I love Mister Rogers. I truly think he was the best thing to happen to children’s TV. Have you ever seen his speech to congress in 1969? I tear up every time I watch it; Mister Rogers is humble, unassuming, and so quietly passionate that you can’t help but be captivated by his words.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is hands down the best television program for children ever. I desperately wish that PBS would still air it; there are some episodes streaming on various web services, and you can purchase some collected videos online, but it’s not quite the same.
Mister Rogers was caring, inquisitive, open, insightful, and imaginative. But sadly, there is nothing like his show on anymore.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood doesn’t even come close.
While there are good points (my four-year-old does like the songs), it’s just not enough. This Neighborhood of Make-Believe pales in comparison to the original. First and foremost, I really, really, really don’t like that it’s animated. To me, the whole point of the original was that it wasn’t overdone. The sets were simple, which was a welcome change from everything else on TV, but it also allowed us to feel like we were part of the Neighborhood.
Second, I don’t like most of the songs. While each episode opens with “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and closes with “It’s Such a Good Feeling,” most of the songs aren’t good. The melodies are often awkward and the lyrics cumbersome. Plus, even though they change the key for each character, none of the songs seem to be pitched appropriately. If I have to hear Teacher Harriet sing. “You gotta try a new food because it might taste go-od” one more time, I might actually throw something at the TV.
And speaking of Teacher Harriet. It drives me crazy that there have been numerous changes to the characters in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
During the time of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Teacher Harriet was played by a cow puppet. Now, I think it’s awesome that Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is quite diverse, but I don’t like the fact that they changed a cow character to an African-American character. Maybe I’m the only one seeing something… off about that, and if it were a one-time deal, I might be able to move on, but the Neighborhood doctor is an Indian-American woman named Dr. Anna… do we not remember that Ana Platypus was a character back in the day. Sure, the name is spelled differently, but it’s pronounced the same way.
I’m a huge fan of diversity, but why not leave those characters in their original incarnation, and include Mayor Maggie from the original? She was a kick-ass mayor who managed to keep King Friday in line, maintain calm, innovate awesome solutions, and get along with everyone. Oh, and she was African-American.
Let’s talk about the Royal family for a moment… Prince Tuesday is still around, but he now appears to be much younger than the original Daniel Tiger and Dr. Anna (if she’s the same as Ana), with whom he went to school back in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Now, sure, you can argue about species aging at different rates and what-not, but why not have Prince Tuesday as the dad of a little princess instead of the big brother of another Prince.
And why is Prince Wednesday NOT a Princess? Before Daniel’s little sister was born, there were five “kids” in the Neighborhood, Daniel Tiger, O the Owl, Prince Wednesday, Katerina Kittycat, and Miss Elaina. Why not have a Princess instead of a Prince since we already have one of those, or have both even? Half of the world is female, why aren’t they more represented, especially in children’s shows? Why not make them awesome examples of how to be great human beings too?
The boys are fairly well rounded, Daniel Tiger falls into the expected behaviors of our societal “boy,” but he’s also shown as having feelings and emotions, which is pretty epic for a children’s show. Prince Wednesday is also typically boy, and his attitude is due more to his royal heritage than anything else (seriously, when he says “Royal Harrumph” I laugh hysterically). O the Owl is more sensitive than the other two, but again, quite well rounded. Overall, I like that the boys are nice to each other, they don’t get aggressive, and they freely express their feelings.
The girls are a different story. Miss Elaina is often depicted as catty, bossy, and whiny. So is Katerina for that matter. Both of them are “Pretty Girls,” i.e.: they don’t get dirty, always wear dresses, and often come off as prissy. Where’s my STEM girl? Where’s my “skirt in the dirt” girl? There are a bunch of powerful, successful, well rounded women in the Neighborhood, but they don’t have a ton of screen time. Why can’t these little girls be more well rounded?
Beyond all of my concerns about the characters, I’m not a fan of how they approach the lessons. Everything has overdone animation and a jingle. It reinforces the idea that to make a point or teach anything, parents and educators have to make it into a game. Yes, learning is fun, and comedy can help the brain absorb information, but by requiring the adults (teachers, parents, show creators) to make everything captivating, we’re setting our kids up to fail. Life isn’t always amusing, fun, or playful. Work – even when you LOVE what you do – is often tedious and boring. It is not always possible to make it THE MOST FUN EVER. In fact, I think it’s better to allow life to be tedious at times. Otherwise, those incredible occasions when you burst into completely random laughing fits with your best friend mean jack squat.
Obviously, I’m not a huge fan of this show, however, my kid loves it, and it does try to teach life lessons in a special way. I realize that they have to compete with a lot of other shows out there (and at least it’s not Caillou…), and maybe I was spoiled by having the original Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for so long. But Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood could do so much better, and hopefully they will begin to get back to what Mister Rogers did for us. Maybe they’ll start to raise the bar for all other educational shows; maybe they’ll realize that they have an incredible tool that’s literally shaping our future leaders.
Mister Rogers understood that.