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Aug 8

Watch With Father: PJ Masks

Posted on Tuesday, August 8, 2017 by Paul in Watch With Father

Not all of Disney’s superheroes are in the Marvel Universe.  Meet the PJ Masks, six-year-old protectors of the Disney Junior channel.  When night falls, Connor, Amaya and Greg become Catboy, Owlette and Gecko, and they fight villains.  Specifically, night-time villains.


Aug 26

Watch With Father #12: Paw Patrol

Posted on Friday, August 26, 2016 by Paul in Watch With Father

I said I’d do a post on remakes.  We’ll get to that.  But the Boy is obsessed with Paw Patrol right now, so it seems a good time to write about it.  I’ve been seeing enough of it.

Paw Patrol is a hit pre-school franchise.  And it takes us for the first time outside the sheltering arms of CBeebies, into the world of Nickelodeon.  This is what happens when you take the kid on holiday and expose him to the Danish version of Nick Jr, which shows Paw Patrol incessantly.  (In the UK, you can get it on Nick Jr or Channel 5.)  The show’s appeal turns out to survive dubbing remarkably well.


May 20

Watch With Father #11: Chuggington

Posted on Friday, May 20, 2016 by Paul in Watch With Father

So two months ago I said I would write something about Chuggington.  The thing is, Chuggington is an above average pre-school CGI cartoon about talking trains.  But it’s neither especially innovative nor is it astonishingly good.  What it is, really, is the polished modern incarnation of one of the classic tropes.  It’s most interesting as a point of comparison.

Chuggington is about the adventures of a group of talking trains in a city conveniently built entirely around trains.  The show follows a group of young trains – “trainees”, naturally – as they learn to, well, be trains.  And work together and be good friends and, you know, all that sort of thing.

Now, trains are very popular with the very young.  But they’re also a cornered market.  If you’re doing a pre-school series about trains then you are going head to head with one of the big guns – Thomas the Tank Engine.


Mar 8

Watch With Father #10: Katie Morag

Posted on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 by Paul in Watch With Father

Katie Morag!  Far away, across the ocean!  Katie Morag!  Over the sea to Struay!  Dee dum de de dum de de dum de de dum…  actually, hold on.  Here’s the video.

So last time round, I looked at Balamory, CBeebies’ other show set in the Highlands.  Balamory was in part a reaction against the likes of Teletubbies and Tweenies, and it was certainly more down to earth than either.  But it was hardly rigorous in its quest for realism.  The village was ultimately a format device, and if half the cast were English or American actors using their own accents, or the occasional shot revealed the Glaswegian tenement block across the road from the nursery, well, nobody was losing much sleep about that.

Katie Morag is another matter.  It’s an adaptation of a series of books by Mairi Hedderwick, originally published sporadically between 1984 and 2007.  She lived on the island of Coll, and Katie Morag is a show that loves its Hebridean setting and remote island community.  This is the small town utopia where everyone knows everyone else because there literally aren’t that many people to know.  And the show takes its setting seriously, decamping to the Hebrides to film.

Feb 1

Watch With Father #9: Balamory

Posted on Monday, February 1, 2016 by Paul in Watch With Father

Yes, last time I said this was going to be Katie Morag.  But there are two shows on CBeebies set in the Inner Hebrides, and they couldn’t have much less in common, which is kind of interesting.  Balamory is aimed squarely at the nursery crowd.  And Katie Morag isn’t.  And it makes sense to do Balamory first.

Balamory was one of the first major commissions of the fledgling CBeebies station in 2002.  It doesn’t show its age too badly – some of the CGI in the credits is starting to look a bit ropey, and the nursery computer is visibly of an earlier generation, but otherwise it holds up.  It ran for four years, and while the precise number of episodes seems to vary depending on which source you look at, everyone seems to agree that it’s somewhere north of two hundred and thirty.  And by some accounts, even then, the main reason for ending it was that the cast wanted to move on.


Jan 6

Watch With Father #8: Gigglebiz & Justin’s House

Posted on Wednesday, January 6, 2016 by Paul in Watch With Father

Comedy for the very young.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  They’re unforgiving.  They don’t laugh politely.  There is no hiding place.  If you’re not getting it right, you will know .

Last time, we looked at Something Special, a robustly cheering exercise in good-naturedness, inclusiveness and communication.  But that’s just part of the empire of Justin Fletcher.  Aside from his voice acting work, he has two other shows in permanent rotation on CBeebies which are pure comedy: the sketch show Gigglebiz and the sitcom Justin’s House.


Dec 21

Watch With Father #7: Something Special

Posted on Monday, December 21, 2015 by Paul in Watch With Father

Even if you pay no attention to pre-school television, it’s quite possible that Mr Tumble has still managed to impinge on your consciousness, at least if you’re British.  Mr Tumble is the signature creation of Justin Fletcher.  And if anyone in pre-school TV counts as a megastar, it’s Justin Fletcher.

His shows are in near-permanent rotation on CBeebies.  He stars in three – there’s Mr Tumble’s home show Something Special, the sketch show Gigglebiz, and the pantomime sitcom Justin’s House.  But those are just the shows that he fronts.  He also crops up as a voice artist in Tweenies and Timmy Time.


Dec 4

Watch With Father #6: What’s The Big Idea?

Posted on Friday, December 4, 2015 by Paul in Watch With Father

What’s The Big Idea? is a strange little show.  CBeebies seems to schedule it mainly on the principle that it is five minutes long, and can thus be neatly slotted into any awkward five-minute gaps.  For a while, they were showing it directly after Swashbuckle, which was a sudden gear change if ever there was one.  Because What’s The Big Idea? is a pre-school philosophy show.

This might sound insanely niche, but judging from the barrage of production credits that appears at the end of each episode, some 13 channels around the world all thought they had a use for a five minute philosophy animation.


Nov 15

Watch With Father #5: Swashbuckle

Posted on Sunday, November 15, 2015 by Paul in Watch With Father

“A band of naughty pirates took some jewels from me / I hid on board their pirate ship and sailed on out to sea / But they weren’t watching where they went and shipwrecked on the sand / I want to win my treasure back – will you lend me a hand…?”  This is the theme song for Swashbuckle, one of the catchiest on British TV.

While Kerwhizz apes the format of a game show, Swashbuckle actually is one.  That might seem like a very obvious thing to do – you’ve got a whole network to fill, surely there’s space for a game show.  But think about it further.  This is a channel whose target audience runs up age 7 at a push (after that, you’re officially CBBC’s problem).  Game shows with older children have been around for decades, but this age range is another matter.


Oct 27

Watch With Father #4: Kerwhizz

Posted on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 by Paul in Watch With Father

Since I’ve written about three shows I more or less like, it’s time for some balance.  The opening credits of Kerwhizz  provoke involuntary flinching and a sense of mild dread.  The show is a decent idea on paper.  It could have been a great show.  But those quiz segments.  Oh god, those quiz segments.

Kerwhizz was made in 2008.  It was a major commission for CBeebies at the time – it was their first show to be made in HD – and it was hyped accordingly.  It was described as the first game show for pre-schoolers, which it really isn’t.  The BBC press release is a pile-up of bygone buzzwords – by the end of the first paragraph, the show has already been billed as a “mixed media pre-school quiz show”, and “a brand new breakthrough multi-platform entertainment format aimed at 4 to 6 year olds”.  (Quite how it can be both a pre-school quiz show and aimed at 4 to 6 year olds, when most British kids start school at age 4, is not readily apparent.)