I love these posts. Yep, it’s another DadRage review! Today he is taking on a show that we relied on heavily when Ali and Sammy were brand new. Newborn babies nurse a lot. Two babies? Well, that meant I was often stuck on the couch for hours during the day. Ben still needed attention so we had to rely on television a bit more than I would normally like. Fortunately, I was able to find a few shows that we were able to watch together and interact with. This was one of them.
As always, these reviews are meant to be humorous. We are not judging the tv you let your kids watch. DadRage can review these shows because we watch them too.
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DadRage – A Review of Children’s Programming
REVIEW 3: SuperWhy!
In the land of Storybook Village, all of the characters in classic children’s stories live together in a weird hippie commune-like community. Most of the characters are children, but apparently, they do have adults because every now and then one will pop up to talk about an issue or cause a problem. The only adults you really see with any frequency are Whyatt’s mom and dad and they usually offer little to no help.
So, the show always starts out with a shot of a real-life library. Storybook Village is located in the wall behind a bookshelf in this library. Is there a portal into Storybook Village in EVERY library, or just this one? It only ever shows the one library, so I guess we’ll never know. So Whyatt, who is about the size of your typical Smurf, shows up on one of the bookshelves and leads us into Storybook Village.
Once we wander into the village, we take a quick look around and realize something is amiss. Someone, somewhere, has a “super big problem”. Then one of the SuperReaders will send out a message to the rest (CALLING ALL SUPERREADERS! CALLING ALL SUPERREADERS!) to meet at “The Book Club”. This is a clubhouse that, you guessed it, looks like an actual book. It is also filled with books and a Super Duper Computer that would make Batman go “Whoa, there kids; that might be a little much.” Now, the Book Club looks like a totally normal sized building from the outside, but the library on the inside looks like it goes up about 30 stories (heh, book puns). So there’s some Harry-Potter-Tent-Magic stuff going on in this place too. Did I mention it’s an entire building whose sole use is for 4 kids and a dog to work through everyday common-sense issues? Who’s paying the mortgage on this place? They’re not making any money by solving these problems, so where’s the scratch to pay for this building coming from? The only people we know with jobs are Whyatt’s parents, but they’re an author and an illustrator, respectively, in a world in which EACH PERSON IS A SUBJECT OF A STORY. It’s like moving to Antarctica to make your fortune selling ice. The only other people with jobs that I can tell are Pig’s brothers (they’re the 3 little pigs…) who maybe have some sort of a carpentry business going on. Maybe that’s where the money is coming from; unlicensed contracting.
I seem to have gotten off topic. Anyway, the SuperReaders go into the Book Club and “look in a book!” for the solution to whatever problem they’re tackling that day. Princess Pea taps into her mastery of the occult and chants “Peas and Carrots, Carrots and Peas, book come out please please please,” (PBS gave Phil the water delivery guy 20 bucks to write the dialogue, apparently) at which point a book that has to do with their problem magically descends through the giant library and down to our heroes. At this point, they turn into their Superhero personas and go “into” the book and help the character to overcome a problem that just so happens to match up with the problem they’re dealing with in their own lives. They then solve the book character’s problem, grab all the Super Letters, and feed it into the Super Duper Computer to spell out the lesson they were supposed to learn. They use that (and common freakin’ sense) to figure out how to apply it to the problem they’ve been having themselves. They then sing a self-congratulatory song (Hip Hip HOORAY! The SuperReaders Saved the Day!) and the show ends.
Here’s an example: At the beginning of the episode Whyatt accidentally knocks over a cake his mom made. He says he didn’t do it, which his mom pretends to believe. However, now he feels guilty for lying to his mom and ruining her cake. That’s the “Super Big Problem”. So he calls the SuperReaders to the book club to figure out what to do because apparently he isn’t morally mature enough to figure out that he should just tell his mom what happened. Everyone shows up and they go into the book “Pinocchio”. A little on the nose, (2nd pun of the review! Score!)but that’s what they do. So they go through the story and see how Pinocchio is a liar and kind of a doofus but they help him out while gathering Super Letters that they then feed into the Super Duper Computer at the end. It spells out, unsurprisingly, “Tell The Truth”. He goes back, tells his mom the truth (she already knew) and everything ends up hunky-dory. Cue the “Hip Hip Hooray” song.
