With schools in New York and many other places closed or closing soon, there’s a good chance that you and your children are about to spend a lot of coronavirus-mandated time together. And let’s face it, not all of that time will be spent on remote learning. You’ll both need a break, and you’ll probably already be in front of a screen.
There is, of course, a world of classic content you can explore together, from film masterpieces like “Spirited Away” (for rent at Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and other sites) to vital series like “Adventure Time” (streaming on Hulu). But if you would like to try something fresher, here are four shows, new this year, that you can enjoy discovering with your children, or at least tolerate while you nod and check your email. They’re roughly in order by target audience, youngest to oldest.
What “The Powerpuff Girls” did for kindergartners, “Powerbirds” does for parakeets. The premise is simple but cleverly executed. Whenever Max, a comics-obsessed teenager, is hanging out in his room, his pet birds Ace and Polly hop and tweet harmlessly in the background. As soon as he leaves, however, they start to talk — like the pint-size but intrepid crimefighters they are — and zoom down to the Command Coop, donning their superhero tights along the way.
Their missions around the neighborhood are not of the super-dangerous variety — one short episode finds them scrambling to keep leaves from falling into the wet cement of a new sidewalk. But the show, created by Stephen Breen, the editorial cartoonist and author of children’s books, gives the costumed parakeets a snap, humor and sophistication that you might not expect in a series aimed at preschoolers. That’s especially true with regard to Polly, a plucky dame out of a vintage Hollywood comedy who’s played by the animation veteran Tara Strong, the voice of Bubbles in “The Powerpuff Girls.” (Universal Kids, 10 a.m. Sundays; universalkids.com)
It’s the story of a girl and her horse, with a few contemporary twists: They live with her parents in a high-rise apartment building, and it’s the pony who’s the nosy, needy, irrepressible attention sponge who constantly gets them into jams. (“I’m friendly,” Pony says. “It’s who I am. It’s never been a problem.”) The girl, Annie, and her friends are a wise and patient group who grudgingly accept Pony’s disruptions as the price of adolescence; the highly driven Annie, voiced by Jessica DiCicco (“The Loud House,” “Adventure Time”), is a little like a kinder, gentler version of Kristen Schaal’s Louise in “Bob’s Burgers,” with the snark level adjusted for early-tween viewers.
The full-gallop 15-minute stories, involving Pony’s innocent derailment of school projects or the infinite forbearance of Annie’s parents, are brisk and charming. But the real attraction of this standout show, which was created by the British animator Ant Blades, is the art, with its heavily outlined, scribbled, brightly colored characters moving across lulling, watercolorlike backgrounds. “It’s Pony” is an urban tale, and the New York-like cityscapes and apartment interiors are rendered with surprising depth and detail for a Saturday-morning show. And it has an absolutely addictive theme song (“Pony on the sixth floor, pony in the bathroom …”), which, for parents, may or may not be a good thing. (Nickelodeon, 11:30 a.m. Saturdays; nick.com)
‘The Owl House’
Yes, Virginia, there’s still a Disney Channel, even though the streaming service Disney Plus is getting all the attention at the moment. And this supernatural comedy for preteenagers is a good reason to seek it out. It’s a wisecracking, fast-paced, pop-culture-savvy coming-of-age adventure in a classic sitcom style, with hints of Matt Groening (in the imaginative monsters) and Seth MacFarlane (in the lightly cynical repartee, pitched, at a guess, for 10- to-12-year-old ears).
A Dominican-American teenager, Luz (Sarah-Nicole Robles), stumbles into an alternate world where magic and an ambient ooze are facts of life, and humans are looked down on as talentless wastes of space. It’s a setup for mean-girl and gross-out humor, and for positive lessons as Luz struggles for acceptance and tries to learn magic. The show’s irresistible force, though, is the instantly identifiable, bourbon-soaked voice of the wonderful Wendie Malick, who plays Eda, the impatient witch who takes on Luz as an apprentice and all-around punching bag. (Disney Channel, 8:47 and 9:11 p.m. Friday, then on midseason hiatus; Disney Now)
‘Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts’
This 10-episode eco-fantasy comes from DreamWorks Animation and Netflix, and it has a visual sophistication that separates it from the other shows here. (The show’s provenance also brings in voice actors like Sterling K. Brown, Dan Stevens, Lea DeLaria, John Hodgman and GZA for supporting characters.) Its story, about a 13-year-old who ventures to the surface of a post-apocalyptic earth and finds overgrown urban ruins and a colorful variety of mutant talking animals, is typical teenage-adventure fare. But its artwork, an integration of practical American action and Miyazaki-inflected anime splendor, will keep you in front of the screen after your bored teenagers have wandered off. (Netflix)
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