The wonder hours: TV for tweens is there for the taking

| Sister Hosea Rupprecht | April 16, 2020 | 0 Comments

Young people are seen watching television in this undated photo. CNS photo/Netflix

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to keep many of us at home, parents of preteen kids may be anxious to discover TV programming likely to entertain 9- to 12-year-olds. Following, in alphabetical order, are some brief reviews of tween-oriented shows available on major streaming services.

Hailing originally from Canada, the Amazon Prime series “Annedroids” will appeal to the young geeks among us. Nick (Jadiel Dowlin) has just moved into a new home with his mom (Raven Dauda) when he notices something strange about the fence that surrounds a property across the street.

Upon investigating, he finds a junkyard inhabited by robots. He literally bumps into Anne (Addison Holley), whose father (James Gangl) runs the place. She informs him that these beings — androids, rather than robots — are all of her creation. Nick and his next-door neighbor, Shania (Adrianna Di Liello), quickly team up with Anne and have lots of fun building things from the castoffs in her dad’s scrap heap.

Parents might use the show to encourage youngsters to work with their hands and create something — whether practical or whimsical — from materials found around the house.

“Brainchild,” a Netflix original, takes a scientific approach as it explores a wide variety of topics. In a documentary form that’s fun for kids, host Sahana Srinivasan expounds on subjects as far-ranging as social media, dreams, emotions, space and the oceans.

With animation, humorous “reenactments” and input from a character called Science Lady (Alie Ward), each episode of “Brainchild” succeeds in making learning fun.

The episode devoted to germs seems especially appropriate for these times. It teaches viewers that not all germs are bad, but also shows them how to combat the ones that are harmful.

“The Healing Powers of Dude,” also on Netflix, follows Noah Ferris (Jace Chapman), an 11-year-old with social anxiety disorder, as he transitions from at-home instruction to attending school. Helping him make the change is his emotional support dog, Dude (voice of Steve Zahn).

No, Dude doesn’t talk. But much of the comedy derives from the fact that the audience is privy to his thoughts.

Despite his best efforts to stay away from everyone in his new surroundings, Noah soon bonds with two fellow students, Simon (Mauricio Lara) and wheelchair-bound Amara (Sophie Kim). Noah’s parents (Larisa Oleynik and Tom Everett Scott), meanwhile, also go through quite an adjustment as they cautiously encourage Noah to step beyond his comfort zone.

The series does contain some juvenile potty humor. Yet, overall, it tackles its protagonist’s difficulties creatively and with sensitivity.

The program might serve as the starting point for a family discussion about how to treat peers and others with disabilities, whether physical or psychological. As such, it presents an opportunity to instill pro-life values at an early age.

“The InBESTigators” comes to Netflix from Down Under. Four Australian tweens form a detective agency, offering their expertise in observation and deduction to people needing help with various problems.

Maudie (Anna Cooke) is the brains of the operation. She’s aided by fellow sleuths Ezra (Aston Droomer), Ava (Abby Bergman) and Kyle (Jamil Smyth-Secka).

The show is presented in the style of a video blog as the kids take turns recounting their successes. In one typical episode, a student’s science project — a diorama of the solar system — goes missing, and it’s up to the team to determine whether it was stolen or whether their client actually completed her assignment in the first place.

Parents might want to use the series as a chance to discuss how the youngsters on screen employ facts and logic to reach solutions. They might also make the program a springboard for introducing older kids to such famous literary detectives as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

“The Kicks” is an Amazon Prime original centering on tween Devin Burke (Sixx Orange). Originally from Connecticut, Devin moves with her family to California when her dad, Tom (Tim Martin Gleason), becomes the CEO of a hummus company.

A star soccer player, Devin finds that her new school’s team leaves much to be desired. And, as it becomes clear that she is by far the best practitioner of the “beautiful game” among the students there, she finds animosity and resentment hampering her efforts to fit in and make friends.

Unlike some other shows aimed at youngsters, “The Kicks” portrays adults in a refreshingly positive light.

Thus Devin’s parents — Monica Lacy plays her mom, Sharon — are involved both in Devin’s life and that of her younger brother, Bailey (Gabe Eggerling). Nor are the older Burkes afraid to share with Devin and Bailey the difficulties they’re experiencing as they struggle to adjust to new surroundings and make new friends.

“The Kicks” might prompt intergenerational discussion of how to welcome strangers and include outsiders. More broadly, it also presents parents with the opportunity to talk about the need to cope with change in general.

“Sigmund and the Sea Monsters,” also on Amazon, will appeal to those on the younger end of the tween spectrum. It’s an updating of the 1973-74 NBC program of the same name created by Sid and Marty Krofft.

The fantasy premise involves three kids, brothers Johnny (Solomon Stewart) and Scotty (Kyle Breitkopf) and their cousin Robyn (Rebecca Bloom), discovering a sea monster named Sigmund (voiced by Drew Massey) on the beach. Much like Disney’s Little Mermaid, Sigmund is anxious to learn all he can about the world of humans.

Silly antics ensue as the children try to conceal Sigmund from the adults around them. They’re especially anxious to keep him hidden from Captain Barnabus (David Arquette), an over-the-top old salt who’s convinced that sea monsters are real, despite the ridicule this elicits from his fellow townsfolk.

The show presents an opportunity for parents to explain to kids some of the techniques involved in producing a program of this type. It took two people, for example, to operate each of the sea monster puppets in the series. Youngsters might also be interested to learn about voice acting and set decoration.

“The Who Was? Show” from Netflix is a live-action sketch comedy series presenting the lives of famous historical figures in a fresh, breezy way that’s well calculated to engage kids’ interest. In uneasy collaboration with their often-dopey adult impresario, Ron (Andrew Daly), the recurring teen cast choose two people per episode to profile, usually an unlikely pair such as Albert Einstein and Joan of Arc.

The biographies are funny, as too are such gags as having Ancient Egypt’s King Tut give “Tut Talks.” The tongue-in-cheek tone of this small-screen adaptation of the “Who Was…?” series of books helps to convey information painlessly.

Auxiliary activities could include having youngsters choose one person portrayed on the show and do more research about him or her online. Or kids could put on their own skit about celebrities from the past.

Sister Rupprecht, a Daughter of St. Paul, is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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