WHYATT/SUPER WHY- Whyatt is the hero. “The guy”, as the title song indicates. His last name is Beanstalk. His brother is Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk) which is apparently where he got his last name. So did his family not have a surname before this? Like how people named “Smith” have blacksmiths as ancestors? They just chose a last name based on one family member’s accomplishments? Seems to be the case.
Anyway, Whyatt is just some regular kid normally. When he’s in his Super Reader persona, he’s SuperWhy, titular super-hero. He has rocket-shoes that let him fly and a typical super-hero getup consisting of a green mask, cape, and green spandex emblazoned with a book.
He has the POWER TO READ, which is a focus on Vocabulary.
RED RIDING HOOD/WONDER RED- Red Riding Hood is the one you know and love from the classic story, although she seems way more spunky than her classic counterpart. Her Super Reader persona is “Wonder Red” and she uses a magic picnic basket to pull out words to use in certain situations.
She has WORD POWER. This is a focus on rhyming and word families. “OP” “AT” “OG”, etc
PIG/ALPHA PIG- Alpha Pig is one of the “Three Little Pigs”. He’s the youngest pig. Sometimes his personal issues regarding interpersonal relationships (especially among his two older brothers) form the crux of an episode. His SuperReader persona is “AlphaPig”. He seems less mature than the other SuperReaders, and his superpower reflects this as well.
He has ALPHABET POWER. He uses a magic hammer (and other assorted tools from his Alphabet Toolbox) to help the SuperReaders with the alphabet. As the other SuperReaders already know how to read, spell, and use word power to rhyme, he’s often the first person to chime in every episode. He likes to sing the ABC song, but bafflingly, to a completely different tune and rhythm than the ABC song that EVERYONE IN THE WORLD already knows. It eschews the basic “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” rhythm, which is obnoxious and wrong. Now your kid has 2 different versions of the ABC song, and when they start singing the normal version in preschool or kindergarten, your son or daughter is going to be all messed up. Thanks, AlphaPig.
PRINCESS PEA/PRINCESS PRESTO- Princess Pea’s mom was the princess from the story “The Princess and the Pea”. Her dad is the prince that married her after proving she was worthy by seeing if she noticed small veggies underneath a mound of mattresses…because that’s totally normal. Anyway, they apparently used those mattresses again and had a daughter as a result. And then…much like Whyatt Beanstalk’s parents…they took the last name Pea. So this kid’s name is actually Princess Pea.
Princess Pea, likely rebelling because her parents are complete whackadoos who equate extreme produce awareness to true love, dabbles in sorcery. Her mastery of the dark arts isn’t complete, however, because so far the only evidence of her power is that she rides around the village in a self-driving coach and uses her magic wand to retrieve books from very high shelves.
Her alter ego is “Princess Presto” which I guess makes a little sense since she’s attempting to be a magician/sorceress. She uses her magic wand to activate her SPELLING POWER, which is…wait for it…the ability to correctly spell words. A useful enough power, but I’ll bet if she practices with her wand a little more she can come up with something a little more substantial, like, say, raising an army of the dead to battle the Great Old One and cosmic destroyer Cthulhu. Now that’s a power. Plus, it ties in well because Cthulhu is pretty hard to spell.
WOOFSTER- Woofster didn’t join the cast until later in the show, so if you happen upon an earlier episode you likely won’t meet him. In Storybook Village he’s just Whyatt’s dog. He plays and barks and whatnot, but he’s just a typical dog. In fact, I may be mistaken but I don’t think he even has an actual name in Storybook Village.
