chaos brain any hour of the day. We watched How The Grinch Stole Christmas in literal goddamn July this year because he knew he could ask for it. Know how I watched The Grinch as a kid? Sometime in December, my parents went into the attic and got out the Christmas stuff, which included our Grinch DVD. My kid doesn't have to be so patient, and it's a good idea to jump out ahead of that.

Some simple rules we made were "TV doesn't come on until after your nap" and "no TV during meals." These are easy enough for even the most impulsive two-year-old to understand. In retrospect, I wish I'd set up specific times of the day when he could watch TV and fill the rest of those hours with arts and crafts and games or something. In my defense, the one-two punch of an isolating pandemic and the frigid, Hoth-like Chicago winter really did a number on my depression, and before I knew it, I had a toddler who wanted the TV on to whatever he felt like at all hours. Not my proudest parenting moment. Do your best to not be me. But definitely take my advice on what shows to watch …

Super Simple Songs

What it is and why kids like it: 

You're not gonna believe this, but Super Simple Songs is a collection of musical numbers that are easy to sing. Accompanied by both animation and puppets, these ditties earworm into your toddler's brain faster than actual worms burrow through dirt. The songs are sometimes traditional nursery rhymes, sometimes original content, and always catchy.

Super Simple Songs

Super Simple Songs

And often lengthy

It's been road-tested, too: Super Simple was created by a couple of Canadians teaching at an English school in Japan. Their goal was to have songs "simple enough for young children learning English, but fun enough for older, native-English speaking children," according to co-founder Devon Thagard. Baby Mozart might be wishful thinking, but it's never a bad thing for children to be exposed to music. Might as well try to reach them where they are and make it fun in the process. 

What I Think:

I might be biased because I'm a musician, but it ruled when my kid developed enough linguistic skills to start singing along to these songs. Maybe some parents find it annoying, but I never get tired of hearing my son sing along to the TV. In fact, just a week ago, he started singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" completely unprompted, and I nearly cried.

Super Simple Songs

Super Simple Songs

Later, he sang of getting peaches out in Georgia, and I cried harder. 

As a parent, there's something really rad about hearing those shockingly powerful vocal cords used to find "melody" instead of "decibel levels outlawed by the Geneva Convention." Plus, my kid's been obsessed with this Halloween one for like three months, which means he's either a burgeoning goth or super into the reharmonization of "Down By The Bay," and honestly? Either is super exciting.

Blippi

What it is and why kids like it: 

Blippi is, in his own words, "a fun, energetic character known for … his entertaining and educational videos." He's a clown without face paint. The kind of cloying, squeaky-voice-having goofball parents roll their eyes at, but kids go nuts for. In his defense, the content is educational. He's frequently spelling out words as big letters appear on screen. He visits playgrounds, aquariums, and construction sites while clearly explaining the world around him. Hell, he taught me that that's what an excavator is. The benefit to the kids is real. But Mr. Rogers, he is not. (You've never wanted to wedgie Mr. Rogers.)

Here's the thing: have you ever wondered what the "don't forget to SMASH that like button and HIT SUBSCRIBE for more videos EVERY DAY" type of YouTuber would look like as a kids' show? That's Blippi. He spells his name like four times an episode. His theme song encourages kids to shout his name. The man behind Blippi, Stevin John, has a background in marketing and SEO optimization, and it shows. He is a birthday clown for the algorithm era. He's the embodiment of Big Tech and capitalism taking over children's entertainment the same way those forces took over taxi services and the post office.

Also, there was that time in 2013 when Stevin John—not as Blippi, but as a character he created named "Steezy Grossman"—filmed himself, to quote Buzzfeed, taking "an explosive diarrhea shit on his nude friend's ass." For his part, Stevin John seems to deeply regret that part of his life. The video was erased from the internet, and his lawyers sent Buzzfeed cease-and-desist orders when they attached it to that article. Stevin John isn't even his original name, it was Stevin J. Grossman, but he legally changed it to try to escape the stigma of the viral video. Unfortunately, it'd be journalistic and comedic malpractice not to mention that THAT DUDE DROPPED A DEUCE ON HIS FRIEND'S BUTT! LIKE POOP-CEPTION! LIKE A POOP POTLUCK! *Inception BRAAM except it's a fart*

What I think:

Remember in the last entry, when I was like, "some parents might find singing annoying," like some sanctimonious Live Laugh Love jerk who outwardly projects perfect inner peace while raising a toddler? The truth is, I find a Biblical multitude of things my kid enjoys annoying, and Blippi is chief among them. It's not just the poop thing—that's off-putting, but people are allowed to grow and change—he's just irritating. Part of it is the Logan Paul-ness of his relentless self-promotion; most of it is his stupid voice. Blippi came on our TV because of the cursed Pandora's Box that is the YouTube algorithm, my kid was immediately hooked, and I've regretted it ever since. 

