U.S. News & World Report, August 21, 1989 v107 n8 p64(1)
DeGrassi High. (television program reviews) Marc Silver.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1989 U.S. News and World Report, Inc.
TELEVISION * A preview of the fall lineup on the networks,
cable and video uning into a test pattern would be preferable to watching most
of the Tnew fall TV programs for children. Aside from a couple of potential
gems, the networks are shoveling forth their usual array of Saturday-morning
cartoons and mindless family sitcoms. And the Public Broadcasting System is so
stra ed for cash that it will introduce only one new kids' series, and that
won't air until early next year. But by tapping into cable TV and home videos,
parents can provide their children with a broad array of educational and
entertaining shows and tapes. Here is what's in store on the tube and on video
during the months ahead.
* The networks TV shows for family audiences tend to range
between unbelievably wholesome and utterly ridiculous. But reality intrudes
nice"Life Goes On," an ABC series about a family including a child
with Down syndrome, a form of mental retardation. Christopher Burke, born with
Down syndrome, plays 18-year-old Corky, who transfers to a regular high school
after years of special education. Warm, funny and rarely mawkish, the show
gives children and adults a sense of what it is like to have a Down child in
the family and how such a person feels.
Aside from "Life Goes On," the best the networks
have to offer children comes in the afternoon. ABC's "Afterschool
Specials" and CBS's "Schoolbreak Specials" each will air about
six new episodes. Leading off will be "My Dad Can't Be Crazy . . . (Can
He?)," about a family's efforts to cope with Dad's mental illness. (ABC,
September 14) and "Frog Girl: The Jenifer Graham Story," based on the
true story of an animal lover who refused to dissect a frog in biology class
(CBS, October 17). Past shows have won praise for their treatment of
controversial topics, and some acclaimed repeats will be sbown this year, including
"Date Rape" (ABC, Se tember 28).
For shows that teach as well as entertain, families have
come to rely on PBS. "Tales from the Brothers Grimm," the sole new
PBS entry, takes Old World fairy tales and places them in the Appalachian
Mountains in the 1940s. The series' three, hour-long installments will air
early next year. In the meantime, "Sesame Street" will be back with
fresh episodes, and the students of "DeGrassi Junior High" will
graduate to "DeGrassi High." Tbe mid-January opener for this gritty
series examines a pregnant girl's decision to have an abortion.
Families looking for a little comic relief might tr"The
Simpsons," the Fox Network's prime-time animated series. Older viewers may
recall the hell-raising Simpson kids and their bickering parents from "The
Tracey Ullman Show." If the cartoon series is as funny as the short takes,
this could be a show parents and kids can laugh at together.
Cable The new offerings on cable are commendable, if not
completely original. "Eureeka's Castle," a "Sesame Street"
wanna-be, makes its debut on Nickelodeon on September 4. The show uses puppets
to teach tots the usual kid skills of sharing toys and coping with bullies.
Where "Sesame Street" has Big Bird"Eureeka's Castle" has
Magellan the Dragon, and two trash-loving puppets not so vaguely reminiscent of
Oscar the Grouch. The show lacks the wit of "Sesame Street," but its
gentle spirit should appeal to little kids. Nickelodeon also will introduce
"Fred Penner's Place," a Canadian series starring the second-most-famous
singer for preschoolers next to Raffi. The Disney Channel, which revived the
"Mickey Mouse Club" in April, turns to nature in its new series
"Super Sense." The six parter shows how fish, birds and other
critters use their senses to survive.
Video The best of the new videos draw on children's stories
for inspiration. "The Maurice Sendak Library" is one of four new
titles from Children's Circle ($19.95), which has made enchanting videos of
"Dr. De Soto," "The Mysterious Tadpole" and other stories
by using finely crafted animation, vibrant narration and lively music. Sony
Video also produces excellent tapes for children by commissioning original art
for classic tales and by hiring celebrity narrators and musicians. On the fall
schedule are Rudyard Kipling's "How the Leopard Got His Spots," read
by actor Danny Glover, with music by the South African group Ladysmith Black
Mambazo, and "Thumbelina," read by actress Kelly McGillis (both
This fall's releases also include the venerable "Bambi"
(Disney, $26.99) and "Song City USA," which offers an alternative to
MTV with clever tunes like "Dinosaur Rap" and "Peanut Butter
Blues" (Scholastic, $14.95). "Song City" eschews the sex and
violence of rock videos for hippos on surfboards and other such whimsy.
Video boom. A new series of Dr. Seuss videos (Random House,
$9.95) sounds promising, but there is far too much wordplay and not enough plot
to hold a child's interest. "Richard Scarry's Best ABC Video Ever!"
(Random ,House, $14.95) is a bit slow, although preschoolers may like its
cutesy animal characters.
Videos for kids are now the fastestgrowing segment of the
market, with 25 percent of the titles aimed at youngsters. However, large video
clubs, which stock mainly mass-market fare, are not always the best places to
shop. For lesserknown but worthwhile tapes such as "Abet's Island,"
the story of a marooned mouse, and the "Ramona" series, based on
Beverly Cleary's children's books, parents are better off turning to toy stores
and children's book outlets.
The fall will also bring a bit of price relief for
video-library builders. Children's Circle recently cut prices on individual
tapes in its library from $22.50 to $19.95. On September 28, Disney will reduce
its $14.95 line to $12.99, and other companies are expected to follow. But
beware of hucksters bearing free videos. "Video Toy Chest," to be
given out at malls across the country in October, is 75 percent toy
commercials, with a few public-service messages and quizzes thrown in.