A look at the awful children’s programming you’re forced to endure before you can finally kick the kids out of the TV room to watch sports for eight hours. Image by Jim Cooke.
Who’s got the power?
The power to read?
Who answers the call for friends in need?
Super WHY! Super WHY!
He’s the guy, he’s Super WHY!
I’m gonna try to explain Super Why! to you and I’m going to fail because Super Why! is so remarkably, needlessly complicated. Super Why! is about a team of four reading superheroes led by an ambiguously pan-Asian-Latino boy named Whyatt Beanstalk (NOTE: 60 percent of all Utah children are also named Whyatt Beanstalk). Whyatt and his friends live in Storybrook Village. And whenever someone in Storybrook Village has a problem, Whyatt and his friends solve the problem by transforming into superheroes (OK), flying into a book (seems odd), and then RUINING the story inside that book (utterly unnecessary).
Again, this is more complicated than Inception, so I will attempt to explain in greater detail. Did I mention that Whyatt’s brother is Jack from Jack & the Beanstalk? EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED.
Let’s say Princess Pea is having a bad day because her mom won’t let her stay up late. She’ll go bitch to Whyatt about it and then Whyatt will gather up the Super Readers and be like, “This is a Super Big Problem (NOTE: It’s not THAT big of a problem), and a Super Big Problem needs us, the Super Readers!” That’s when the four kids all transform into superheroes, even though they already live in a magical kingdom. Princess Pea transforms into Princess Presto. How is that different? She started off as a goddamn princess, and now she’s just a different one. She’s just doing a wardrobe change. I don’t see a huge leap in abilities.
So then all the kids jump into their Why Flyers, which are planes that fly into books. They usually fly into a traditional story like “Sleeping Beauty.” Once inside, Whyatt will sidle up to someone in the story and be like, “What’s the problem yo?” And the person in the story will be like, “Boo hoooooo, Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and is now asleep forever!” And then Super Why will be like, “Nah, fuck that. Let’s destroy centuries of wonderful oral storytelling tradition by CHANGING the story.” And then Super Why will make the viewer hunt for shiny red letters to plug into his Super Duper Computer. If you’re so powerful, why do you need a computer to help you?
Then Super Why will be like, “Turns out Sleeping Beauty is still asleep because she stayed up too late the night before!” And Super Why will ask your child to change the story with him—to participate in the DEFACEMENT of a classic tale and fit it to suit his needs. And then Sleeping Beauty will wake up and be like, “Boy, I shouldn’t have stayed up late last night! Thanks, Super Readers, for George Lucas-ing this story and ruining everyone’s childhood!”
Then they fly back out of the book and Princess Pea (she’s back to being a normal princess instead of a super princess) will be like, “Oh wow, now I know why I have to go to bed on time!” You know what? You probably could have figured all that out without staging forcible fable rape. Then they sing a song...
Hip hip hooray!
The Super Readers saved the day!
We changed the story!
We solved the problem!
We worked together so hip hop hooray!
Break your arm patting yourself on the back, why don’t you?
Little Red Riding Hood/Wonder Red. You see, Little Red Riding Hood is her NORMAL identity. Then when she turns into a superhero, her skates turns from red to blue. Oh, and she gets a word basket. Again, I don’t find this to be a remarkable transformation. You were already a mythical fairy tale character. What difference do your skates make? I WISH A WOLF WOULD SWALLOW YOU WHOLE. In her transformed state, Wonder Red possesses Word Power. Real intimidating power there, girl. Even Ant-Man laughs at you.
Pig/Alpha Pig. Is one of the Three Little Pigs, because of course he is. Once transformed into a Super Reader, Pig becomes Alpha Pig, with Alphabet Power. He signature bit is giving you a big thumbs up. Pig is lame as shit.
Princess Pea/Princess Presto. Again, she’s a Princess either way. I don’t see how adding Spelling Power makes her all that different, but whatever. Princess Pea/Presto is black, in keeping with the show’s diverse casting. There’s a black girl, a white girl, a dark-skinned boy, and a pig. In a real emergency, the pig gets eaten first, but you won’t see the showrunners mentioning that sort of thing. Let’s see you kids read your way out of being stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific.
Whyatt/Super Why: Super Why (terrible name) is a GLORY BOY who bosses all the other super readers around. When it’s his turn to transform, he stands on top of a giant block of letters that say SUPER WHY, like you’re watching the opening credits to Life of Brian. I bet he demands to play point guard during pickup games. I hate kids like that.
Puppy/Woofster. Dog. Has a dictionary. Suddenly, Wonder Red’s Word Power seems kinda redundant.
Super You: The viewer at home. Don’t get too excited. You’re worthless. They’re only trying to make you feel good by including you.
Super Why! is a program that encourages reading (duh), so it’s legitimately educational. It comes from the same people who made Blue’s Clues, so the characters constantly break the fourth wall and demand that the child watching at home scream out the answer. (It’s kind of fun when your kid gets the answer wrong and Super Why! plows ahead as if they got it right. It’s like Phil Simms watching an instant replay.) I don’t feel THAT bad letting my kids watch this, as opposed to processed dogshit like Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu. Shows like that are designed to obliterate young minds.
Did I mention it’s complicated? Come into a Super Why! episode five minutes late and you will be LOST forever. You’ll look up and you’ll say, “Hey, why is the Boy Who Cried Wolf crying Ostrich now? That makes no damn sense!”
Also, the animation is awful. I know this is public television, so there are budgetary limitations. But holy shit, this show looks like the opening credits to “Penguin Land” on the Sega Master System. Whatever Korean animation house they used to make this almost certainly outsourced all the design work to an Eritrean pirate boat. No wonder the fairy tale storylines get messed with so easily.
Drew Magary writes for Deadspin and Gawker. He’s also a correspondent for GQ. Follow him on Twitter @drewmagary and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also order Drew’s new book, Someone Could Get Hurt, through his homepage.