If you have a young child— or even if you don't —you know that Sesame Street is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary. Weeks of gushing coverage of the preschool staple culminated last Tuesday with the airing of a much-hyped anniversary episode, featuring appearances by Cameron Diaz and Michelle Obama. But lost in the cascade of praise for the venerable show is the fact that Sesame Street, though still useful and at times charming, is no longer the most engaging television show geared toward preschoolers. That distinction now belongs to Nick Jr.'s Yo Gabba Gabba!
Currently winding down its second season, Yo Gabba Gabba! has garnered critical acclaim and quickly established itself as one of the most popular series in children's programming (according to Nielsen, the show is currently averaging more than 500,000 viewers). Like Sesame Street, Yo Gabba Gabba! employs a combination of live action and animated features to instill in preschoolers a certain set of values:brush your teeth, be kind to others, etc. But the similarities end there.
Yo Gabba Gabba! is hip, edgy, and current—it's the show for preschoolers whose parents aren't quite ready to accept that their days of going to rock and hip-hop shows are behind them. Its educational songs—compositions with titles like "It's OK; Try Again" and "No One Likes To Be Left Out"—are performed by bands like the Shins, the Ting Tings, and Ladytron. Its frequent Dancey Dance segment, which teaches preschoolers a new dance move, is hosted by guest stars like Elijah Wood, Amare Stoudemire, and Tony Hawk. So successful have creators Scott Schultz and Christian Jacobs been in establishing a cool brand that Yo Gabba Gabba! now has regular adult viewers who tune in without preschoolers. Many of them don't even have children.
Yo Gabba Gabba!'s hipster bona fides have drawn considerable attention, and they've certainly contributed to its popularity. But I've learned that there's more to the show than its cool cameos. I came to Yo Gabba Gabba! as a decidedly unhip father looking for a respite from Telly, Oscar, Bert, and Ernie. And my 22-month-old son, Marlowe, doesn't know the Shins from a hole in the ground. But from the first episode we watched together, I knew I had discovered a program unlike any other, one that kept Marlowe fully engaged and surprisingly active from beginning to end.
At the center of Yo Gabba Gabba! is DJ Lance Rock who, like any good DJ, endeavors to keep the party jumping. I have yet to see him fail. As though extracted from a Run DMC video, DJ Lance wears a bright orange jump suit, an orange, furry toboggan, and oversized black glasses (think Larry's father on Curb Your Enthusiasm). At the beginning of each episode, the lanky DJ ambles toward Gabbaland carrying a multicolored boombox. He opens it to reveal miniatures of the show's five main characters: a rubbery Cyclops, a robot, an oversized blue cat, and two fanciful creatures—one pink and plump; the other furry, green-striped, and unibrowed. Lance places the characters into Gabbaland, breathing life into them one by one. The characters break into dance as they are introduced, and from there each episode is a nonstop extravaganza of kinetic energy as preschoolers learn the lessons of the day from a series of short and lively songs and dances.