When it comes to kids’ TV shows, I’m a big fan of shows that are highly entertaining for kids while also teaching them something.
Every once in a while, you can get a show like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that kids love, which happens to teach them some pretty great stuff about life.
This new PBS show Molly of Denali, which premiered the week of July 15 on PBS Kids (check local listings for time and channel in your area), has some high hopes along these lines. It’s not aimed to impart handily-wrapped up songified lessons like Daniel Tiger, but it’s aimed at slightly older kids and seems to want to teach them about other cultures, accepting others, and “diversity.”
I definitely think there are some good things here, but I’d say they don’t quite hit their mark.
Molly of Denali’s Aim
It’s about an adventurous preteen girl who is an Alaskan Native American. Molly has fun doing outdoor adventure-y things with her friends and learning about the culture of her ancestors.
I particularly like the concept of a girl’s show that’s about having adventures. After kids outgrow preschool programming, about all that’s out there for girls are shows about silly boy-craziness.
But I have serious doubts that this show will appeal to the kids it’s targeting. It’s a cartoon, with the same look as most preschool-friendly fair. Kids who aren’t into these preschool shows anymore are probably hoping for something a little more grown-up looking.
The technology issue
If it’s mostly just littler kids watching this, I’m not fond of its portrayal of characters using technology.
Molly and her friends almost constantly use phones and computers to make videos and do web searches. If maybe 12-year-olds are watching, I can see including this element to make it feel modern and relatable.
But a 5-year-old watching this? I imagine most young kids are plenty exposed to constant technology usage anyway. Do we really need to reinforce how fantastic it is and make them even more eager to use it, before they know how to be even remotely safe online?
The culture and diversity
This show has the first Native American lead ever in a kids show. I understand the desire to do this. Native American kids can see someone like themselves in a show, and kids of other races can see that we’re all the same despite physical differences.
All that is fine. But, as to be expected, this show tries a little too hard to reference the characters’ culture at every possible opportunity.
And then in the pilot there’s a reference to the past when Native American kids were forced into boarding schools and forbidden to speak their language or sing their songs. And it’s explained in a breezy little conversation that lasts about 30 seconds -- an awfully heavy issue to speed through in a kids' show.
Also, as they quickly explain it, the language they use (“We were made to feel bad about who we were -- now we honor our traditions and can be proud of them”) has a faint resemblance to language surrounding LGBT ideology. I may be paranoid, considering the onslaught of this type of thing sneaking into kids’ shows and movies lately, but it’s definitely something to watch for with this one in the future.
The other issue that pops up regarding cultural stuff here is that someone says a quick prayer-like thing that seems to be addressed to a river. This could definitely be confusing for Catholic kids -- “Well son, let me tell you about something called pantheism.”
I’m not a fan
I feel like there are a lot of good intentions with this show. I can definitely get behind the idea of creating content for girls that’s exciting and empowering. But I don’t think this show quite gets the job done.
And here's a full episode.