Super WHY? Heck If I Know!

So, as the parent of a three year old, I watch a fair amount of children’s television. Some of it, I love. The best kids’ TV does a good job of appealing to both youngsters and their parents. Lately, BA has dropped Between the Lions for one of PBS’ newest shows: Super WHY! Much to my chagrin.

Now, kids do well with structure. But saying that this show is “formulaic” is like saying that a paint-by-number gives you “a little guidance”. In all seriousness, I think that they could dose the coffee in the writers’ room with Rohypnol and Percodan, and no one would notice: it’s all on the rails.

  1. Wyatt greets us, and we are given the Super Big Problem.
  2. The Super Readers are gathered and briefed.
  3. They choose a book (by magic!) that will give them the Super Story Answer to their problem.
  4. They do a sentai transformation sequence and jump into the book.
  5. They read the story.
  6. In the course to trying to find the Super Letters that spell the answer, they encounter two problems. Two of Alpha Pig, Wonder Red, and Princess Presto overcome these problems.
  7. Super Why uses his power to read to change the story. He chooses the wrong option first, to comical effect.
  8. The Super Readers save the day. They find the last Super Letters.
  9. Back in Storybrook village, the Super Duper Computer gives them their answer, and they discuss what it means.
  10. Finally, there’s a coda in which the Super Story Answer is put into action.

Oh, where to begin?

In almost every episode I’ve seen so far, the Super Big Problem is actually some hideous social gaffe committed by one of the team. Wyatt messes up his brother’s room, or Red Riding Hood takes one of Peter Piper’s pickled peppers without asking. Sure, important messages to impart to kids. Manners, not quitting, helping out at home… but Super Big Problems? And, seriously, how much time, effort, and magic do these kids devote to basically telling each other to behave?

The stories have familiar names, but the writers don’t have any compunction about rewriting them into Super Obvious Parallels to the episode’s issue. Take, for example, the Ugly Duckling: a tale about a young duck(!) who isn’t able to swim, and, thus, cannot attend the swim party scheduled for later in the day. A heart-warming tale of perseverance! There’s also the story of Hansel and Gretel, and how they ate part of the witch’s gingerbread cookie house without asking. And the giant on the beanstalk, whose cries of, “fee fi fo fum,” are a Super Big Temper Tantrum. Or the boy who cried wolf: there really was a wolf—who was friendly—but the townsfolk wouldn’t believe the boy when he claimed to have seen him. Gah!

And then there’s my near certainty that Alpha Pig doesn’t actually have a name in his civilian identity (he only introduces himself by saying, “P is for pig!” and no one ever addresses him by name).

There are so many things that I want to like about this show. I’m sure that it’s played at least some role in BA’s growing ability to name all of the letters in the alphabet. Some of the educational design is quite admirable. And the animation—especially the way they blend the separate looks of the Storybrook characters and the worlds inside the books—is really pretty cool. But the whole package is so saccharine and pat and omgi’mgoingtotearmyeyesoutifhewantstowatchanotherepisode!!

Please, please, BA. Get over this soon.