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TV Series Review

As the parent of two toddlers, I'd already been exposed, shall we say, to the world of Yo Gabba Gabba before writing this review. (It's probably why I got the assignment.) But I was never quite sure what to make of its host—with his brilliant orange jumpsuit and furry hat—or its dancing, singing, smiling creatures.

After sitting down to study it, two things have risen to the surface for me: Yo Gabba Gabba offers a colorful, innocent and engaging 21st-century take on preschool programming. And in an effort to appeal to parents as well, it incorporates music in a way that Gen Xers raised on MTV will find very familiar.

Interestingly, the show's premise isn't that far removed from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, a TV tradition that started in the 1960s. Each episode begins with DJ Lance Rock bebopping across a white background carrying a neon boombox. When he opens it up, we meet the show's five other stars: "friendly monsters" Muno (who looks like a one-eyed hot dog with arms and legs), Brobee (a smiling, green-striped creature who wouldn't be out of place in Where the Wild Things Are), and the effervescent, pink and blue females Foofa and Toodee. Oh, and the magic robot Plex, too.

Each show focuses on a theme, such as flying, the circus, babies or boats. The five Gabbaland monsters learn about each of these things, often in the form of songs and little adventures. In an episode about bugs, for example, Plex shrinks everyone down to insect size, and the characters explore an underground world, investigating the creatures that live there.

Lessons are concrete and designed for a very young audience, probably between the ages of 2 and 4. In the "Baby" episode, for instance, Plex tries to explain to Foofa and Toodee why their enthusiasm for his baby niece is scaring her: "Because babies are so little, we have to be careful how loud we get and how close we get to them."

That basic narrative structure is intercut with all sorts of other short features, including cartoons, a sketch artist and clips of children dancing.

Speaking of dancing, much of the show—perhaps 60%—is set to music (often featuring up-to-the-minute techno beats). And that's precisely why I'm writing a review of a show targeting toddlers for a publication that usually targets teen and tween entertainment. Well-known, mainstream musicians regularly appear on Yo Gabba Gabba, including the likes of Weezer, The Flaming Lips, MGMT and The Roots.

They sing simple songs related to the episode's theme and dress up in outlandish, Gabba-appropriate costumes. But their inclusion, as well as guest appearances from celebrities such as Jack Black and Elijah Wood, are attempts to engage parents as well as kids. Gabba co-creator Christian Jacobs told Entertainment Weekly that he and his partner, Scott Schultz—both of whom had just become parents—didn't think much of the kids' programming they encountered before launching the show in 2007.

"We were like, 'Wow, we can do something way better than this.' We noticed that everything was very lukewarm, safe. The kids enjoyed it, but there wasn't a lot for us as dads to get excited about. It seemed like we needed to make something for our generation to relate to."

And that raises a big question for me: Does a show aimed at toddlers need to appeal to their parents too? Especially when that means introducing tiny tots to Sarah Silverman and Snoop Dogg? Even though that age bracket doesn't know Snoop from Snoopy (and when he was on he didn't let any profanities fly), his mere presence leaves me feeling queasy.

I also wonder how Gabba's self-contained music videos might be preconditioning young minds to crave that medium. "Listening and dancing to music is awesome!" DJ Lance Rock says each time one finishes. Maybe so. But do toddlers really need Weezer and The Ting Tings to be their musical mentors? Does MTV need training wheels?

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Episode Reviews

YoGabbaGabba: 572010
YoGabbaGabba: 392010
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