Welcome back to a brand new edition of Third Thursday Television. My plan was to bring you something a little different this week and look at some of the wacky science reality shows my almost 6th grader enjoys – and I promise, that post is coming, since it’s already sort of drafted – but then the barrage of advertising started, along with the pleas of “I wanna seeeeeeeeeee it” and frankly, I just cannot resist taking a look at NickJr’s shiny new sign of the apocalypse.
That would be Dora and Friends: Into the City.
That’s right folks. They’ve taken the precocious
4-year-old 7-year-old (so the NickJr website tells me) beloved by preschoolers far and wide, and engaged in some serious age compression. Suddenly, a channel focused on kids between 2-5 is mega-hyping a show featuring kids who look to be more late elementary/middle school age. The promo materials all talk about Dora “getting older”, but I’m not sure how much older than 7 one should be to still be relatable to a 4-year-old.
The trend toward maturing Dora is not new. In recent years, her familiar pink top and orange shorts have more and more frequently been replaced by princess dresses, bizarrely proportioned body lengthening pirate outfits with heeled boots, and other departures from formula. Now it seems that Dora has not only left behind her locationless jungle home, but also her animal friends and the familiar plot-line. Backpack has been replaced by a personality free purple purse, Map now resides on a bright pink cell phone “MapApp”, and Boots and other familiar characters are nowhere to be found. I also noted that in the first episode, Dora, who was best friends with a monkey for a decade of television, suddenly needs a magic video-camera to understand a puppy. (Yes, they all clearly have smartphones, and a video camera that could be straight out of the original show’s first season.)
Dora and her friends all wear jewelry, carry purses, have cell phones or other devices capable of sharing videos with “everyone [they] know” and they run around the not very urbane city engaging in made for toy-aisle adventures. Okay, adventure – the first episode was Monday. But I couldn’t really shake the feeling that I was watching this:
Now, don’t get me wrong. The show wasn’t all bad. The Spanish bits were still there and seemed more integrated and to employ more actual sentences and syntax than Explorer. There were a variety of “types” represented – a sporty girl, a musical girl, an organizer who loves animals, and they were wearing a variety of colors, although evidently ruffles and at least one piece of jewelry are required to be part of Dora’s clique. The ruffle requirement, though not the jewelry, was waived for the single male member of the group – Pablo, “Dora’s high energy amigo!” In a strange flip of the script, the token boy gets the weird gender based characteristic, as opposed to an actual skill.
Okay, so I’m actually having a hard time coming up with more than faint praise. The pacing was weird, the music was somewhere between bland and terrible, and for all the talk about the character distinctions on the website, in reality, they seemed to have virtually no distinguishable personalities. The alleged cultural learning opportunities seemed even more weirdly appropriative than the original, except that there really didn’t seem to be any attempt at any cultural component other than the Spanglish. On reflection, my biggest objection to the whole thing was that they took one of the very few little girls on television who lived in a happy bubble largely free of stereotypes and have turned her into a standard issue performance of femininity. As I noted above, Dora has gotten increasingly incrementally feminized over the years – between sparkly stars and magic jewelry and the afore-mentioned princess dresses. But at her base, she was still “real” in the sense that she represented a little bit of everything little kids loved – she played soccer and liked puppies and cavorted with dinosaurs and saved the day even in her princess costume. And I’m sure she will still do a lot of these things in the new show, but she’s doing it in a very particular hyper feminized way. Which is profoundly disappointing.
If all of this sounds like the show was absolutely horrible, it wasn’t, but it was seriously disappointing. Mostly the plot and the characters were just kind of dull and uninspired and blatantly product driven (I predict Christmas lists filled with desires for “new” Dora products). Four-year-olds don’t need to watch shows about tweens with cell phones (they don’t need to watch television at all, to be fair, but that’s a different discussion and I’ve said my piece on that), and I’m not in love with NickJr’s increased inclusion of shows in its line-up that seem more school-age than preschool (Mia and Me, I’m looking at you). But evidently for all that my daughter gave up on the original Dora a year or more ago, she was transfixed by this version. So they must have gotten something right.