From the Smurfs and Captain Kangaroo, to Transformers and Kids Incorporated, here are Parenting editors’ top picks for best children’s television
We love Dora and Yo Gabba Gabba!, but they’re nothing compared to the shows we watched when we were kids. Grab a cereal bowl and take a stroll down memory lane as we revisit Mr. Wizard’s World, The Smurfs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and more than 20 other television shows that stuck in our editors’ young hearts.
“You might think you’re all bad and stuff – flying around in your mechanized lion. But when going gets tough, you know you’re going to have to call your buds to form a giant, sword-wielding robot defender.” -Jesse, Parenting.com Senior Producer
Rocky and Bullwinkle
Was Rocky and Bullwinkle kid funny or really funny? We’ll keep watching (and laughing) until we figure it out.
Mr. Wizard’s World
1951 – 1972
Why weren’t any of our neighbors like Mr. Wizard? On the show, neighborhood kids stopped by the Wiz’s house to be bedazzled by his neat-o science experiments. They always seemed impossible, until Mr. Wizard came along with a simple explanation.
“I wanted to be one of his young assistants, teaching all of the viewers about the magic of science.” -Ganda Suthivarakom, Parenting.com Deputy Editor
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
After the Midnight Society gathered ’round the campfire and the storyteller began her tale, before things got scary, the setup of each episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark was always very tame—a nice opening of a happy girl at school, or two friends driving in a car. Are You Afraid of the Dark wasn’t actually that scary, making it perfect tweens to watch alone on Saturday nights—but it was just scary enough that seeing Nosferatu step out of the movie screen prompted fears that he’d step into your living room. “The intro still gives me chills.”—Lauren Passell, Parenting.com Assistant Editor
“I loved Punky Brewster—her clothes were so cool!” -Sasha Emmons, Parenting.com Senior Editor
Let’s smurf the smurfing smurfy smurfs! What the smurf!
La la la la la la, la la la la laaaaaa! Papa, Baby, Smurfette and the gang taught kids how to work together, that everyone is good at something and how to use the word “smurf” as a noun, verb, adjective and adverb.
Josie and the Pussycats
“I loved Josie and the Pussycats because they got to 1) solve a mystery and then 2) top it off with a glam rock concert. For a while, I imagined all my favorite rock stars were part-time P.I.s” -Jess
Despite their 50’s hit “Don’t Be Late”, the Chipmunks (and Chipettes) came full force in the 80s, embodying everything that was the 80’s, like funky fashion and rockin’ music. See also: the best movie ever, The Chipmunk Adventure, 1987.
My Little Pony
1982 – present
Any little girls who loved ponies (which was everyone?) probably was a loyal follower of the show and a collector of the Hasbro figurines, whose buttocks-placed symbols represented their cheery personalities.
It’s been years since Duck Tales was on the air, but the catchy theme song still makes us nostalgic for the days that ducks were ruling the cartoon world (see also: Darkwing Duck and Tale Spin.) Uncle Donald joined the military and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie moved in with greedy Uncle Scrooge, who was constantly trying to increase his wealth. The ducks spent airtime fending off swindlers and, as you’ll fondly remember, swan diving into enormous piles of money.
Want to see what the year 2000 looks like? Check out Gigantor, which follows Little Jimmy Sparks, a 12-year-old boy who controls Gigantor, the huge flying robot, with a remote control. Young Jimmy carries a firearm and occasionally drives a car, and together with Gigantor, he fights villains and battles crime.
“When I was 3, I loved this Japanese cartoon about an enormous robot.”—Deborah Skolnik, Parenting Senior Editor
1984 – 1987
Transformers took the coolest vehicles at the time and turned them into world-saving, villain-fighting, all-powerful robots that blended reality with kids’ imaginations.
Under the Umbrella Tree
There are certain things you don’t ask when you watch reruns of Disney’s Under the Umbrella Tree. How old are the anthropomorphic Gloria Gopher, Iggy Iguana and Jacob Blue Jay, and where did they come from? Why do they live with Holly Higgens, and who is she and what does she do? You just accept the funny, friendly friends and their adventures, which are simple, wholesome and relatable to kids.
1969 – present
For generations, kids have been tuning into Scooby-Doo, but a few things have stayed the same through the years—the “spooky”, fun nature of the show and the quirky characters. Fred (the leader), Velma (the brain) and Daphne (the badass) may have solved all the mysteries but that’s just because Shaggy and Scooby-Doo were busy fueling all the laughs.
