Oswald (Nick Jr.)
With its soft pastels and rounded edges, Oswald’s world is like a nursery come to life. Follow the hat-doffing octopus and his wiener dog on trips to the park, where he tries to care for a naughty cat or protect an egg. At the height of each drama, Oswald sings a little song to himself limning the problem and how he feels. It’s a moment that is at once tuneful and effortless, just the way your toddler sounds when playing on her own. This is the perfect world to snuggle up in before a nap — as gentle as a lullaby.
Team Umizoomi (Nick Jr.)
Hats off to this new show for its inventive, fresh take on action-adventure in the quest to deliver edutainment. I mean that as a compliment; kids really do learn something while having a blast. Particularly cool is the way Milli, Geo, and Bot weave through a world of real people — shown from a knee-level perspective — via green-screen effects. With short bursts of narration, interactive problem solving, and super-catchy songs, this show completely engaged my skeptical 7-year-old as well as my preschooler. Who knew learning about zip codes could be so cool?
Little Bill (Nick Jr.)
Little Bill is a charming, imaginative five-year-old who is allowed to experience something rare in kids shows today: frustration and anger. How will he keep his snow speeder from melting? Grandmother Alice the Great helps when asked but doesn’t hover. Likewise, when Little Bill deliberately ruins a friend’s picture out of spite, he refuses to apologize until he has worked his own gradual way to remorse. In its refusal to dumb things down, Little Bill is a revelatory reminder that drama and life lessons are built right into childhood — no magical creatures required.
Wonder Pets (Nick Jr.)
Linny the guinea pig, Tuck the turtle, and Ming-Ming the duckling are Backyardigans for the younger set. When they get the call, they fly off to solve problems for another animal, such as finding band members for a punk-rock skunk. The simple songs, voiced by kids, really pull in young viewers, as do the story lines and visual effects of photo cut-out characters. Bonus: Try singing out, “What’s Gonna Work? Teamwork!” and watch your kids automatically start cleaning up on their own!
Like belly laughs? Pingu is a 5-year-old penguin filmed in short clips of stop-animation that evoke Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He flops around on oversized flippers and cries “Nug Nug” when excited, his beak stretching comically into a horn. In each story, Pingu resolves problems like whether to save a naughty duck that splatters him with bird droppings. The language is “Penguinese,” so viewers rely on animation to convey emotions and the plot. The endings are not always happy, but they are satisfying.