In his Super Reader persona, he’s Woofster. He has dictionary power, so he can look up what any word means. Also…and this is important…HE CAN TALK. So when he’s a SuperReader, he can talk, communicate, and even look up the meanings of words. When he’s in Storybook Village, he CAN’T TALK. And he’s treated like a dog. When he’s with the other SuperReaders inside a book, he’s treated as “human”. This is weird and messed up. Does he retain the memories of what he can do when he’s outside of the Book Club? Does he regard his life as a sick joke because he can only truly embrace that side of his personality when he’s in a book? Or after he leaves the Book Club does his mind dull to the point where he doesn’t care or remember? All options seem equally horrifying. Poor, tragic Woofster.
SUPER YOU- This is literally what it sounds like. This is you, or rather your kid. You are called on to “help” throughout the show. The SuperReaders will ask you (your kid) questions about the show as well as help them collect the “Super Letters” that pop up when they solve a task. The characters break the 4th wall and talk directly to the viewer throughout the show.
WHYATT’S MOM- Whyatt’s mom is an author. In the land comprised totally of characters from storybooks. Presumably, she is poor. Also, she presumably spelled her son’s name wrong on the birth certificate after coming out of anesthesia.
WHYATT’S DAD- Whyatt’s dad is an illustrator. He works with Whyatt’s mom. Seems like a nice enough guy, but probably should’ve talked with Whyatt’s mom more about how to spell his youngest son’s name. Wyatt = acceptable. Whyatt = What’s with the superfluous “h”? C’mon, parents.
WHYATT’S BROTHER, JACK- This is the Jack from “Jack and the Beanstalk”, presumably. But…his last name IS Beanstalk. Jack Beanstalk. So does that mean Whyatt’s mom and dad are the ones that told him to sell the cow? Anyway, he’s always mentioned as “away at college” so apparently the golden egg he stole from that Giant was enough for tuition at an institute of higher learning. Good for him. Even if his prosperity did come as a result of thievery.
OTHER RANDOM CHARACTERS FROM CLASSIC STORIES- Little Boy Blue, Goldilocks, Little Miss Muffet, etc. show up as other kids in town. They usually inadvertently cause an issue when they don’t realize they’re annoying one of the Super Readers in some way, giving an impetus for the episode. Then the Super Duper Computer will spell out something like “SPEAK UP” to tell the Super Readers to tell the other random character-of-the-day to change something they’re doing to conform to the SuperReaders’ way of thinking, which they will because they were totally oblivious that they were causing any sort of problem in the first place.
The show actually teaches your kid something: the alphabet, spelling, word families and rhyming, reading, and word definitions. It is truly an educational program. Honestly, it’s probably the most helpful and best program on TV, possibly ever, for early ELA skill development (the only one comparable is older Sesame Street episodes). Even if you’re one of those anti-screen time types, the 30 minutes your kid gets a day in front of the TV should probably be with this show if they’re between the ages of 2 and 6.
The computer animation is so dated and bad that the SuperReaders’ faces show practically no emotion. Even when the voice actors use inflection, the SuperReaders’ faces don’t match. They look at each other with their dead eyes, as if they were fed a bowl of Quaaludes for breakfast instead of cereal. For a show that has a decent premise and delivers its material so well, why couldn’t they invest money into making it look good? Yes, it’s PBS but still.
The overuse of the word “super” is also obnoxious. They’re the “SuperReaders”. They always have a “super big problem”. They use a “super duper computer”. The main character is “SuperWhy”. They call on “super you” to help them out. You (and they) collect “super letters”. You’d think in a language-based show, they’d use some freakin’ synonyms. Nope, everything is SUPER. Here’s a fun game for the adults; after you’ve watched the show a few times with the kiddos, start keeping a running tally of every time they use the word “super” in the show. Or better yet; when the kids are off at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and you’re looking for a party game, turn on an episode of SuperWhy and take a drink every time they say the word “super”. Everyone’s taking an Uber home because in the course of just 1-2 episodes, all of the guests you invited over are going to be completely hammered.