Blippi

Amazon

Consider blocking Blippi, and then having a discussion with your child about bowties and suspenders.

Unfortunately, with toddlers, you gotta pick your battles. Blippi isn't a battle I'm willing to fight. As of this writing, he likes Blippi less than he used to, a trend I'm hoping continues. Still loves excavators, though.

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Peppa Pig

What it is and why kids like it: 

Set in a world where all surnames are species names (Peppa Pig) and all first names are based on familial relations (Daddy Pig, Uncle Pig, Grandpa Pig), there's a Psych 101 paper to be written about how Peppa Pig encourages egocentricism. Besides that, the show is pretty inoffensive and fun. Episodes are like five minutes long, there's never any real tension, and the humor is clever. Cracked superscribe JM McNab has already pointed out the subtle allusions to the schoolteacher being a vampire. I'm prone to giggle at this episode, which is three and a half minutes of build-up to a "bull in a China shop" joke

Peppa Pig

Nick Jr.

Teaching kids that like buttons aren't the only thing that can be smashed. 

One word of (cuteness) warning, though, for something called "The Peppa Effect." That's when American children watch Peppa Pig and start talking like they have a mouthful of beans on toast and dream of colonizing India when they grow up. The Guardian actually asked Dr. Susannah Levi, a real-life linguist, about the phenomenon. She downplayed it, saying toddlers develop accents from interactions, not entertainment. Now, we at Cracked take the opinions of experts seriously—this site is one half dick jokes and one half hard, high-stamina, rigorous research—but I call bullshit on that single pull quote from Dr. Levi. My kid hasn't gone full Madonna, but he definitely means "cookies" when he asks for "biscuits," calls zebras "zeh-bras," and stretches the word "sure" into like eight syllables. The Peppa Effect is real. Your kid's going to have a bad British accent. Luckily, it's adorable.

What I Think:

Peppa Pig absolutely falls under the "trying to entertain both parents and kids" 'category of children's entertainment. There's tons of droll British humor, it's simple, and in the parlance of our times, Peppa is a savage. This show is pure fun.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

What it is and why kids like it: 

Kids today have it rough. But maybe the saddest truth of all is that our kids are growing up without the kindest human to exist, Mr. Fred Rogers. 

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood is an animated spinoff of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, featuring characters descended from the "Land of Make Believe" segments Mr. Rogers would do with puppets. Every episode features a catchy song with lessons like "when you're sick, rest is best" or "you can take a turn, and then I'll get back" (guess which two we've been focusing on at my house lately). No one in the cast is that annoying, the songs aren't cloyingly childish, and the Land Of Make Believe has a robust, clean-energy public transit system, the virtues of which it is never too early to teach children.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

PBS Kids

Like so many solutions, it’s powered by imagination. 

Part of what makes Daniel Tiger wonderful is that it's a respectful way to teach the virtues Mr. Rogers embodied without being a watered-down repetition of a formula. No other human could do what Mr. Rogers did, and to try would be almost as bad as when that grubby sexist Mike Richards tried to ruin Jeopardy. Instead, Daniel Tiger takes the magical, inclusive, and respectful-to-children world Mr. Rogers created, repackages it with even more songs and bright colors, and continues his legacy.

What I Think:

I've talked before about how Daniel Tiger inadvertently helped me be a better person. Buy me a beer, and I'll talk for hours about my theory that the Land of Make Believe is a socialist paradise despite having a monarch. Actually, they treat their monarchs the way monarchs should be treated: King Friday is forced to let everyone take whatever they want from his garden, and Prince Tuesday has like 17 jobs, all service-based (restaurant server, grocery store clerk, trolley cleaner). Jesus Christ himself would love the Neighborhood of Make Believe, what with his whole "the first shall be last, the last shall be first" crazy talk.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

PBS Kids

Great for teaching equality, not so great for teaching ordinals.

In my mind, it's a perfect kids' show. Well, maybe not perfect—it's the reason I have to dress as a firefighter for Halloween this year. I don't want to be a firefighter, but I'm gonna be. It's fine, I guess. At least my kid's not into PAW Patrol.

Paw Patrol

What it is and why kids like it: 

Some dogs are cops. Except not really cops, they're more like a vigilante agency run by this ten-year-old kid, and they go around solving problems usually created by incompetent and/or corrupt government bureaucrats. They're like if Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher boned and then gave birth to a litter of puppies who were adopted by the Koch brothers.

Paw Patrol

Nickelodeon

Plus, the animation's nothing to write home about. 

