New TV shows for kids on cable and syndication -- Ken Tucker reviews recent programs such as ''Rugrats,'' ''The Ren & Stimpy Show,'' and ''K-TV''

By Ken Tucker
Updated October 11, 1991 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • TV Show
  • Nickelodeon

New TV shows for kids on cable and syndication

Here’s a roundup of the fall’s most notable new children’s TV shows on cable and in syndication. Compared with the networks’ Saturday-morning fare dissected last issue, there’s a lot more good news here — fewer movie ripoffs, more news-related programming, and in the case of Nickelodeon, some inventive animation. You might have to scour your local TV listings to locate some of these shows, but the effort is worth it.

Wide World of Kids
Jason Hervey, the loutish older brother on The Wonder Years, is loutish in a more amiable way in this globe-trotting show, a sort of Lifestyles of the Young and Unfamous. Hervey and his cohost, Scott Grimes (Critters), seek out fellow teens who do interesting things, like 14-year-old French mountain climber Yves Charlet, whose mountaineer grandfather reached the top of Mont Blanc. Charlet gave the hosts mountain-climbing tips. While in France, Hervey and Grimes also attended a cooking class for young people at the legendary Cordon Bleu school. Here, the hosts didn’t offer information — they just made dumb-American-tourist comments like, ”I bet you guys make good French fries!” The show is ambitious in scope and looks expensive, but it’s kind of aimless and dreadfully afraid of dropping its wise-guy attitude, lest it seem (oh, horror!) educational. B-

This news and information series features a cast of amateur journalists ranging in age from 10 to 14. They offer reports about current events and the environment; host Molly Barber (Romper Room and Friends) elicits questions and comments about those reports from a studio audience of young people. Barber’s part of the show — in which, Donahue style, she goes into the audience with a hand mike — is awkward and uninformative. But the reports themselves manage to enlighten kids about the world around them without any discernible political slant, and the wildlife-education segments featuring animal-behavior expert Warren Eckstein are excellent little mini documentaries. All in all, an admirable effort. B

Way Cool
Six young cast members offer Saturday Night Live-style sketches that promote, in the words of co-executive producer Todd Kessler, ”friendship, family relationships, responsibility, and respect.” The problem is, these kids are way too cool, if you ask me. Their sketches seem as much satires on these values as promotions of them, and the quality of the humor is sub-sitcom. The hip-hop interludes featuring an educational rap-music duo, Partners in Kryme (which stands for Keeping Rhythm Your Motivating Energy), are pretty embarrassing — way uncool. C-

The Legend of Prince Valiant
The great Harold Foster newspaper comic strip Prince Valiant, created in 1937, strove heroically to make a dramatization of the Middle Ages accurate, exciting, and beautiful to look at. Here, however, the strip has been turned into a poorly animated show that has all the drama of a bad high school pageant. Familiar actors provide the voices — Robby Benson is Prince Valiant, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is King Arthur, and Tim Curry is Sir Gawain — but their expressiveness can’t bring this stiff cartoon to life. D-

Young Robin Hood
Just what the title implies — a cartoon series that cashes in on the popularity of Kevin Costner’s recent movie by offering a new wrinkle: All the Robin Hood characters (Robin, Maid Marian, Little John) are foxy-looking teenagers. These teens do all your typical Robin Hood-type things — engage in archery contests, get chased by wild boars, and speak in period language (”Robin Hood, you saucy rascal!” one character coos). But the Hanna-Barbera production team hasn’t thought of any particularly original stories for these characters; Young Robin Hood is just a tedious rehash of the legend. D

A rarity: a quiet, intricately animated, gentle cartoon — and it’s on the usually noisy Nickelodeon network. Doug is a sweet-faced beanpole of a young fellow; he and his family have recently moved into a new suburban neighborhood. He doesn’t know many people, and the series follows Doug as he meets new friends, oddball neigh-bors, and girls who make his head swim. Doug keeps a diary and often tells the day’s story by reading from his journal. The whole show, created by artist Jim Jinkins, has a dreamy, irresistible quality. A

Hey, Nickelodeon is two for two here: Rugrats is an energetic, witty cartoon that follows a neighborhood group of babies — the ”rugrats” of the title — as they explore the world around them. The series is at once gratifyingly realistic — the debut episode was an entire half hour about the babies discovering the toilet for the first time — and cartoonishly exaggerated. The infants talk to each other whenever adults aren’t around, discussing things like the advantages of being a dog (”You get to eat dog food…wear a collar with your name on it, and have fleas all the time!”). And grown-ups will appreciate the show’s satire of first-time parents — a nervous, yuppie couple who have a doctor’s manual and a psychological theory for every move their child makes. A

The Ren & Stimpy Show
At first, the jumpy, clamorous anarchy of Ren, a tiny Chihuahua, and Stimpy, a huge cat, gave me a big headache, but the prodigious inventiveness of this series is undeniable. Created by animator John Kricfalusi (The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse), Ren & Stimpy is easily the most imaginatively drawn cartoon currently on television, featuring weirdly distorted animation and wacky, surreal story lines. A recent segment, ”Nurse Stimpy,” is one of the most bizarre cartoons I’ve ever seen: The hulking Stimpy takes care of Ren, who has the flu, poking and prodding the poor little dog with medical instruments and pills as we’re offered close-ups of more mucous, throbbing veins, and bulging eyeballs than I thought even cable TV would allow. There’s definitely an off-putting aspect to Ren & Stimpy, and one of my kids dismissed the show as ”too crazy,” but an over-the-edge experiment like Kricfalusi’s should be encouraged. A-

Toxic Crusaders
Chances are, if you’ve let your kids see the source of this cartoon series, the 1985 grungy horror-movie spoof The Toxic Avenger, your standards might be loose enough to permit this sludge into your house. Don’t: Crusaders is a witless series about a group of monsters who travel the country fighting pollution. It’s another one of those cartoons in which, most of the time, the only thing moving on the screen is a character’s mouth. D-

Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars
In this peculiarly single-minded cartoon series, Bucky O’Hare, a green rabbit from outer space, each week battles a rapacious group of toads who travel the universe enslaving other species. In one episode, for example, the toads force a group of cuddly koala bears to become their personal servants. Poorly written and repetitive, the show’s anti-toad obsession doesn’t seem like the sort of thing kids will get behind. The only clever touch: The spaceship Bucky commandeers is named The Righteous Indignation. C

Not Just News
Affable, clever Steve Doocy, who flopped a season ago hosting a grown-up daytime show, House Party, now presides over this news-and-entertainment half hour. Once you get past the opening (”Howdy, kids!” Kids in studio: ”Howdy, Doocy!” Get it?), Not Just News is pretty interesting, featuring summations of the week’s news, quick history lessons presented in an informal style (”Stalin pretended to be a nice guy, but in real life, he was a monster”), and so-called ”factoids”: ”Did you know that if you unrolled the average Hollywood movie, the film would be 1 1/2 miles long?” No, I didn’t, and I’m glad I do now. B


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