The Disney Channel got kids moving in the ’80s—when spandex unitards, leg warmers and big hair made being fit fashionable. A perky Kellyn Passchaert sprung around the stage doing kid-friendly exercise moves alongside with Mickey Mouse and his pals.
“I loved Ghostwriter because it was set in New York City in the 90’s, and the kids who work together to solve the mysteries were a very diverse group of friends. They were so cool and smart. It made me want to move here. I wanted to be Leni—she was the coolest.” Valerie Fischel, Parenting.com Art Editor
1985 – 1989
The cheery theme song from Small Wonder almost makes you forget its bizarre premise, that father Ted Lawson, a robotics engineer, builds a robot modeled after a real human and the whole family tries to pass her off as their daughter. Not surprisingly, the Lawson’s nosy neighbors won’t mind their own business and are always trying to uncover the truth. (Why didn’t they notice the large blinking box jetting out of Vicki’s back?)
Malcom Gladwell once said that Sesame Street was “built around a single, breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them.” And nobody has been able to do it better than Sesame Street, a show that was created to get kids ready for school. Nobody—not even Barney—can hold a candle to this classic, and it’s been so super for so long, you can be sure that years from now your ((great) grand) kids will still be tuning in.
Good morning, Captain! Avuncular Captain Kangaroo did all the things cool Grandpas should—tell stories, introduce you to fun guests and be silly with his (human and puppet) friends.
For a few years in the 80’s, 6 days a week, America’s daring, highly trained special mission force entertained little boys and girls as they defended American freedom and fought against Cobra, the terrorist organization trying to take over the world. The badass heroes inspired toughness in their viewers—even if their viewers’ biggest obstacle was making it through preschool. Knowing is half the battle!
Salute Your Shorts
Salute Your Shorts, named for the classic camp tradition of hoisting someone’s underwear up the flagpole, celebrated teen life at summer camp—in this case, Camp Anawana. Watching reruns of Ug, Budnick and Donkeylips giving “Awful Waffles” may make you realize how nerdy they really were.
From the creators of G.I. Joe and Transformers comes this girl-powered rock out about music company owner Jerrica Benton and her singer alter-ego Jem. The Japanese-animated episodes, are studded with hits from Jem and her band the Holograms, and their rivals the Misfits. Which was her true self—mild-mannered Jerrica or rock-star Jem?
“I thought Jem and the Holograms were so awesome—they were tough chicks with no parents who were also in a band. And their outfits were truly outrageous.” – Laura Sullivan. Parenting Assistant Editor
Land of the Lost
1974 – 1976, 1991 – 1993
Don’t you hate it when your vacation is interrupted by a time portal which throws you into a parallel universe? The Porter family—Tom, Kevin and Annie—handled it quite admirably, making friends with jungle neighbors Christa, Pakuni and Sleestak.
1985 – 1988
Using the Care Bear Stare (the bears’ love-fueled deus ex machine, which they powered up by standing in a line and emitting light from their tummy symbols), Love-a-Lot, Braveheart, Gram and the gang defeated enemies Professor Coldheart and Frostbite, bringing smiles to any kids who were feeling down.
Who wouldn’t have wanted to be among young Fergie, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Mario Lopez as they starred in this hip show, complete with rockin’ music and plot?
Just the initial flute notes in the Reading Rainbow theme song will prompt nostalgia in anyone who grew up listening to LeVar Burton host this popular PBS reading series. The show was built from different segments and stories hinging a children’s book. Perhaps the most popular segment was when kids hosted their own book reviews, ending with the impossible-to-forget, “But you don’t have to take my word for it!”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
1984 – Present
Nobody made it through the 80’s alive without bumping into turtle power. The crime fighting crew of courageous Leonardo, “party dude” Michelangelo, brainy Donatello and badass Raphael, along with their friends April O’Neil and Master Splinter, has been battling the evil ninjutsu master since 1984, and is so popular, we don’t see them stopping any time soon.
“In the 80’s I loved watching Perfect Strangers during TGIF, but one thing I never understood was why one of the main characters, Balki Bartokomous, “talked funny.” Despite my parents’ best efforts to explain that it was because he had an accent, I kept hearing them say accident and for years I thought that if I was ever in a car accident I would start talking funny like Balki.”—Michelle Dozois, Parenting.com Partnerships Editor
The Elephant Show
On The Elephant Show, hosts Sharon, Lois and Bram were known for one thing: singing great, classic kid songs in perfect harmony. Kids following along at home could sing and dance to Shoo-Fly Pie, All Around the Kitchen, Do Your Ears Hang Low and the ever-so-popular Skinnamarink—songs all kids should grow up to.
Did we miss your favorite show? Leave a comment and let us know!