''Hysteria!,'' ''Rolie Polie Olie,'' and more offer new entertainment for Christmas break


The best and worst of new kids’ shows

There’s no competition for the best new children’s show: It’s the openhearted and carefully crafted Rolie Polie Olie (Disney Channel, Sundays, 8:30-9 a.m.), a computer-animated beauty created by William Joyce, the writer-artist behind such classic kids’ books as Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures With the Family Lazardo and The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs. Olie is about a happy spherical-shaped mechanical family, living in a pastel-colored round world. Aimed at the very young, its plots are simple: Olie’s running late for school (”Don’t be a Later-‘Tater!” says Mom) — that’s a whole seven-minute cartoon. Or the kids (Olie and his little sister, Zowie) want to have Dad read them a story at bedtime, but they’re so sleepy, they nearly doze off brushing their teeth. The pleasure here is in the details: The bright colors and the gentle surrealism will attract both kids and grown-ups — particularly admirers of Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

On the other hand, the season’s biggest disappointment is Noddy (PBS, check local listings), a new series based on Enid Blyton’s delightful 1950s English tales about a wooden boy toy. In a manner similar to Shining Time Station (they’re from the same producer), Noddy features nice British-made animated versions of Blyton’s characters, but they’re folded into an awkward American framing device: This time, it’s a toy store called Notions, Oddities, Doodads & Delights of Yesterday (note the initials), filled with insufferable child actors. Beware an upcoming episode in which Gilbert Gottfried guest-stars as Jack Frost.

The award for funniest punchlines has to go to Mad Jack the Pirate (Fox Kids, Saturdays, 11-11:30 a.m.), about a cowardly buccaneer. Adults will detect the satiric overtones of Bob Clampett’s old cartoon series Beany and Cecil (Jack is a visual and vocal ringer for that show’s foe, Dishonest John), but this creation of writer Bill Kopp is his own unique goofball, an egomaniacal pirate always screwing up his own dastardly deeds.

From the people who brought us the frequently engaging Animaniacs comes the derivative Histeria! (The WB, daily, check local listings), a cartoon look at world history. Like Animaniacs, Histeria! features a lot of cleverly worded song parodies, but they’re performed in the service of, as the theme song says, ”mak[ing] fun of history.” I know, I know, the phrase is also a pun: They’re going to make the stuffy subject fun. But kids aren’t taught enough proper history in school as it is, so filling their heads, as Histeria! does, with inane rap songs about the Vikings (or worse, having Abraham Lincoln talk like Johnny Carson delivering the Gettysburg Address as a stand-up monologue) just contributes to the general anti-intellectualization of the culture. Which wouldn’t bother me as much if the show were truly hysterical. There, end of old-grump complaint.

Last and certainly least: the hands-down worst new kids’ show. That distinction would naturally go to whatever is the latest from Saved by the Bell and California Dreams exec producer Peter Engel; in this case, it’s One World (NBC, Saturdays, 11-11:30 a.m.). This one’s set in Miami and is about a family of a multicultural half-dozen adopted kids. Instead of jokes or involving plots, the human but wooden cast delivers uplifting lessons about universal brotherhood, interspersed with the sort of sexual innuendo and bathroom humor that makes the loud studio audience go ”Wooooo!” Personally, I’m saying ”Noooo!” Rolie Polie Olie: A Noddy: D Mad Jack the Pirate: B Histeria!: C One World: F

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