To most kids, television is like candy: There are simply no bad choices. If it moves across the screen, they'll watch it. Which is why parents have to oversee a child's TV consumption in much the same way they need to monitor what a child eats. Of the two, the job of TV monitor is the one that's becoming more and more difficult after all, TV shows aren't required to post their nutritional content. With that in mind, Kids Extra scrutinized the season's new offerings as well as the old standbys programming from the networks and cable channels, shows for preschoolers and young teens. We've separated the good programs from the bad, the broccoli from the Super Sugar Pellets.
THE 10 BEST SHOWS
1. My So-Called Life Best kids' show? Best show, period. As Life's suburban family copes with the gritty issues of a 15-year-old daughter's coming-of-age-negotiating mature topics such as drinking, sex, and sexual identity-young viewers will feel validated and parents heartened: If this family can survive, maybe we will too.
2. Barney & Friends Granted, the puerile purple host nauseates parents as well as children over 6. But Barney's not trying to entertain us. Childhood is for children, and they deserve something that is completely their own, unsullied by coy adult asides. Barney is the purest kids' show on TV.
3. Disney's Aladdin Rich in detail and comedy, this animated spin-off has all the cleverness of the feature film and most of the same voices. Robin Williams is gone, but Dan Castellaneta (also the voice of Homer Simpson) makes a funny replacement Genie. The cartoon re-creates the magic of the movie and that's some trick.
4.Avonlea What does it say about contemporary culture that we get our best female role models from the 19th century? These warm and well-made tales of life in small-town Canada represent the highest achievement of the Little House on the Prairie genre.
5. The Magic School BusOn the wings of a yellow bus, grade-schoolers take fascinating trips through outer space, the ocean, and classmate Arnold's digestive system. Lily Tomlin, in a vocal tour de force, gives teacher Ms. Frizzle cheery authority and a core of mystery. (How does she get that bus into orbit?) The animated Bus entertains so completely, its viewers won't realize they're also learning something.
6. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Hall monitors with abs of steel, the five young Rangers fight crime, prejudice, and pollution to make the world safe for nerds like themselves. Don't knock this show just because it has been marketed to death Rangers is that rare mix of high tech and heart.
7. Reading Rainbow Promoting reading on TV would seem to be a contradiction, but Rainbowhas found the perfect formula for it, as well as the perfect host in LeVar Burton. In a sea of hyperactive programs, Rainbow is an enduring island of quiet literacy where books literally come to life.
8. The Adventures of Pete & Pete Two brothers named Pete chafe against authority, then grudgingly come to terms with it. The show is consistently funny, but the writers are out for more than laughs: Against a canvas of suburban cynicism they sketch some real insights. Pete makes parents nostalgic for their cynical teen years and shows kids there's light at the end of the puberty tunnel.
9. Family Double Dare In this game show, real parent-child teams compete in categories of smarts ("What is the capital of Australia?") and physical skill (which leaves everyone covered in mud, Jell-O, or green goo). Dare's deadpan style makes stunts like Toss Your Cookies hilarious for kids, but best of all is the sight of families doing something fun together.
10. The Nanny Most domestic sitcoms make children the butt of parents' jokes, parents the butt of kids' jokes, or generally pit the generations against each other. But this dysfunctional family actually seems to enjoy itself, thanks mostly to Fran Drescher's warmth and comic talent in the title role.
The 10 WORST SHOWS
1. Aaahh!!! Real Monsters Three disgusting animated creatures live underground, making armpit jokes and calling each other "Nose picker!" Kids don't want to be educated or fascinated, the show's writers seem to say, just titillated. Monsters doesn't even rise to the level of grotesque it's just plain gross.
2. Jim Henson's Dog City Actors in dog heads play dog cartoonists who converse with their canine creations. Dog cartoonists? Why didn't somebody think of this before? Because it's stupid.
3. My Brother & Me This unimaginative, formulaic family program boasts every standard sitcom cliché the prissy sister, the smart-aleck friend but not the charm of the shows it's trying to copy. Imagine Family Matters without Jaleel White's Urkel or Reginald VelJohnson's nurturing father figure.
4. America's Funniest Home Videos This barrage of stupid human tricks gives kids the distinct and unsettling sense that whenever they screw up, an adult will be there not to help, but to laugh at them. America's cruelest videos is more like it.
5. Darkwing Duck The vaguely exotic Darkwing yuks and quacks through the usual animated adventures. Duck can be tasteless like when the mad scientist induces brain damage with a hammer. But the show's biggest problem is that it's so frenetic you can't tell what's going on. Even if you want to.
6. Step By Step Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers dispense banalities to a blended brood of cookie-cutter kids. There was only one Brady Bunch; this is not it.
7.Beavis and Butt-head They may have been exonerated of teaching kids how to set their trailer homes on fire, but B&B are by no means off the hook. As long as these graceless vulgarians aim at the lowest common denominator, their humor is shameless pandering, not genuine satire.
8. Married...With Children Kids have latched onto this show, probably because it embodies everything their parents don't want them to become: profane, promiscuous, and bitter. The caustic humor is awful for children, who should have a bit more life under their belts before they get so world-weary.
9. Sonic the Hedgehog Sonic doesn't know if it wants to be Indiana Jones or Bambi or a commercial for Nintendo. The semi-superhero hedgehog and his sidekicks, including a squirrel with cleavage, are mere fur balls without a shred of charisma.
10. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Predictable and politically correct, Quinn harks back to an earlier era: not the Old West but the '50s, when Gunsmoke defined TV excellence. Yes, it has a strong female role model, but that hardly gives this mediocre show license for its aura of pretentiousness. Quinn doesn't deserve to sit so tall in the saddle.