How big of an influence was The Electric Company on my life as a child of the ’70s?
To this day, regardless of what Academy Award-worthy drama he appears in, I can’t look at Morgan Freeman without mentally finger-snapping “Easy Reader, that’s my name — uh,uh, uhhhhhhh.”
My Twitter avatar is The Boy from “Love of Chair,” for Jennifer of the Jungle’s sake!
Needless to say, no one was quite as stoked for a new version of this classic PBS show than me. Unless it was my daughter.
For all her wisdom in the ways of Hanna Montana and Pokemon, her reading skills have never been overwhelming. She needed summer school after first grade and barely escaped it after second. But weekly tutoring and the 4 DVD Best of the Electric Company helped quite a bit in the past year. One of my prouder accomplishments is that I can say aloud “T-I-O-N” and she’ll follow with “shun-shun-shun-shun” before you can click the close button.
On Jan. 19, the 2009 version of The Electric Companydebuted four episodes. I TiVo’d the suckers, popped up some microwave kettle corn and sat down with Thing 1 to watch and learn. After a little more than two episodes, she gave up. Her most repeated comment, which I scribbled down three times during the shows, was “lame.” Those were interspersed with the periodic “hate it.”
Obviously, the show has been radically updated for the modern moro- … I mean, child. The promos and reviews I read all mentioned how it’s geared toward today’s video game addicted, CGI-dazzled, hip-hop loving 6- to 9-year-olds. That’s fine. I’m all for letting children dip their broccoli in ranch dressing to make it go down easier. But this new version may be more like drowning it in butter, Cheez Whiz and maple syrup.
Rather than wall-to-wall skits and jingles, the new show focuses mostly on a group of neighborhood “kids” (one of whom looks like he’s busting to get to a frat kegger) with super powers that let them produce “word balls” from their fingertips and throw them up on walls. Some other kids called the Pranksters (the two guys here look like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse rejects) want to steal these powers. Why anyone has these powers to begin with and what they use them for other than killing time between songs is a mystery.
Thing 1 greeted these sections with a yawn. To me, these plots — all of which required voiceover explanations at the start of the show — moved like snails carrying anvils across flypaper. Maybe my Power Ranger-loving son would have dug it, but I couldn’t pull him away from his Nintendo DS to watch.
The show has lots of flash: Wachowski-wannabe graphics, quick cuts, musical blare and lots of beatboxing. Lots and lots of beatboxing. Sooooo much beatboxing. Pffft, pp, pffft — shut up already, annoying pasty guy who looks like the city-raised cousin of Kenny the Page from 30 Rock!
Frankly, I’m not a fan of most rap but I can see how its rhyme schemes and repetition lend itself to teaching language. And if it’s what the new breed digs, so be it. However, many of the songs on the new Electric Company are just loud, muddy and hurried. They leave no breathing room between lyric and lesson. Generally, I found the few nonhyper tunes, such as a recurring reggae cartoon character and the songs leaning more on R&B than urban stylings, generally more catchy to my aged, suburban white boy ears.
The problem may be that where the original show relied on ad-men who wrote insanely catchy jingles for soap flakes and canned pork-and-beans for its songs, the new show depends on help from the musical team who wrote Broadway’s “In the Heights.” I live a commuter-train ride from the Great White Way and I’ve yet to encountered an 8-year-old humming something from that score.
I know I’m stuck in the past and Thing 1 is tainted by the viewing classic series, but I’m sure the new show will have its fans — just don’t count us among them. I truly hope it is as successful as its predecessor. But a word of advice to the people behind the 2009 version: either drop the token homages to the original Electric Company you are awkwardly throwing in or at least take them up a few notches?
For example,if you are going to have the two people in silhouette put words together could you, as Thing 1 pointed out, stop making it sound so random and choppy. The words should flow seamlessly with the rhythm and melody as such: