Long story short: I spent a lot of time this fall babysitting for two small boys on the Upper East Side, ages one-and-a-half and three, both named after Lord of the Rings characters by a father who had a lot of Jimmy Buffett books on his shelf and may go see the Jimmy Buffett musical when it comes to New York.
The weird thing about children these days, as opposed to when I was a kid, is that you can’t just “put on” the TV. They won’t just watch whatever’s on. They are fully aware that their parents have Amazon Prime. They may not know how it works, but they know there is no reason why they can’t watch exactly what they want to watch, all the time.
Furthermore, it’s not just Barney, Clifford, and Spongebob anymore. In fact, these kids hate that stuff because it looks old and creepy now. Networks are producing an insane amount of kids shows, and, especially in the case of Amazon and Netflix, things are getting very weird. This list will break down which of these bizarre shows you should watch, and how you should watch them, if you also want a laugh while you entertain your child, or the child in your care. This is the new generation of shows you wish you were stoned for.
The Stinky & Dirty Show (Amazon)
Based on the book of the same name, The Stinky & Dirty Show follows Stinky, a garbage truck, and Dirty, a backhoe loader, who live in a town populated only by vehicles. All the humans seem to have died or left due to some biohazard, but the trucks and cars continue doing their jobs. It’s all they’ve ever known. If that’s not enough to entertain you, consider the homoerotic implications of two male trucks, one of whom is constantly backhoe-ing garbage into his best friend. Once you start seeing things that way, you’ll never be able to stop. I’m sorry.
Tumble Leaf (Amazon)
A blue fox named Twig and his caterpillar best friend Stick live in a Robinson Crusoe-esque treehouse with a bunch of other weirdos, and every episode they learn the mechanics of an item – a gear, say, or a kite – in order to teach children science. But if you, like me, are wondering why this is called Tumble Leaf, Twig will answer that question repeatedly and obnoxiously. “Rumble Leaf, Tumble Leaf; let’s go play!” he says, over and over again. It doesn’t make any sense, and it’s almost enough to drive you insane, that is until you imagine Twig’s brutal experience at a psychiatric facility, where he will no doubt be lobotomized one day. Picture that as you cut the crusts off the boys PB&Js, and it’ll carry you though the day.
Truck Tunes 2 (Netflix)
Truck Tunes is an insane series of films that combines stock footage of trucks at work with songs sung by a guy who sounds a lot like Andrew Rannells from Girls. Just when you think there isn’t another truck to sing about, there’s always another truck to sing about. So much so that it puts you into a sort of zen trance, and, like watching bad musical improv, you can try and work overtime to guess which forced rhyme for “concrete” Truck Tunes will pick, but they’ll always be one step ahead of you. It’s a delight.
I can’t believe that I wasn’t the wealthy genius who realized that every little kid goes through a dinosaur phase and then a truck phase in quick succession, and that there’s no reason why there can’t be a TV show about half-dinosours-half-trucks, even if that bends all preconceived notions of reality. They’re robots that look exactly like dinosaurs, but the live in the Mechazoic era, so… they are dinosaurs? Anyway, the adventures of Ty Rux (an excavator who looks like a T-rex) and his best friend Revvit (a half-lizard, half-rotary drill) are unironically great. They get even better when you capitalize on the child’s obsession by insisting that every dino toy is a truck and every truck toy is a dino. They get confused, and then very sad, and then very happy once they realize the universe is chaos and there are no rules.
Ask the StoryBots (Netflix)
The StoryBots live inside what I can only imagine are the slowest computers on Earth. Basically, the idea is that when you type a question into a computer, the StoryBots are assigned to figure out the answer and then explain it to you. But what makes this show fun for adults – and comedy fans specifically – is that they actually get some pretty cool guest stars. Judy Greer voices the main StoryBot (creatively named “Beep”), and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see Jay Leno, Kevin Smith, Whoopi Goldberg, Garfunkel and Oates, Weird Al, Tim Meadows, and Chris Parnell show up. Also, I didn’t know the answers to a lot of those questions. Even, like, “Where does the rain come from?” So it was helpful in that sense, too.
Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom (Nick Jr.)
Holly Thistle is the fairy princess whose parents rule over the Little Kingdom. Ben Elf is her best friend, a member of a slave race of elves that exist only to make wands for the ruling class of fairies in their factory in the Great Elf Tree. The elves are also all forced to bear their race as their surname. Either that or every elf is part of an incestuous mating routine that keeps the Little Kingdom populated with workers. Ben and Holly are stupid and their adventures are insufferable, but you hold on to the image of those unseen inbred elf babies and the other horrifying implications of this caste society, and you’ll be okay.
Bubble Guppies (Nick Jr.)
You know how many times they manage to say “SpongeBob SquarePants” in the opening credits of SpongeBob SquarePants? I guarantee that they cram the phrase “Bubble Guppies” into the opening credits of Bubble Guppies more. Bear with me; the Bubbble Guppies are merpeople preschoolers who live in an underwater city called Bubbletucky. The fun thing is, they call all sorts of things that should be one thing another thing. Here’s an example: an “ambulance” is called a “clambulance.” I’m not kidding when I say I laughed so hard at that I almost dropped a knife on my foot. Also, they have to call a clambulance when one of the Bubble Guppies breaks his tail, which is basically the merperson equivalent of breaking your spine/legs, I think.
PAW Patrol (Nick Jr.)
So this kid named Ryder organizes a group of rescue dogs known only to civilians as the “PAW Patrol.” These dogs constantly have to rescue and protect the denizens of Adventure Bay, which, if you need rescuing all the goddamn time, then you shouldn’t live in a place called “Adventure Bay.” There are a lot of objectively cool things about the PAW Patrol; they all have doghouses that turn into specialized vehicles, for example. That’s awesome. But what’s most entertaining about the PAW Patrol is Chase, who is basically a cop. Every scene of PAW Patrol becomes fucking hysterical when you imagine Chase’s boiling frustration at having his gun taken away after an internal investigation.
Team Umizoomi (Nick Jr.)
The little Lord of the Rings boys went crazy for Team Umizoomi. The problem was, when the would first ask for me to put on Umizoomi, I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, it sounded like gibberish, and every time their mom came home I stressed about having to maybe tell her that her son had a speech impediment. Anyway, the show itself follows two mini-superheroes named Milli and Geo, as well as their robot companion (creatively named “Bot”). The animation on this show is objectively gorgeous and trippy as hell. Everything in their bizarre little world is made out of undulating, unfurling origami papers, and I am constantly reminded of the time I got high and saw Doctor Strange. It produces that effect in you naturally, which is exactly what I always needed when babysitting these kids.