Are We Heading Back to Kinder, Gentler Kids' Shows?

Last year, Nickelodeon launched a new live-action preschool series called The Fresh Beat Band. It stars four squeaky-clean young actors who wear cardigans, smile ceaselessly and dance around a clean-as-a-clinic set with supernatural levels of enthusiasm. It's the kind of unabashedly earnest fare that kids with sarcastic, hip parents don’t look twice at. And yet the show's a hit.

Nickelodeon not only just renewed the show for a second season, but this week, the network is adding four new episodes to this season. And in terms of videos viewed on Nick’s website, The Fresh Beat Band is second only to Dora the Explorer. So, what gives? The show doesn’t have a post-modern bone in its metaphorical body. Nobody on it is ironic or sarcastic. Nothing is meta. There’s nothing groundbreaking about it, nor does it carry any retro cachet. The show appeals to kids with nothing more than happy-faced, likable people and catchy tunes.

The success of The Fresh Beat Band fascinates me. Does it herald the return of simpler, less sophisticated children’s television -- a time when there was more distinction between what kids wanted to watch and what their parents would tolerate watching with them? While that idea might strike fear into the hearts of Barney haters and SpongeBob lovers, there’s something kind of nice about imagining a world in which television teaches our kids to be friendly, kind and well-mannered. So I say, Onward Fresh Beat Band -- even if we grown-ups think it's dorky.

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