Arthur, the TV show about the aardvark who reads, has been around for 20 years.
I grew up watching it–it was new at the time. And I didn’t just watch it when I was a kid, but when I was a teenager and when I was an adult. It wasn’t formulaic, like some children’s TV that has the same episode over and over again. Arthur had a different plot each episodes, some tackling tough issues, some merely hilarious.
Arthur began as a picture book about an anthropomorphic aardvark who went to school with other animals. And in the first book, Arthur was very self-conscious about his very long nose. Ironically, Arthur’s nose shortened considerably through the development of his character, resulting in a nose that no longer resembled an aardvark and instead looked quite normal. So while the series began about discussing differences and accepting yourself for who you are, Arthur apparently did get plastic surgery behind the scenes so he fit in better.
It’s obviously not a perfect didactic world where every episode teaches the right lesson. And that’s part of the reason we liked the show so much. It wasn’t preaching as much as just reflecting the world and the problems we have–like annoying little sisters, irrational fear of aliens, trying to fit in, conflict between rich and poor, dealing with bullies, or even dealing with being a bully.
It’s not showing us this easy right and wrong. Binky could be described as the large bully, part of the tough crowd. Except for you also see him dance ballet, be incredibly kind, and work hard to achieve success in various aspects of his life. He’s not an evil character, but he’s not wholly good either.
And Arthur, while the protagonist, is not without fault himself. He’s not the best big brother or the best friend all the time. He judges others and he makes mistakes. People in the show are sometimes downright mean.
And this is why Arthur is so much different than the other kid shows out there, why I still like to watch it. It’s not about being perfect and setting this high standard, but about struggling to live in a real world and trying your best even though you make a lot of mistakes.
It’s something our kids should learn too–that they aren’t going to be perfect and they’ll have bad moments. And they’ll have to interact with people who are mean sometimes. And that sometimes there aren’t clear-cut answers of what to do.
And, at the bottom of it, Arthur is entertaining. It entertains before it preaches, which makes for some great television.