I don’t understand the name of the show. “Super Why!” What in the heck does that even mean? Yes, the creators tried to tie it together with the name of their central protagonist, Whyatt, but that doesn’t make it make any more sense. When Whyatt turns into Super Why, he doesn’t get super-questioning ability. He doesn’t gain the power to interrogate other book characters. He helps with vocabulary. So why isn’t he “Vocabulary Boy”? Why does his persona revolve around the first syllable of his weirdly-spelled first name? If his parents named him Edward, would he be “Super Ed”? If he was William, he’d be “Super Will”? Let’s all just be thrilled his name isn’t Astor.
It will help your kids to learn the alphabet. It will help them learn letter sounds. It helps with blends and phonemic awareness. It teaches rhyming words and word families. It teaches spelling. Honestly. IT HELPS YOUR KID LEARN TO READ.
It may make your eyes bleed. It’s computer-animated, but it looks like it was made by sophomore computer-design majors at your local community college. I understand that it’s funded by a grant from the US Education Department and that they have no money. I get it. But if you’re going to run a children’s TV show, at least a little more time should’ve gone into looking like you know how to use a computer. The animation is slow and blocky, and the characters’ mouths don’t even match up to the sound in some episodes. It’s like you’re watching an animated version of all the Japanese people in an early dub of a Godzilla movie.
Go ahead and watch it. Then watch something that’s in the same style of animation like, say, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. The difference is noticeable. And then realize that Mickey Mouse Clubhouse debuted a year BEFORE SuperWhy came out. So this technology was available. The difference being that the House of Mouse has huge bucks available for digital animation and the people at PBS had to figure out how to divvy up that $2,000.00 Department of Education grant, so after they paid all the voice actors, they gave 47 bucks to Doug and Kenny down the street to animate their show about Language Arts superheroes.
IS IT EDUCATIONAL?:
Oh yes. This is probably the most straight-up educational program that is currently on regular television. In fact, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it if you have an infant/toddler/preschooler and you’re looking for something that’s worth the screen time. My son knew all of his letters at 2-3 years old, and I guarantee this was part of the reason.
“Hip Hip Hooray, The SuperReaders Saved the Day!” they all sing at the conclusion of every episode. It’s short. It’s catchy. It’s not nearly as annoying as a lot of others. There’s also the title song, which has some goofy lyrics. “Who’s got the power, the power to read? Who answers the call for friends in need? Super Why! Super Why! He’s the guy. He’s Super Why!” Ok. He’s the guy. This guy…he’s the guy. Sounds like lyrics written by overly emotional frat buddies once they’ve had a few too many, but we’ll move on.
ANNOYING SCALE (1 meaning “Kind of Awesome” and 5 meaning “YOU WILL WISH FOR DEATH”):
One mispronounced phoneme. (kind of awesome)
Look, there are some drawbacks to the show. It doesn’t always make a ton of sense if you look at it with a critical eye. The animation looks like it was done in your buddy’s basement on an old Commodore 64. However, it is truly educational and it’s fun for the kids. Once you get over how bad it looks, it’s actually a decent show and I guarantee if you sit and watch it with your kids, you’re going to see language development growth. The key here: You have to sit with your kid and watch it. Pause the show to let them have time to answer the questions posed on-screen. Ask them what the Super Letters are. If you just set them in front of the show, they’ll pick up a few things. But if you’re engaging with them as well…you’ll really be “Super You” with the power to help. Except that you’re not helping SuperWhy and his animated friends; you’re helping your own kid develop early language skills. That makes you Super.
This is one of the more educational shows of all those that claim to be just that. Ben has learned so much from it. Have you watched this one with your children? What do you think of it?
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