So why do kids like it? My best guess is it fulfills that fantasy of kids being able to fix adults' problems. A corrupt adult makes a mess, then a 10-year-old kid calls some heroic puppy dogs to heroically save the day. That's basically the MCU, but with puppies. Of course, it's appealing. 

What I Think:

Before you whine about my politics getting in the way of understanding PAW Patrol, let's consult an expert. Yep, there's academic evidence to back up Paw Patrol being trash. U.K.-based criminologist Liam Kennedy claims the show is anti-government, neoliberal, pro-capitalist, and overly individualistic. The Guardian even compares Mayor Humdinger to Donald Trump, calling him "another blond North American megalomaniac." Vulture simply thinks the show sucks, saying Paw Patrol "neither tries to entertain parents nor encourages kids to become better people." And if the endless stream of news showing cops needlessly killing peoplebeing overly racist, and flagrantly lying about their misconduct hasn't taught you that cops aren't great role models for kids, well … I don't know what to tell you.

Paw Patrol

Nickelodeon

The show actually went dark during the police protests because there's no ignoring reality. 

Don't watch PAW Patrol. Block it on YouTube, ban it from the house. Your child is far too young to be inundated with Copaganda. Instead, educate yourself and your children on why blind cop worship is inherently bad. The sooner your kid learns that, the better.

Sesame Street (Specifically Elmo)

What it is and why kids like it: 

Look, it's Sesame Street. You likely grew up watching; your kid is going to experience it in some form. And I could go on about how the show has consistently tried to champion diversity and inclusion or write 1,000 words about how we need more Cookie Monster/Tom Waits mashups, but instead, I'm going to zero on a defense of a controversial Sesame Street character: that glockenspiel-voiced Red Menace himself, Elmo. Seen here showing absolutely no consideration for Telly:

The "Elmo's World" segment was developed in 1998, long after Big Bird had become bigger than Jesus Christ himself to preschoolers. The idea was a stream-of-consciousness break from the realism of the show, a segment where toddlers could be led through an experience by a monster who was also three years old and discovering the world. Elmo's World—both in show and segment form—is entirely designed to empower toddlers' learning. 

Elmo is thinking about a single topic—the beach, violins, jumping—and he explores that single topic through a million different mediums. There's a part where Elmo asks other kids to show him how they jump, and then it cuts to like three different toddlers jumping. Seeing other kids do a thing the main character sincerely asked how to do empowers the kid watching at home to think about how they would do the thing. There's also a segment where Elmo asks intentionally leading/stupid questions, while an unseen audience of kids answers for him. For instance, this clip of Elmo learning that a violin has strings and makes music:

Elmo: Does a flute have strings and make music?

Kids: A flute doesn't have strings. But you can make music with it.

Elmo: Does cheese have strings and make music? 

Kids: No, it doesn't have strings. And you can't make music with it.

Elmo: What about string cheese?

Kids: You can't make music with it, but it tastes good. 

Elmo empowers kids to think for themselves and learn along with him. And then there's Mr. Noodle. 

I can't believe I'm writing this, but a man in a grotesque clown suit going by the name "Mr. Noodle" is one of the most underrated characters in all of television. He's the best.

Mr Noodle

PBS

He’s the anti-Blippi. 

Mr. Noodle and his vast extended family are clowns in time-honored tradition: sweet, bumbling idiots who make comical mistakes and get corrected by toddler voiceovers, which empowers the kids to believe they can be as smart as/smarter than adults. If Elmo's thinking about bells today, Mr. Noodle will try to play dress-up with a bell, prompting kids to call him on his ridiculousness until he figures out how to ring a bell … which the kids already knew how to do. They get to help Mr. Noodle goofball his way through figuring something out, which teaches them to be not only capable, but also kind and patient. Mr. Noodle rules.

What I Think:

Look, I get it. Elmo is shrill, Elmo is irritating, Elmo's humor is not designed to secretly appeal to adults. But the amount he resonates with toddlers and how quickly they pick up on educational cues … man, you're missing out if you overlook Elmo. Steel yourself against the annoying bits and find the pleasures in watching your kid learn and laugh along with a literal monster. It's either genuinely fun, or I belong on Shutter Island. And what is parenting without constantly wondering if you belong on a reality-bending insane asylum, questioning every thought and perception you have? To find out more about if it's time for a lobotomy, Elmo will ask Mr. Noodle. Oh Mr. Nooooooddddllle …

Chris Corlew is begging you not to share this article with his child’s pediatrician. He will happily tell you about his theory that Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a socialist paradise and that The Neighborhood of Make Believe is a model society for the real world on Twitter.

Top image: Nickelodeon

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